The Case for Nagging Kids About Their Homework

The backlash against “helicopter parenting” may have gone too far.
A fifth-grade student at California’s Halecrest Elementary School holds his head as a teacher goes over his test scores with his parents. (Denis Poroy/AP Photo)

The helicopter parent has crashed and burned.  With millennials reaching adulthood it has become clear that this hovering style of parenting results in overly dependent young adults, plagued by depression or less satisfaction with their lives and anxiety, who cannot even face the workplace without the handholding their parents have led them to expect.  The literature is now replete with indictments of over parenting and the havoc it creates. In her bookSlouching Toward Adulthood, Sally Koslow documented a generation so cosseted that they have lost the impetus to grow up or leave home.  The over-involved parent has gone from paragon of caring to a figure of fun.

The pendulum has swung, and as is so often the case, it may have over reached its mark.  Parenting pundits now argue for the benefits of natural consequences, for letting the world take it toll on kids as method of teaching them grit and life’s necessary coping skills.  Failure has become the new success.

Time captured this zeitgeist with a cover story in which editor-in-chief Nancy Gibbs explained:

Less is more; hovering is dangerous; failure is fruitful. You really want your children to succeed? Learn when to leave them alone. When you lighten up, they’ll fly higher. We’re often the ones who hold them down.

This thinking was a reaction to a generation of hovering parents who cleared the way and smoothed over life’s bumps, who metaphorically swaddled their children in bubble wrap.  But the reaction to this unfortunate method of parenting has perhaps been an over-reaction.

The antidote to heavy-handed parenting is not hands-off parenting. There is not a stark choice between doing things for our children and thereby disabling them, and leaving them to tackle challenges on their own.  The middle ground, hands-on parenting, involves neither spoiling a child by clearing their path for them, nor stepping away and watching them fail.

Even as the parenting tide was turning away from helicopter moms and dads, there was a problem with the newfound orthodoxy.  Less engaged parenting isn’t always better, and in the realm of education, an involved parent leads to better outcomes.  As Gibbs noted in her Time story,

Many educators have been searching for ways to tell parents when to back off. It’s a tricky line to walk, since studies link parents’ engagement in a child’s education to better grades, higher test scores, less substance abuse and better college outcomes.

In a recent New York Times post, educators were asked how parents should cope with an underperforming teen, one who has previously shown ability but has become unmotivated and indifferent. Jessica Lahey, the teacher/author (andregular Atlantic contributor) who wrote the piece, acknowledges that this is the most frequent and difficult question that parents pose to educators. In this case the student in question is in ninth grade and struggling through the difficult transition to the increased demands of high school.

Making students care about school enough to give their best effort is an intractable problem for both parents and teachers. Research shows that many diligent, good students find a sharp fall off in motivation in the middle-school years.

Part of this is a decline in their desire to please their parents and teachers, and part is an increase in the distractions in their lives.  For some students the step up to high school from middle school is a tough adjustment requiring study and organizational skills the student does not yet possess. For others, dating, the freedom that comes with driving, and their expanded social life simply prove too difficult to balance with schoolwork. Teachers and parents can find themselves at a loss when trying to reengage otherwise capable students who are underperforming in the classroom.

The educators who weighed in on the New York Times piece were unanimous in their advice.  Back off, they urged: Despite a decline in attitude and performance in a student, increased parental involvement is not what was called for. One teacher argued for keeping positive and focusing praise on what effort is evident rather than what is not being accomplished. A professor suggested that parents find out where their student’s interests lay and that they should otherwise not get involved. The sensible argument was made that teens need to find their own motivation and that parents should back off because there will be consequences at school for poor academic performance.

This measured, considered advice is very much in keeping with the times, a reaction to the over-involvement that was recommended a decade earlier.  The experts argue convincingly that parents should not smooth over their child’s failures, that they should not make what is wrong right.

This all presumes, however, that the consequences of performing poorly in school will be adequate, timely, and effective in convincing a child to change his or her behavior.  It presumes that parental involvement will decrease a teen’s sense of personal responsibility, rather than heightening it. And finally it presumes that schools are teaching all the skills needed to succeed in the classroom, alongside the substance of the curriculum.

If the fallout from doing poorly in school were not so long-lasting, then letting teens find their way would set them up for adulthood.  But that is not the case. If in the face of underperformance, parents focus on our children’s successes, seek out their passions, reward them with life’s luxuries, and allow the school to deal with the consequences, we have let our children down.

