You don’t have to be an expert speller or a word geek to cringe when you see your child has substituted the name of the giant West Coast ocean for the word “specific” in her English essay. Most moms would speak up, insist their child correct it or maybe even change it themselves.
I don’t do my daughter’s homework, I don’t correct her work, I don’t suggest ways for her to structure essays, and I don’t solve her math problems.
For the most part, this has worked out well for everyone. At 13, if my daughter has a specific question such as “how do you spell Krakatoa?” or “where can I find out more information about acid rain?” or “do you think it makes sense to compare Harry Potter to Luke Skywalker in this essay for English?”, I am happy to provide assistance.
But that’s it.
Am I setting my daughter up for failure? She may lose a few points for “Pacific”-type mix-ups, but in the long run, I don’t think so.
Recent studies have shown that parent help with homework has little effect on their child’s academic achievement and, in some cases, can even hurt. Keith Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a sociology professor at Duke, analyzed nearly 25,000 student surveys provided by the National Center for Education Statistics and family questionnaires from the Child Development Supplement and found parent involvement in homework doesn’t always help. In fact, their study found, once your kid is in middle school, parental assistance with homework could be a hindrance because parents might not accurately remember the material or might not have correctly learned it.
What’s more, taking my husband and myself out of the homework equation teaches our middle schooler to be responsible and to advocate for herself in the classroom — two skills which will help her as she heads to high school, college and later into the workplace. As I often tell my daughter, “Your teacher wants to hear from you, not from your mother.”
Our “no parent involvement” homework policy has not always been the rule. When she was in elementary school, my husband and I thought we had an obligation to sit with her and make sure that her homework was done and done correctly. Rather than helping, this arrangement often led to complete meltdowns at the kitchen counter — for our daughter and for us. A seemingly simple assignment to write 10 sentences for her reading class would take hours to complete.
This scenario recently played itself out again when my daughter had to complete the first seven paragraphs of her science fair project. She insisted she needed our help, and my husband sat with her. Rather than doing the homework for her, he tried to ask her questions that would help her think through her introduction and hypothesis for her project. Instead of helping, this process caused a lot of anxiety for everyone.
After 90 tortured minutes of my daughter writing nothing but the title of her project and whining that she didn’t know what to do, I asked her if she needed a break. After all, when I get stuck on a project, I’ll allow myself a few minutes to look at Facebook. She said yes, so we allowed her to watch 15 minutes of TV.
When she returned to her computer 15 minutes later — without us — she immediately started writing and managed to draft the seven paragraphs in about 30 minutes. Sticking to our rules, we didn’t read them over, and we didn’t ask her about them. She printed it out and turned it in to her teacher the next day.
This was just the first step in her science project, which isn’t due until January, but it’s best to allow the teacher to evaluate her work. There will certainly be time to make adjustments and hand in a revision.
And she will learn more from having a conversation with her teacher about her project than she would from getting our opinion.