Intergenerational Transmission of Educational Values in Ireland

Subject: Education
Pages: 12
Words: 3368
Reading time:
16 min
Study level: Undergraduate


Education has been considered as one of the most important tools for success in life. According to Lynch (2007, p. 555), education is the most important tool that can be used to bring equity in the society irrespective of the demographical classes. Education brings together a child from a poor family and that from a rich background into the same forum where they are not judged by their social background, but by the content of their brain. For this reason, the society always considers it as the best gift that a parent can hand over to their children (Holden 2002, p. 20). Knowledge is power, and the only way that a parent can be assured that their children are empowered is to offer them quality education (Tomasello, M 1999, p. 29). In Ireland, just like in any other parts of the world, education is highly valued, and all children are expected to go to school in order to gain knowledge that can be helpful in their lives. However, it is important to appreciate the fact that these children need some form of motivation in order to be consistent and successful in their academics.

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According to Chodorow (1978, p. 178), learning has never been an easy task for children. They do not understand the importance of sacrificing their early morning sleeps and golden time to play in order to attend the boring classes that to them has little meaning in their future life (Mulvaney & Mebert 2007, p. 396). Without motivation from their parents, guardians, teachers, and other responsible stakeholders, many children may prefer to stay away from school. The condition becomes very delicate when these children reach the adolescent stage (Tulviste, T & Ahtonen, M 2007, p. 30). They start experiencing changes in their body that makes them feel that they are soon graduating to adulthood. At this stage, they are always rebellious both at home and in school. The situation can be very delicate when the adolescent is a girl who is single parented (Holden, G 1999, p. 910).

Single mothers have a major role of instilling educational values on their children to make them successful in their academics. Researchers have linked educational success of children to the kind of parentage they have at home (Locke & Prinz 2002, p. 898). It means that single mothers must realise that their adolescent daughters are looking upon them to show them the right direction in their academic life. Whenever this expectation is not met, chances are high that such an adolescent girl may fail to be academically successful. As Reay (2000, p. 45) says, inculcating educational values on children is a generational issue. Parents who were high achievers academically would find it easy to inculcate this success culture on their children. On the other hand, parents who were unsuccessful academically may find it challenging to make their children successful in school (Humphreys 2000, p. 82). It means that there is a close connection between the ability to inculcate educational values to the children, and the academic history of the parents (Watson & Parsons 2005, p. 39). In this research study, the focus is to analyse intergenerational transmission of educational values from single working class mothers to their adolescent daughters in an Irish town.

Increasing Incidences of Single-Motherhood and the Impact on Adolescents’ Education

According to Connor (1993, p. 90), there is a shift from the traditional family set-up where a family was only considered complete with the existence of both parents to a new era of single parenting. In the past, cases of single parenting were only common in cases where either of the parents passed on prematurely, leaving the other partner to take care for the children. However, this is no longer the case in the current society. According to McCashin (1996, p. 56), the incidents of single parenting are on the rise in Ireland, and the larger United Kingdom. Majority of these single parents are women. Single parentage occurs when girls are impregnated at tender ages and decide to care for their children without ever marrying. Another common case is divorce. The number of divorce cases in the United Kingdom has been on the rise in the past one decade (Kalb & Loeber 2003, p. 650). Most of these women prefer staying without husbands as a way of achieving their freedom from a close control by the husbands. Cases of deaths of the fathers account for a smaller percentage as another factor that leads to single motherhood. Irrespective of the genesis of the single motherhood, Hannan (2013, p. 29) says that this situation will have serious impacts on the academic life of the children

A single mother is always under pressure to achieve all that they were supposed to achieve while working together with their husbands in order to make their families successful. According to Barry and Conroy (2012, p. 54), a single mother knows that she has to be the breadwinner in the family and provide for all the needs of the family members. They have to ensure that they provide clothing, food, shelter, school fee, and other amenities that their children may need during their development (Lerner 2002, p. 61). They always struggle to ensure that their children lead a good life even when their sources of income are limited. They will always be willing to spend more time working in order to increase their income so that they can meet all the needs of their families. The research by Barry and Conroy (2013, p. 90) shows that single mothers are always working twice as hard as their counterparts who are in a marriage. They are always aggressive in life and have high capacities of identifying opportunities in life, making them very successful in their careers. However, their success in careers is always not reflected in the academic success of their children.

According to Chearuil (2009, p. 39), adolescent girls who are single parented are less likely to be successful in their academics as those who are raised in normal families. Scholars attribute this to a number of factors. Anderson, Murray and Brownlie (2002, p. 56) says that single mothers are so much preoccupied with providing for the financial needs of their children that they forget other social obligations to these children. These mothers leave in the morning and come back late at night as they struggle to earn a livelihood for their children. According to Barber, Stolz and Olsen (2005, p. 49), single mothers lack the capacity to offer their children educational values because of their emotional nature, especially when dealing with adolescents. Bandura (1986, p. 121) notes that adolescents are always rebellious in nature. Most of the single mothers fail to appreciate this fact, and when faced with such cases, they feel that their children are rude simply because there is no fatherly figure in the family. This would make them be emotional when dealing with these adolescents (Deater 2003, p. 358).

