‘Impossible’ Homework Assignment? Let Your Child Do It

The New York Times

Photo

CreditGetty Images

I really didn’t think my two fourth graders could complete their homework assignment on their own: Prepare a five-minute-long speech from a biography, to be delivered, not read, from notes on index cards, in costume and in character and with at least one prop. An impossible task for a 10-year-old, I thought, as I braced for the battle that would surely be involved in dragging them both through the project.

But life intervened. I had to travel for work and take care of issues involving their older brother and sister. My husband was tied up as well. We offered a little redirection to one child early on, a little last-minute glue-gun assistance to the other, and a whole lot of soothing and apologies throughout to two children who didn’t think they could do it on their own, either.

But we were all wrong. They did fine.

“I hear this time and time again from parents,” said Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former dean of freshmen at Stanford University and the author of “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.” “It’s daring to step back and actually understand what your kids can do without your being present,” she said, especially when the children are clamoring for you to step in instead.

My soothing messages were fine, she said, but my apologies for being unavailable were unnecessary. “Take an interest,” she said, when they ask for help. “You can help them interpret instructions, you can help them procure materials, but when they’re turning to you and saying, ‘I can’t, I don’t know,’ you have to say, ‘Yes you can. This is the homework assigned, your teacher thinks you can do it, and I do too.’”

“You’re looking for evidence that while it’s out of their comfort zone, it’s not completely out of their capacity zone,” said Madeline Levine, a clinical psychologist and the author, most recently, of “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success.” If you, as a parent, catch yourself classifying an assignment as impossible rather than challenging, and getting ready to don your superhero cape and leap in, “break it down into chunks,” Dr. Levine said.

Has the child done anything like this before? A child who can read and write reasonably successfully, she said, is probably ready for the next step of a book report; a child who has written book reports, as mine have, is probably ready to add the speaking component.

“It does mean tolerating not only your own anxiety, but your kid’s anxiety,” she said. Putting all of those skills together was just enough outside of what she called my children’s “safe zone” to make us all nervous, but it was exactly that challenge that their fourth-grade teacher felt they were ready to meet.

It would have been so easy, so justifiable, to involve myself more, and under different circumstances, I would have. After my unintentional hands-off approach, I am questioning my own judgment on when my help is really necessary, and when it’s only in the service of smoothing a path that should stay a little rough.

I still have no idea what facts my youngest son chose to convey about the life of Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, although I do know that I could not personally read his illegible notecards. My daughter presented her final speech on Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from medical school, to me when I came home late the night before it was due. Had I helped, the report would have been more about Dr. Blackwell and less about Ginger and Blackie, the horses she had during her childhood. (I wisely refrained from suggesting changes at that point.)

It didn’t seem to matter. Their teacher didn’t want the best oral book reports. She wanted their best oral book reports. Neither child got a perfect score, but both came home feeling mostly successful — and knowing that they had no one to thank for that success but themselves.

The challenge, said Ms. Lythcott-Haims, is to trust that our children are both capable and motivated. “We can be so beautifully surprised at how our kids step in, step forward, and really claim that agency and responsibility in their own lives,” she said.

And if they don’t? “We act as if it’s all make or break for their future, and we need to be involved, to make sure,” she said. “What’s the worst thing that can happen if you don’t intervene?”

Let the teacher be the teacher, she said. Let the student be the student. And let the learning happen. You’ve already been through fourth grade.

Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework

The Atlantic
And other insights from a ground- breaking study of how parents impact children’s academic achievement
DANA GOLDSTEIN APRIL 2014
One of the central tenets of raising kids in America is that parents should be actively involved in their children’s education: meeting with teachers, volunteering at school, helping with homework, and doing a hundred other things that few working parents have time for. These obligations are so baked into American values that few parents stop to ask whether they’re worth the effort.

Until this January, few researchers did, either. In the largest-ever study of how parental involvement affects academic achievement, Keith Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a sociology professor at Duke, mostly found that it doesn’t. The researchers combed through nearly three decades’ worth of longitudinal surveys of American parents and tracked 63 different measures of parental participation in kids’ academic lives, from helping them with homework, to talking with them about college plans, to volunteering at their schools. In an attempt to show whether the kids of more-involved parents improved over time, the researchers indexed these measures to children’s academic performance, including test scores in reading and math.
What they found surprised them. Most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire—regardless of a parent’s race, class, or level of education.

