Q: Our son attends first grade at the local public school. At the beginning of the school year, all the parents were basically told that we are expected to go to the school’s parent website every day to keep up with our kids’ homework assignments. In addition, the “Parent Portal,” as it’s called, also lets us know what we are expected to help with at home. In effect, we are being made responsible for what, in our estimation, is a teacher’s responsibility. We are expected to know the material, monitor homework, and see to it that every assignment is not only done, but done properly. I’ve talked to several other parents who are not inclined to cooperate, but we all feel like we’re caught between a rock and a hard place. Advice?
A: A very good friend of mine with three school-age children says, “These parent portals bring a whole new level of crazy to parental over-involvement.” From the get-go, my friend let her children know that they were wholly responsible for their homework assignments and that their job was to make sure she and their father never had to get involved.
These parent homework portals take advantage of ubiquitous parent anxiety — borne largely by mothers who seem to think that their children’s grades reflect the quality of their parenting _ regarding school achievement and successfully turn many parents/moms into micromanaging enablers. In so doing, teachers transfer a significant amount of responsibility for academic instruction to the home.
It is a fact without exceptions that enabling weakens. In this case, it weakens a child’s sense of personal responsibility and is, therefore, self-fulfilling. The more the parent enables, the more enabling the child in question seems to need. “I can’t!” becomes a frequent complaint.
This practice is supported neither by history, current research or common sense. In the 1950s, when parent involvement in homework was generally very low to non-existent, student achievement at every grade level was significantly higher than it is today. Consistent with that statistic, recent research finds an inverse relationship between parent homework involvement and student achievement, a relationship that holds regardless of student ability or demographics. Finally, commonsense will confirm that the more personally responsible a person is, the better a job he or she will do, regardless of the task.
Why, in the face of this overwhelming evidence, do schools persist in pushing a policy that makes no sense? The answer has to do with the rigidity of bureaucracies as well as administrative obsession with achievement test scores. The sad fact is that this counterproductive policy is not going to change any time soon.
So, what’s a parent to do? Do what my friend has done. Simply do not cooperate with the policy, but do so in a way that does not draw attention. Let your children know that they are responsible for their homework and that there will be consequences should they require you to get involved. That is not to say that you should not provide the occasional example, check and give feedback on the occasional assignment, or answer the occasional question, but the operative word is and should always be “occasional.”
As parents begin to think about back-to-school, many understand that homework is the number one source of conflict between them and their kids. When kids won’t do their homework or the quality of work is poor, the sparks begin to fly. In our culture, particularly for mothers, a lot of parental self-worth is wrapped up in how their kids are doing in school. So now, before the new school-year starts, is the best time to being wrestling with how you will approach the hassle of homework in your home.
I interviewed the acclaimed parenting expert, author and columnist, John Rosemond, about what he believes parents should do regarding the issue of homework, and he outlined his ABC’s:
A. All By Myself. Children ought to do their homework in a private, personal area — not a high-traffic or family area like the kitchen. Insisting on a private area for homework tells your children that homework is their responsibility. As we help our kids move from dependence on us to becoming independent — a private area allows them to function and complete tasks by themselves.
B. Back Off. Backing off means refusing to give children help with homework unless absolutely necessary. Although this is often difficult for parents, they need to realize that when children say, “I need help,” it doesn’t actually mean they do. According to Rosemond, when kids ask for help, about 80% of the time they are looking for mom or dad to solve a problem or bail them out of a situation that has frustrated them. When parents jump in to fix or bail out, they confirm for their children that they indeed were unable to solve the problem themselves. Backing off while supporting and encouraging your kids is the way to go. Even if kids fail, they will learn important life lessons.
C. Call It Quits. Rosemond suggests that parents set a time deadline when homework must be completed for the day, whether or not all assignments have been finished. When deadlines are set and kept, kids will begin to learn to manage their time more effectively.
Although John’s advice might go against some popular thinking today, I like his emphasis on teaching kids to become responsible. These ABC’s are nothing more than the approach to homework that most parents used 50 years ago. They might go against some popular thinking today, but they emphasize the development of self-discipline, responsibility, and the resourcefulness kids will need to become self-reliant and functioning adults. They seem so simple, but it won’t mean they are easy to use. In fact, for some parents, it will be harder to employ these steps than it will be for kids to adapt to them. Still, our goal is to help our kids become self-reliant, so I believe that using these ABC’s will be well worth the effort.