There are few lives that are not enhanced by doing as well as possible in high school.  For kids headed on an academic path, doing well creates more post-secondary school options.  For teens headed into the workplace, a degree opens more doors.

Some kids find true passion in the classroom, but for many the prescribed course load is filled with subjects that are uninteresting at best. It does not matter.  As parents it is our job to teach our children that liking something or not liking something is an unacceptable excuse for doing poorly.  Adulthood is filled with responsibilities we would all prefer to shed, but performing at a substandard level is rarely the best option. A parent’s job is to show our kids how sometimes you work hard at something that does not call to you because that is the right thing to do.

Teens want phones and TV, friends to come over, and to be driven to dances. They want their favorite foods from the grocery store. They want new cleats or skates. They want to go to the movies with friends. The single worst thing that we could teach them is that they can have any of these things if they do not make good on their half of the bargain. So while it may be tempting to attribute a poor performance in school to the vagaries of adolescence we do our children no favors to teach them that they will get something for nothing.

While the notion of natural consequences is an enticing one, it can be an unrealistic expectation.  How many schools are going to intervene when kids are giving 50 percent effort and getting by with passing grades? What are those consequences? An astute teacher might express disappointment, and offer the encouragement that she is really expecting more. An advisor might make it clear that honors classes will become out of reach, or that remedial classes are in the offing. But these are hardly consequences to a student who has discovered that Facebook is more interesting than physics.

Waiting for natural consequences may mean waiting until the situation is grim and even then, a shortsighted teen may fail to respond appropriately. Some will come around, others will delude themselves into thinking they have the situation under control right up until the moment that they find out that they don’t. Teens live in the here and now and often underestimate the time and effort an unpleasant task requires.

Students thrive when they feel they can master the task they are given, when they see the purpose of that task, when they are engaged in the work and when they get positive feedback from peers, teachers, or parents for their efforts.

Creating these conditions, and cultivating the motivation that will follow, may well require parental intervention. When teens begin to struggle in school, that is the moment for parents to become more attuned to their child’s academic life, it is the point at which they should step up, not step back.

Parents might need to help students with their review by quizzing them, helping them to find online educational resources or by encouraging them to seek out the teacher or a tutor.  Parents may need to remove distractions, provide incentives or reinforce family expectations. Much of the social cred that came from doing well in school has faded by high school.  But one thing that does not change is some need for approval from parents.  Teens may play tough but are not entirely indifferent to the values in their homes and the friction that is incurred from ignoring those values.

While it is easy for adults to see the direct link between academic success and increased opportunity, those dots need to be connected again and again for teens who are naive about the world of work and higher education.  Nancy Hill of the Harvard Graduate School of Education found in a study of over 50,000 students that relating academic achievement to life’s later goals is one of the most effective thing parents can do to help their teens.

Although the study showed that parents’ involvement in school events still had a positive effect on adolescents’ achievement, it did not rank as highly as parents conveying the importance of academic performance, relating educational goals to occupational aspirations, and discussing learning strategies.

Poor performance in high school has its consequences in life and, while a teen may know this intellectually, they may choose to ignore it. Many high-school kids struggle because of their lack of organizational skills. While they may be capable of mastering the material, they underestimate the amount of time required, the careful notes that need to be taken or importance of test preparation or homework assignments. These are skills that can be taught, and reinforced by a parent. They are essential skills that will be needed in any academic or employment situation.

But this involves closer monitoring by parents, rather than stepping away. It involves parents saying, “How much homework do you have?” Here there will be a long pause. “How much time will that take? When are things due? What is your schedule for getting that done given your other time commitments?” Parents can model the executive function thinking that teens can lack, showing them the thinking process that leads to accomplishing tasks in a timely manner.

Many educators suggest that these types of questions are nagging, and taking responsibility for something that should be on the shoulders of the child.  As a parent, I have taken a different approach, believing that teens struggle in school because of the challenges posed organization, time management, and deferred gratification and that it is our job to help teach them these large life skills before sending them out into the world.