 
Do you review your daughter’s homework every night? Robinson and Harris’s data, published in The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education, show that this won’t help her score higher on standardized tests. Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down, an effect Robinson says could be caused by the fact that many parents may have forgotten, or never truly understood, the material their children learn in school.

Similarly, students whose parents frequently meet with teachers and principals don’t seem to improve faster than academically comparable peers whose parents are less present at school. Other essentially useless parenting interventions: observing a kid’s class; helping a teenager choose high-school courses; and, especially, disciplinary measures such as punishing kids for getting bad grades or instituting strict rules about when and how homework gets done. This kind of meddling could leave children more anxious than enthusiastic about school, Robinson speculates. “Ask them ‘Do you want to see me volunteering more? Going to school social functions? Is it helpful if I help you with homework?’ ” he told me. “We think about informing parents and schools what they need to do, but too often we leave the child out of the conversation.”
One of the reasons parental involvement in schools has become dogma is that the government actively incentivizes it. Since the late 1960s, the federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on programs that seek to engage parents—especially low-income parents—with their children’s schools. In 2001, No Child Left Behind required schools to establish parent committees and communicate with parents in their native languages. The theory was that more active and invested mothers and fathers could help close the test-score gap between middle-class and poor students. Yet until the new study, nobody had used the available data to test the assumption that close relationships between parents and schools improve student achievement.

While Robinson and Harris largely disproved that assumption, they did find a handful of habits that make a difference, such as reading aloud to young kids (fewer than half of whom are read to daily) and talking with teenagers about college plans. But these interventions don’t take place at school or in the presence of teachers, where policy makers exert the most influence—they take place at home.

What’s more, although conventional wisdom holds that poor children do badly in school because their parents don’t care about education, the opposite is true. Across race, class, and education level, the vast majority of American parents report that they speak with their kids about the importance of good grades and hope that they will attend college. Asian American kids may perform inordinately well on tests, for example, but their parents are not much more involved at school than Hispanic parents are—not surprising, given that both groups experience language barriers. So why are some parents more effective at helping their children translate these shared values into achievement?
Robinson and Harris posit that greater financial and educational resources allow some parents to embed their children in neighborhoods and social settings in which they meet many college-educated adults with interesting careers. Upper-middle-class kids aren’t just told a good education will help them succeed in life. They are surrounded by family and friends who work as doctors, lawyers, and engineers and who reminisce about their college years around the dinner table. Asian parents are an interesting exception; even when they are poor and unable to provide these types of social settings, they seem to be able to communicate the value and appeal of education in a similarly effective manner.

As part of his research, Robinson conducted informal focus groups with his undergraduate statistics students at the University of Texas, asking them about how their parents contributed to their achievements. He found that most had few or no memories of their parents pushing or prodding them or getting involved at school in formal ways. Instead, students described mothers and fathers who set high expectations and then stepped back. “These kids made it!,” Robinson told me. “You’d expect they’d have the type of parental involvement we’re promoting at the national level. But they hardly had any of that. It really blew me away.”

Robinson and Harris’s findings add to what we know from previous research by the sociologist Annette Lareau, who observed conversations in homes between parents and kids during the 1990s. Lareau found that in poor and working-class households, children were urged to stay quiet and show deference to adult authority figures such as teachers. In middle-class households, kids learned to ask critical questions and to advocate for themselves—behaviors that served them well in the classroom.
Robinson and Harris chose not to address a few potentially powerful types of parental involvement, from hiring tutors or therapists for kids who are struggling, to opening college savings accounts. And there’s the fact that, regardless of socioeconomic status, some parents go to great lengths to seek out effective schools for their children, while others accept the status quo at the school around the corner.

Although Robinson and Harris didn’t look at school choice, they did find that one of the few ways parents can improve their kids’ academic performance—by as much as eight points on a reading or math test—is by getting them placed in the classroom of a teacher with a good reputation. This is one example for which race did seem to matter: white parents are at least twice as likely as black and Latino parents to request a specific teacher. Given that the best teachers have been shown to raise students’ lifetime earnings and to decrease the likelihood of teen pregnancy, this is no small intervention.