When an adolescent girl sees the emotional nature of her mother every time they are arguing over fundamental issues, they always assume that they have become superiors. A few will be positively moved by such emotions to do what is right (Ateah and Durrant, J 2005, p 175). However, majority would interpret this to mean that they have the power to do what they feel is right both at school and at home. The mother’s instructions, therefore, becomes mere suggestions that they can decide to follow or disregard (Weisberg 2005, p. 80). Sometimes the emotions get into the way of effective communication. Such a mother would be hurt by the fact that after making extra efforts to ensure that the daughter has all the needs, she does not appreciate the effort. When effective communication is compromised, it becomes difficult for a parent to guide the child into the path of success. Bornstein (2002, p. 58) says that single mothers are always faced with a tough situation where they have to be a father and a mother at the same time. When they realise that their children are not following their advice, they despair and hide under the pretext that these children will appreciate the need to take their academics serious.

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On the other hand, Baumrind (1997, p. 68) says that the problem is always as a result of excessive pampering from the mothers. When a mother realises that she has the sole responsibility of taking care of their children, she always develop some fear that her children may lack some basic social and material needs that they would have had if their father was with them (Kanoy 2003, p. 49). For this reason, they try to be nice to their children, always giving in to their demand, hoping that this would make them happy (Layte 2006, p. 38). In some cases, they fail to realise that they are spoiling the child instead of showing them the right path. They would not realise it till when the children reach the adolescent stage. Such pampered children know that they always get what they want from their parents (Bugental & Happaney 2002, p. 73). At adolescent, there is the peer pressure to take drugs and indulge in irresponsible behaviour that not only jeopardises their academics, but also put their life in danger. It is at this stage that a parent would realise that the path taken by the child is wrong (Kendler 1996, p. 93). Attempts to correct the child at this stage are always counter-productive. This is so because the child has used to having his or her way in the past. When the parents do not try to reason with them, they would consider this as an attempt to deny them happiness. Single mothers always lack the knowledge of managing such situations. According to Daly (2004, p. 37), some single mothers lack the capacity to guide their children to the right path because of the way they were brought up. A parent who was brought up without a parental guidance may lack the capacity to guide the daughter on issues about education.

Adolescent girls always need the constant presence of their fathers in order to know how to relate to other male members of the society. At this stage, they are always seeking acceptance from their peers. According to Eamon (2001, p. 220), an adolescent girl would develop a given perception of male members of the society based on their view about their father. Although they also need a mother at this stage, the presence of the father is more important in helping them know how to relate to their male peers (Kent & Peplar 2003, p. 49). When the fatherly figure lacks in the family, these adolescent girls are left to develop a perception of men out of their own imagination or what they hear other colleagues talk about. This can be very misleading. This explains why some of these adolescents get into irresponsible behaviour that may lead to early pregnancy (Ghate 2003, p. 64). Their desire to understand male members of the society and feel accepted would make them give in to their demands that may be harmful to their education. As a result of this, their education may be brought to a premature end so that they may take care of their children (Daly 2007, p. 93). Most of the single mothers who are faced with such unfortunate cases always despair. In such cases, such adolescents would be forced to forget about their academics and start working in order to provide for the child.

Social Issues Related to Single Motherhood that May Affect Adolescents

It is important to analyse some of the social issues related to single motherhood that may negatively affect adolescent girls academically. These issues may be considered intergenerational because they are inheritable. According to Grogan and Otis (2007, p. 89), identifying these issues may be necessary for creating an understanding of the intergenerational values that are always transmitted to children by the parents. These factors have been critically analysed below


According to Heaven and Goldstein (2001, p. 171), the current capitalistic society offers a perfect environment for anyone to amass as much wealth as would be possible. However, it is important to note that it has been more favourable to the rich than the poor. Hoff (2002, p. 58) says that, in that kind of system, the poor get poorer while the rich amass wealth that they can be used by four or five generations after them. It means that a child who is born is a poor family is more likely to remain poor (Weir, L 2006, p. 215). Conversely, a child born in a rich family would likely become rich, especially given the favours he or she will be getting in life, and the inheritance that would be left by the parents (Kerr 2004, p. 382). Poverty has a direct impact on the academic performance of a child. Children from poor families will struggle to with their academics because of a number of issues. Basic needs such as quality food and healthcare are always rare in such families (Gracia & Herrero 2008, p. 212). They always attend government schools because their parents may not afford expensive private school. Adolescent girls from poor families are easily lured into irresponsible behaviour when they are convinced that this can earn them some income. They are easily swayed into drug abuse, early sexual interactions among other vices that are detrimental to their academic success (Kochanska 2001, p. 1110). Some drop out of school because of the impacts of their irresponsible behaviour. This vicious circle of poverty is always intergenerational because one generation that is poor will transmit the poverty to other generations.