At one point, with a son who was underperforming in high school, I mounted a large white board over his desk. Every day after school he had to write down every task that he faced and then erase each one upon completion. This served the dual purpose of keeping me informed (without daily nagging) of how much work he faced and where he was in terms of completing it and he had to stare at this oversized to-do list on the wall above his computer. No progress on the list? No car keys, no Netflix, no computer time, and eventually no cell phone. In my very small, very unscientific study I have determined that a teen will do almost anything for a cell phone.

The argument against this internationalist approach is that it cannot be sustained, that working hard at something that is painful or boring because your parents are making you, is not a lifelong strategy for success.  It could be argued that parents setting up extrinsic motivation will let a kid down once his life begins to separate further from that of his parents.  Here is the good news. High school only last four years, and it is nothing like the rest of life.  As soon as kids arrive at college, they are given some choice about classes, teachers, their schedule and the direction of their lives.  If they pass into the working world, there is some choice there as well.  By demanding that they do their best for four years in the face of the protests we will hopefully have taught them the value of delayed gratification, self-control, and fulfilling their responsibility. And in doing that, as parents, we will have done our job.

Chinese Executive Forced Workers To Complete Daughter’s Homework, Employee Says

A bad idea…

The Huffington Post  |  By  Posted: 02/27/2013

Chinese Workers Daughter Homework

Looks like the adolescent daughter of a Chinese executive will no longer be able to shirk her homework duties.

According to the Qianjiang Evening News, an employee of the unnamed Chinese businessman has come forward, exposing his employer’s scheme to enlist workers to do his daughter’s homework.

Identified only by his surname, Chen confessed that his boss asked him and eight other workers to complete a variety of assignments — such as taking photographs or writing essays — for the fourth-grade student. While the assignments were simple at first, recent requests have been more complicated and required more time to finish. On top of that, workers were also instructed to complete the work at a fourth-grade level, according to the outlet.

Since Chen has come forward, the student’s school has warned the father against such future behavior, the Telegraph notes.

For years, students around the world have outsourced their homework to India, using companies that offer online tutoring or homework help, GlobalPost previously reported. While many actually assist students so that they complete the work themselves, other websites have popped up offering to execute the entire assignment.

In January, a U.S. developer came under fire after an internal audit revealed that theman was outsourcing his entire job to China. The employee, who instead spent the vast majority of his workday surfing the Internet and watching videos, no longer works for the company.

3 Things You Should Never Do For Your Children

Written by Kim Droze
Thursday, 27 May 201
As parents, we only want the best for our children. But sometimes our judgment is clouded, and our actions can actually impede our kids’ progress. By nature, we want to see our children succeed, even if it means giving them a gentle nudge. Unfortunately for some parents, that nudge often turns into a huge push, and before we know it, we’re actually doing things for our children that they should be doing for themselves.

Admit it. We’ve all been there. You see that sweet little face struggling to tie his shoe, write a Pulitzer-worthy paragraph or even make his bed. When you sense his frustration, your maternal instinct kicks into high gear, and the next thing you know, you’re doing the deed for him. Your intentions may be good, but the end results are not.

You’ve essentially become the dreaded helicopter parent, a mom or dad who gives eagle-eye attention to every aspect of the child’s life. From report cards to recreational activities, you’re the gatekeeper of your child’s affairs. You exact precise oversight in everything he does do to ensure that there is nothing holding him back.

The term “helicopter parent” was actually coined in the 1990 self-help guide Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility. It’s frequently used to describe those parents who sweep in to rescue their children from the perils of higher education. For some, it’s hard to believe that parents would actually appeal to a college professor on behalf of their young adult offspring, but it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

This trend begins long before teens ever don their cap and gown and head off to college. It’s a behavior that we as adults begin even in the earliest stages of parenting. However, helicopter parenting can have some serious implications on our children. While it might seem like we are doing our children a favor at the time, that couldn’t be further from the truth. What we’re essentially creating are children who are reliant on us for everything.

Parenting expert and educational psychologist Michele Borba addresses the trend of helicopter parenting on her personal Web site, www.micheleborba.com. On her blog, the author of No More Misbehavin’ and Don’t Give Me That Attitude points out that children will continue to sink if you don’t teach them to swim. Dr. Borba writes, “Look down the road at the big picture. If you keep on with any hovering behavior now, how will your kids turn out later? Every once in a while, we need to fast forward your parenting and think ahead.