All in all, these findings should relieve anxious parents struggling to make time to volunteer at the PTA bake sale. But valuing parental involvement via test scores alone misses one of the ways in which parents most impact schools. Pesky parents are often effective, especially in public schools, at securing better textbooks, new playgrounds, and all the “extras” that make an educational community come to life, like art, music, theater, and after-school clubs. This kind of parental engagement may not directly affect test scores, but it can make school a more positive place for all kids, regardless of what their parents do or don’t do at home. Getting involved in your children’s schools is not just a way to give them a leg up—it could also be good citizenship.
DANA GOLDSTEIN is a staff writer at The Marshall Project. She is the author of the forthcoming book The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession.

Are Students Overworked? Research Offers Insights

Independent School Management

Vol. 14 No. 5 8/6/15

PSN eletter Vol14 No5 childstress

With extracurricular-driven“superkids” and homework horror stories driving media headlines, it begs the question: Are today’s students truly overworked to the point of mental and physical health risks? Research suggests that the rigors through which we push many students are not enough to warrant panic, though that may not be true across the board.

In 2006, three researchers—Joseph Mahoney, Angel Harris, and Jacquelynne Eccles—evaluated whether students truly were overscheduled. They hypothesized that the pressures from families and schools to succeed academically and professionally would push the average student to overextending his or her commitments, leading to health and social adjustment problems. Their study encompassed some 5,000 families nationwide with students ages 5 through 18 from a broad socioeconomic range.

The study found that there was, in fact, “very limited empirical support for the overscheduling hypothesis.” Only 3-6% of students spent 20 or more hours a week participating in extracurricular, organized activities. The average American student, in comparison, spends about 5 hours weekly enjoying organized activities, and 40% of studied students spend no time in extracurriculars at all.

The researchers also found that those students who spend 20 or more hours in an organized activity tended to be at least as well adjusted socially as “youth who did not participate” in extracurriculars. This finding runs counter to the image of highly motivated students as isolated hermits, scribbling on papers from dawn until dusk after five hours of soccer practice.

The study went on to verify the commonly held belief that participation in extracurriculars is good for a developing child’s well-being, including “academic achievement, school completion, post-secondary educational attainment, psychological adjustment, and lowered rates of smoking and drug use, to the quantity and quality of interactions with their parents.” Plus, the more a student participated in organized activities, the researchers found that the benefits of those activities either accrued or plateaued—not decreased.

The research team revisited their conclusions in 2012. They found that not only did their original conclusions continue to hold true, but also continued into early adulthood. Heavily involved students from the first study exhibited “lower psychological distress, and higher educational attainment and civic engagement” later in life.

Of course, not all studies concur with the conclusions drawn by Mahoney and his compatriots. In 2006, Dr. Shawn Latendresse, professor at Baylor University’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, ran a similar study specifically examining the relationship between affluence and parenting styles and its subsequent influence on students’ social maturity.

His conclusions indicate that, on average, students from affluent families gradually became less socially well-adjusted over their academic career, with some cases showing greater maladjustment than adolescents in low-income, high-risk neighborhoods. Dr. Latendresse further demonstrates correlations between overbearing parenting styles—including overscheduling of extracurricular activities—and an increased risk of impeded social development.

So while overscheduling may not be a problem for the majority of students (even students coming from higher socioeconomic backgrounds), the possibility of overburdening students exists and should be considered when discussing the benefits of extracurricular activities and challenging courses with families.

Push, Don’t Crush Students

Photo

CreditKeith Negley

PALO ALTO, Calif. — PALO ALTO HIGH SCHOOL, one of the nation’s most prestigious public secondary schools, is sandwiched between two stark and illusory paths. Across the street to the west, Stanford University beckons as the platonic ideal, a symbol of the road to Google, the White House, the mansion on the hill. To the east, across a bike trail, are the railroad tracks where three boys from the school district have killed themselves this year.

Suicide clusters are relatively rare, accounting for about 5 percent of teenage suicides. Startlingly, this year’s is the second contagion to visit this city. Five students or recent graduates of the district’s other high school, Gunn High School, killed themselves beginning in 2009.

Experts say such clusters typically occur when suicide takes hold as a viable coping mechanism — as a deadly, irrational fashion. But that hasn’t stopped this community from soul searching: Does a culture of hyperachievement deserve any blame for this cluster?

The answer is complex, bordering on the contradictory: No, the pressure to succeed is not unique, nor does it cause a suicide cluster in itself, but the intense reflection underway here has unearthed a sobering reality about how Silicon Valley’s culture of best in class is playing out in the schools.

