How much do you do for your kids?
As dad to a teen and a tween, it still surprises me how they seem to take more time as they get older, not less, and particularly with homework.
For example, the seemingly innocuous “Can you help me with my essay on Pearl Harbour?” went from a 3 second reply to a full metal jacket two-hour tour of duty. While I didn’t suffer any injuries I did lose my Tuesday evening.
I was subsequently recalled to duty for a second tour. Sayonara Thursday night.
Not being a masochist or martyr by nature I put it down to my intrinsic motivation to help my kids with their homework.
And there’s the rub
Was I intrinsically motivated, or did I just not want my kid to fail, or even to do a bad job? Was it just parental pride on the line? Am I helping her learn how to research and write better, or buttressing her work with mine? After all, who’s homework is it? There are more questions I could ask.
And how much should I help anyway?
It all depends on what kind of parent you are
Maybe you’ve heard of Tiger Mom Amy Chua who wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In response we got Panda Father. We have free range parents, snow plough parents and a number of others, including helicopter parents, and it’s this last group that caused me to wonder.
Because the investment we make in parenting is so huge and involves so much of ourselves, we can be touchy around what others think of our parenting. But as a discipline, parenting is a reasonably well articulated field of study, thanks in part to early work by Diana Baumrind. (There’s a section at the end that explains her work, using her key parental determinants of Responsiveness to kids and Demandingness of them.)
Helicopter parents are so named because of their tendency to hover over everything their child does and be overinvolved in it. This overparenting is particularly applicable to schoolwork and, by extension, homework.
- Very high responsiveness: a parent tries to become best friends with the child, thinks their child is always right, or is in constant contact with them;
- Low demands on a child: a parent helps their child avoid an unpleasant life by driving them everywhere or catering to all of their requests, or a parent demands the child’s school alters its policies in areas such as discipline to suit their child;
- High demands on a child: a parent places high emphasis on their child’s achievements in their school and social life and overschedules the child’s time.
Locke’s recent work out of QUT, using 866 Brisbane parents and looking at the question of parental involvement in homework, drew some interesting conclusions.
Overinvolvement in homework
Overinvolvement can manifest in a few ways. See if these apply. It may be that parents edit or complete assignments of adult children, choose their subjects, and pester teachers or lectures for good or changed grades.
Locke identified that when parents are this involved, adult students tend to disengage and she noted increased depression and greater dissatisfaction with life.
The natural consequence is that a helicopter parent becomes more involved, “continuing to be highly involved in their adult child’s academic life” ostensibly to make up for the increasing shortfalls of their child.
“Parental involvement in a child’s school experience is considered an important factor in their academic success and homework is a key aspect of that. However it seems some parents may take the notion too far and continue to assist children at an age the child should be taking most of the responsibility for their academic work, such as the senior school years.”
Goldilocks and homework
The key is finding the ‘just right’ spot.
Being involved with your kids’ homework is great. Too much has a negative effect.
Essentially this is a picture of ‘all things in moderation’.
Each child requires a different level of input and on different things, but finding the sweet spot is the key.
People who overparent are likely to hinder their child’s development by overinvolvement in their homework.
The impact of the parent being too involved is that the child fails to learn to take responsibility for academic development and progress, and has lower awareness of the consequences of their behavior.
Certainly , it impacts resilience, independence and self-regulation while promoting a sense of entitlement.
Terri LeMoyne and Tom Buchanan suggest “helicopter parenting is negatively related to psychological well-being and positively related to prescription medication use for anxiety/depression and the recreational consumption of pain pills.”
Perversely, the drive to gain academic success can lead to undermining it.
So here’s the take home bit
Should you help your kids?
Locke says “Parental help can be constructive by showing interest and coaching them to complete their work, but unconstructive assistance includes telling a child the right answer or taking over from them when they are completing school tasks.”
Moreover, assistance should decrease as the child ages, to the point where limited involvement is sufficient during adolescent school years. Think Goldilocks.
What do you think?
[Baumrind’s parenting model below]
Helicopter parent, overparenting
Baumrind’s parenting model
Baumrind (and subsequently Maccoby and Martin) would define your parenting style based on two principal aspects: Responsiveness and Demandingness.
Responsiveness means how much you respond to the needs of your kids. Demandingness means how much you expect responsible, mature behavior from them.
This resulted in the Goldilocks’ bed model:
Authoritarian (“Too Hard”): highly demanding, low responsiveness. Usually harsh, demanding and unbending.
Permissive (“Too Soft”): low demandingness with high responsiveness. Overly responsive to the child’s needs, usually inconsistent in applying discipline and rules.
Authoritative (“Just Right”): High demandingness and very high responsiveness. Parents are firm not rigid, responsive not indulgent, interactive with kids while not overbearing. Can adapt to situations.
Maccoby and Martin added a fourth, which is Neglectful: very low demandingness and very low responsiveness.
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