Social exclusion

Adolescent girls brought up by single mothers always suffer from social exclusion from various perspectives. According to Hagekull (2004, p. 430), at this stage, a child needs close attention of both parents in order to guide them on various issues about their life. However, a single mother who is struggling to provide for her family may not have much time for the adolescents. This may affect them negatively (Larzelere 2000, p. 93). Adolescent need their mothers close enough to be able to explain to them the changes that take place in their bodies. In the current society, information is everywhere, but most of them are misleading (Kochanska & Thompson 2009, p. 29). The adolescents need to be protected from this misleading information by their parents. A mother should always be available to inform the child that the changes are normal and signifies stages in life. However, a mother who was never nurtured by their parents may not see any benefit of doing this to their adolescent girls (Hoffman 2000, p. 57). This negligence by parents may be passed to future generations developing into a vicious circle. Such exclusion will have a direct impact on the academic lives of these adolescents (Larzelere 2008, p. 828). A recent publication indicated that many adolescents in Ireland suffer from social exclusion because their parents rarely spend time with them. The report indicated that this is very common among the single-parented adolescents.

Family background and intergenerational education values

According to Holbrook (2003, p. 56), the family background plays a pivotal role in defining the path that child takes in his or her education life. The intergenerational education values are easily passed from parents to their children genetically and through social means. Pinheiro (2006, p. 18) says that a child whose parents were academically successful is more likely to be successful in school than those whose parents were academic dwarfs. This may be explained biologically where it will be assumed that the genes of the parents were passed to the child making the child share some characteristic with the parent (Smith 2005, p. 112). The intergenerational educational values that the parents had will naturally be transmitted to the child, making it be successful in school. An adolescent girl who had very intelligent parents who valued education is more likely able to excel in schools because of the fact that she shares this desirable characteristic with the parents.

The other aspect of this intergenerational transmission of educational values can be explained from the social angle (Shannon 2005, p. 82). A parent who was academically successful in life is more likely to have an adolescent daughter who is ambitious and academically successful. This may be so because such a successful parent will be able to provide for the needs of the children because of her success in life. The parent will also have the moral authority to advise their adolescent girl to pay more attention to academics (Soriano 2001, p. 90). A parent who never excelled in school may lack this authority, and this may make them refrain from talking about their past academic life. The parents are very important role models to children. They will always try to live as their parents. In cases where an adolescent girl realises that their parents were academic dwarfs, they get psychologically affected by this fact, and this may affect their academic future.

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When a child is brought up by a single mother, the situation is made to be more complex both for the child and the mother. According to Timur (2000, p. 67), single parentage has never been socially accepted in most of our societies, especially if it was the outcome of a divorce. It is always viewed as a failure of the partners to understand each other and overcome the challenges associated with marriage (Teti & Candelaria 2002, p. 97). When an adolescent girl finds herself raised by a single mother, there may be a perception that the mother is a failure because she was unable to protect her marriage. With such a mentality, it becomes almost impossible for the mother to convince a child that she can succeed in life.

Theoretical Framework

Scholars have developed theories to help explain the effect of parenting on their children at different stages of development. According to Pecnic (2007, p. 70), children learn their morals based on what they see in the society. At a young age, a child would internalise how he or she is supposed to relate with other members of the society. They learn what the society considers ethical, and what is undesirable. This can be best explained using Hoffman’s Theory of Moral Internalisation. According to Patterson (2002, p. 45), “The theory attempts to address how societal norms and parental values, which are initially motivated by the external forces, eventually come to acquire an internal motivational force.” This theory holds that, at an early stage of development, a child will be acquiring values and norms from the society and the parents based on what it sees. This would then turn into a motivational force which would eventually define their behaviour (Park 2001, p. 955). At adolescent stage, whatever was learnt at early stages would then be demonstrated in the character. Parents who was always absent from home may find it difficult for his or her child to follow their footsteps because these adolescents learnt very little from them at the critical age (Kuczynski 1997, p. 250). This is a common occurrence among the single mothers who spend most of their time trying to win a livelihood for their families.

Learning and Social Learning Theory can also be very useful when defining the values that children learn from their parents. According to Parke (2002, p. 600), the mechanism that is used to reinforce learning is always important in determining whether a learner will grasp the concept. Parents have the responsibility of ensuring that learners have an understanding of the values they want them to have in their academic lives. For instance, a parent may advise his or her child to focus more on studies than on entertainment (Nobes & Smith 2002, p. 360). When this advice is not accompanied by enforcement mechanism, it can easily be ignored by the child. The parent must introduce a mechanism of enforcing the advice. The mechanism of enforcing such policies may be in the form of offering incentives to those who follow the advice or subjecting those who ignore the issue to some form of punishment.


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