In addition to whatever overt pressure students feel to succeed, that culture is intensified by something more insidious: a kind of doublespeak from parents and administrators. They often use all the right language about wanting students to be happy, healthy and resilient — a veritable “script,” said Madeline Levine, a Bay Area psychologist who treats depressed, anxious and suicidal tech-industry executives, workers and their children.

“They say, ‘All I care about is that you’re happy,’ and then the kid walks in the door and the first question is, ‘How did you do on the math test?’ ” Ms. Levine said. “The giveaways are so unbelievably clear.”

Denise Pope, an education expert at Stanford, calls this gulf between what people say and what they mean “the hidden message of parenting.”

But here, and in lots of other ultrahigh-achieving communities and schools, Ms. Pope said that children are picking through the static to hear the overriding message that only the best will do — in grades, test scores, sports, art, college. “In everything,” she said.

“I hear students tell me that if I don’t get into X, Y, Z college, I’ll wind up flipping burgers at McDonald’s,” said Ms. Pope, who is working with Ms. Levine to counsel at the high schools.

Ms. Pope said that wrongheaded idea becomes an emotional and physiological threat when multiplied by at least three other factors: technology that keeps teens working and socializing late at night, depriving them of essential rest; growing obligations from test-prep classes and extracurricular activities; and parents too busy to participate in activities with their families.

“We are not teenagers,” Carolyn Walworth, a junior at Palo Alto High School, wrote in an editorial in the local paper in response to the suicides. She described students as “lifeless bodies in a system that breeds competition” and wrote of going to the emergency room to deal with stress, missed periods and having “a panic attack in the middle of a 30-person class and be forced to remain still.”

There has been lots of talk in the community about what to do, she wrote, but action has not followed. (The district is providing counseling services, offering a suicide-prevention kit and urging teachers to limit homework hours.)

“Please, no more endless discussions about what exactly it is that is wrong with our schools, and, above all, no more empty promises,” she wrote, and noted: “We are the product of a generation of Palo Altans that so desperately wants us to succeed but does not understand our needs.”

THIS curious idea of a rhetorical divide came up in a number of recent discussions with parents and their children. In one conversation about the suicides, a mother at a Bay Area school in a similarly high-achieving community told me how little pressure she puts on her teens and noted by way of an anecdote how she had succeeded: Her daughter, she proudly recounted, was so well balanced that she decided last year not to go to the best college she got into but, rather, the school that best fit her passions. The school was Vassar.

In this subtle linguistic slip, Vassar qualified as a second-rate school.

Esther Wojcicki, the teacher who oversees the Palo Alto High School newspaper, lamented the competitive environment but noted seconds later that the school paper had just won a “Gold Crown” award from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and that the two dozen students sitting at computer terminals at 4 p.m. that day were thrilled to stay until 9 p.m. to put out the school magazine because they have so much fun doing it.

Alan Eagle, a sales director at Google whose 17-year-old son, William, is a junior at Gunn, was frank about the distance between what he tells his son and what he means.

“I can say all I want that it doesn’t matter where my son goes to college,” Mr. Eagle told me.  But “I’m sure that as much as I preach that, I’m not being 100 percent authentic and frank.”

He added: “I personally went to Dartmouth and it did help. I look at the economy, the difference between haves and have-nots, and I believe a college education is critical.”

And a rich high school experience, too. A few minutes later, while acknowledging that his son had given up playing on the basketball team to study more, Mr. Eagle noted that “at least he’s still got track.”

Glenn McGee, the district’s superintendent, also seemed to struggle to walk the line between celebrating the exceptional nature of this area while urging students to relax. Sitting in his office and looking across the street at the Stanford campus, he mourned the fact that some parents feel that such a school is the only acceptable outcome.

“In many cases, people have made a big sacrifice to live in this community,” Dr. McGee said, referring to exorbitant housing costs (the median housing price last year was $3.3 million, making it the fourth most-expensive ZIP code in the country, according to Richard Florida, an academic who studies demographic trends). Characterizing the attitude of many parents, Dr. McGee said, “To be blunt, what is my return on investment?”

“My job is not to get you into Stanford,” he said he tells parents and students. “It’s to teach them to learn how to learn, to think, to work together — learn how to explore, collaborate, learn to be curious and creative.”

