Partners in Privilege: Exploring Adolescents’ Impact on Parenting Strategies

By Adrienne Atterberry

“We have been telling her this, ‘Like you know we are providing you whatever opportunities—as much as possible. As parents we are trying to provide whatever things you require.’  Like entering her into the required classes, ensuring that she gets all the benefits. But ultimately, it is the effort that the students puts, which matters the most.”

This quote comes from Kanika Kaleka – an upper middle-class wife and working mom of two. I met Kanika while completing a larger study on middle- and upper-class Indian and first-generation Indian American return migrant parents and their families in Bangalore, a city in southwest India. As illustrated by the quote, Kanika firmly believes that it is the responsibility of her and her husband, Ramesh, to provide as many opportunities as possible to facilitate their daughter’s development and future success but, ultimately, it is up to their daughter, Aarushi, to decide how best to capitalize on these opportunities. This philosophy is best illustrated by the example of how Ramesh and Kanika chose where their daughter would complete the last two years of high school (grades 11 and 12).

When it came to figuring out where to educate Aarushi, Ramesh and Kanika considered two different options before ultimately choosing to keep her enrolled at the school she attended her entire life. The first option they considered was a boarding school that instructs students in topics that include meditation and yoga, and how to be at one with nature. Another main feature of the school is that students are not allowed to play with any electronic gadgets and are given internet access only twice a week. While Ramesh and Kanika were very hopeful about the prospect of Aarushi attending this school, after completing the entrance examination and interview, the school denied her admission. According to Ramesh, the school determined that “She doesn’t fit into that environment.” Ramesh believes the school may have made this determination because “during the interviews, she [Aarushi] started asking questions like, ‘I’m a blogger. I need the internet every day because I need to write. That is what I like.’” Ramesh’s statement alludes to the possibility that Aarushi intentionally foiled her chances of admission.

            When Kanika and Ramesh attempted to have Aarushi considered for enrolment in another school – an international school that offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) degree program – things did not go well with those plans either. One of the requirements for completing the IB degree is taking a mathematics course. Ramesh says, “She spent whatever time with the counselors there and she was adamant about not doing mathematics. They [the school] also said, ‘Okay, you do not fit.’” He describes efforts to cajole their daughter into reconsidering her stance on taking a math class by stating, “And we told her that she could take at least standard level [mathematics] and not higher level. She said ‘No.’ Even the counselor, he got confused and said, ‘Okay.’” In the end, because of their daughter’s defiance, they decided to let her remain at her current school that offers all the science classes she’s interested in – physics, chemistry, biology, and psychology.

While Ramesh and Kanika attempted to make beneficial educational choices for their daughter, the success of their efforts depended upon Aarushi’s compliance. Because the other options presented to her were undesirable in some way – due to having limited internet access or requiring her to take courses that she did not like – she thwarted her parents’ attempts to move her to a new school. Even though this was not the desired outcome, Ramesh acknowledges that not changing Aarushi’s school may be the best option. He says, “I think with what she wants to do and the school – everything – they’re all in line.”

Studies on parenting and childhood document how children from relatively affluent households are central actors in securing access to advantageous resources. These studies explain how children put into action the advice they receive from parents to attain educational advantages in classroom settings (Calarco, 2014), and how children lobby their parents to participate in desired extracurricular activities (Mukherjee, 2023). The ability of children from affluent families to significantly shape how they experience childhood may be the result of being raised according to a specific class logic that values children’s ability to negotiate with their parents, which contrasts with children from working-class families who are raised to follow directives from the adults in their lives (Lareau, 2011).  Their ability to negotiate with their parents to secure advantageous resources demonstrates that – to a certain extent – children (and adolescents) in affluent families share control with their parents in making decisions about some key aspects of their lives.

This reality highlights the importance of conceptualizing adolescents as active participants in social reproduction. It also encourages us to investigate further the conditions that enable adolescents within affluent families to have more or less of a say in how they are raised. For example, in my study, while it was clear that most of the parents valued their children’s opinion, not all the parents I met were keen on giving their children as much leeway as Aarushi enjoyed when making important decisions such as where to attend school. The factors that shaped the amount of say that an adolescent had included the type of relationship they had with their parents and their parents’ childrearing style. Future work should systematically interrogate the interconnections between the social context of the family, and the degree of autonomy and/or voice adolescents have in important decision-making. Such scholarship would provide important insights into their role in social reproduction and ultimately, some of the factors that perpetuate social inequality.


Calarco, J. M. (2014). Coached for the Classroom: Parents’ Cultural Transmission and Children’s Reproduction of Educational Inequalities. American Sociological Review, 79(5), 1015–1037.

Lareau, A. (2011). Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life. University of California Press.

Mukherjee, U. (2023). Race, Class, Parenting and Children’s Leisure: Children’s Leisurescapes and Parenting Cultures in Middle-class British Indian Families (1st ed.). Bristol University Press.


Blogger’s biography

Adrienne Lee Atterberry is a US-based sociologist. Her research interests include parenting, elite childhoods, and education. She is the lead co-editor of the book Children and Youths’ Migration in a Global Landscape. She has also published numerous articles and book chapters on the topics of school choice, elite parenting strategies, and the effects of transnational migration on children. Currently, she is working on a book manuscript that examines how transnational mobility shapes the lives of Indian American children from affluent families.