“It just may help that you alter you current response with your kids. And here’s a big reason why: Researchers are seeing this phenomenon of “parental hovering” (aka micro-managing, overparenting or helicoptering) as a dangerous trend when it comes to how our kids turn out. The long and the short is: If we keep the hovering we’ll rob our kids of an essential trait for L.I.F.E. called self-reliance!”

And Dr. Borba is definitely onto something. The ramifications of helicopter parenting are far reaching. Take a recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive for the National Endowment for Financial Education. It showed that 40 percent of American adults aged 18-39 reside at home or have done so in the recent past. That figure also excludes students.

Even more disturbing is the fact that 26 percent of parents with adult children living at home have incurred their own debt to support these adult children, with 7 percent delaying retirement.

While it may seem like a giant leap to take, the point is it’s never too early to teach your children to be independent. You want your children to be able to stand on their own two feet so they can make the transition from impressionable children to responsible adults.

Here are three things you should never do for your children:

1. Homework – How many times have you watched parents do their children’s homework for them? One minute you’re shaking your head in disgust and the next minute you’re holding a #2 pencil in your hand writing an essay on the French revolution. Face it. It’s easy to get sucked in by your child.

Those frustrating cries of “I can’t do it!” can weaken even the most steadfast parent. Sometimes it seems far easier just to do the work for your child. But before you give in, stop, look and listen hard. Your child first should attempt to the work on his own.

If he is genuinely confused about the subject at hand, take a moment to look over the questions. Ask your child what he thinks the questions mean. If possible, show examples of how to solve the problem. Avoid doing the actual problem for your child. Once you feel like he has a grasp on the subject matter, send him back to his desk to finish the work.
Do not sit over him while he is doing his homework, as he will be inclined to ask for further assistance repeatedly. After all of the work is completed, glance over the assignment for any glaring errors. When you find mistakes, have your child redo the problems until they are correct. While it’s fine to show examples, brainstorm and encourage, do not — and we repeat — do not do the work for him. Doing reports, projects and homework independently will actually increase your child’s self-confidence and self esteem. Nothing compares to the sense of accomplishment your child will have knowing that he earned that “A” on his own.

2. Speak for them – It’s far too easy to put words in your child’s mouth. Children are works in progress. As they get older, they come into their own.

However, being a child can often be intimidating. Children are often insecure and, at times, unable to properly express themselves. In many cases, he may expect you to be his spokesperson.Whether it’s asking a neighborhood child to play or requesting a cup of water at a restaurant, always encourage your child to use his voice.

It might be just as easy for you to do your child’s bidding, but how will he ever gain self- confidence if he never has to speak for himself? Oftentimes, we feel compelled to speak on our child’s behalf. For example, in school your child might have issues with a fellow student. If the situation puts your child in danger, it’s understandable that you would get involved. However, if things haven’t escalated, encourage your child to work things out on his own. It’s fine to make suggestions of things he might say to smooth things over and resolve the conflict. However, try not to take things into your own hands unless it’s an absolute necessity.

Keep this important rule of thumb in mind when you are also among a group of people. When your child is asked a question, it might be instinctive to respond for him. Don’t. Give your child a chance to speak for himself. Over time, you will notice him becoming more and more confident in the way he expresses himself. Remember, practice makes perfect.

3. Choose their friends – This one is a real doozy. It’s only natural to want to pick your child’s friends – whether it’s the sweet little boy from Sunday school or that adorable girl from the playground. In your mind, you think you know what – and who – is best for your child. And you probably do. But this is one of those lessons your child needs to learn on his own. While you will probably be responsible for fostering many of their friendships through play dates in the early years, your child will be more and more inclined to choose his own pals as he gets older. This is one of those cases when you should go with the flow.
Just because you might be friends with someone doesn’t necessarily mean your child when be friends with that person’s child. First and foremost, don’t force it. Your child will only resent you in the end if you make him spend time with someone he doesn’t particularly care for. There’s nothing wrong with introducing him to new faces. However, let him take the lead when it comes to building lasting friendships.

At the same time, you still have a responsibility to ensure that your child is playing with kids who have similar values. In other words, you probably want to prevent your children from hanging out with kids who swear, steal, misbehave and have other habits you don’t want your own child picking up. Always be aware of who your child is hanging around.

At the end of the day, what you don’t do for your children is every bit as important as what you do. Sometimes a more hands-off approach actually will benefit your child.

Original article