Some parents hear it, he said, but “a lot of families and parents don’t hear the message and say: compete and compete.”

Dr. McGee said he had interviewed 300 students and found that half would be “really embarrassed” to tell their friends they got a B. But the truth is that it’s awfully hard to be the best here, given the curve: The SAT scores are so high on average that a student who finishes in the 75th percentile in the district has a 2,200, the 99th percentile in general for college-bound seniors.

Soon after lamenting the pressure, Dr. McGee raved about a student who was part of a math team that finished first in January in a national competition, and about the new performing arts center under construction, and about the coming $24 million athletic facility funded by a private family foundation.

And why wouldn’t he rave? Why not be thrilled by achievement?

Because the bar for academic success here has become so high that solid performance can feel mediocre.

It puts enormous pressure on a school, or a community, when such consistent, across-the-board greatness becomes a baseline of sorts — what Mr. Eagle described as a culture of “not just excellence but uber-excellence.”

Perhaps that explains some of the doublespeak: Parents are searching for language to encourage their children, even push them, but not crush them.

One solution, said Ms. Pope of Stanford, is “downtime, playtime, family time.” For parents, too. In other words: Take a leap of faith (well supported by science) that downtime will lead to a healthier perspective.

Dr. Morton Silverman, a psychiatrist and senior science adviser to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, suggested that another answer is recognizing that the doublespeak also betrays a sense of terror about the future among both students and parents.

With the economy in flux and the income gap growing, parents don’t see a clear path anymore to financial stability — even here, maybe especially here, where things move fast and competition is fierce. In addition, many of the fortunes made here have been based on creating things that destabilize traditional businesses and their workers.

So confront the new realities, Dr. Silverman suggested, urging parents to say something like: “I can’t tell you which path to take or how to get there, but I will support you,” he said. “I’m here to back you up.”

It’s a hard message to hear in a can-do place like this.

Walking near the train tracks where the children laid themselves down, Dr. McGee said this community, if any, should have answers.

“Can we put sensors up there?” he mused quietly to me, maybe to alert the train operators that someone has climbed onto the tracks. “This is Silicon Valley. There ought to be something we can do.”

The Case for Nagging Kids About Their Homework

The Atlantic

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.

There is, I believe, a tacit understanding between parents and their teens that may need to be made explicit. Parents are willing to work hard, to sacrifice for our kids, and to give them opportunities in life. We will drive them to baseball; we will rent them musical instruments and invest in the technology they so crave. We will give them love and encouragement, and to the best of our abilities, a stable environment in which to grow.  In exchange, children are expected to do their best. Not necessarily top of the class or best on the team…but their best. If teens don’t feel like living up to this deal, there are consequences.

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.

How to Avoid Battles Over Homework

The Huffington Post

Posted: 09/23/2013 2:40 pm
Homework

For this back-to-school season, I would like to offer some advice about one of the most frequent problems presented to me in over 30 years of clinical practice: battles over homework. I have half-jokingly told many parents that if the schools of New York State no longer required homework, our children’s education would suffer (slightly). But, as a child psychologist, I would be out of business.

Many parents accept this conflict with their children as an unavoidable consequence of responsible parenting. These battles, however, rarely result in improved learning or performance in school. More often than not, battles over homework lead to vicious cycles of nagging by parents and avoidance or refusal by children, with no improvement in a child’s school performance — and certainly no progress toward what should be our ultimate goals: helping children enjoy learning and develop age-appropriate discipline and independence with respect to their schoolwork.

Before I present a plan for reducing homework battles, it is important to begin with this essential understanding:

The solution to the problem of homework always begins with an accurate diagnosis and a recognition of the demands placed on your child. Parents should never assume that a child who resists doing homework is “lazy.”

Every child whose parents or teachers report ongoing resistance to completing schoolwork or homework, and every child who, over an extended period of time, complains that he “hates school” or “hates reading” should be evaluated for the presence of an attention or learning disorder.

These children are not lazy. Your child may be anxious, frustrated, discouraged, distracted or angry — but this is not laziness. I frequently explain to parents that, as a psychologist, the word lazy is not in my dictionary. Lazy, at best, is a description, not an explanation.

For children with learning difficulties, doing their homework is like running with a sprained ankle. It is possible, although painful, and they will look for ways to avoid or postpone this painful and discouraging task.

A Homework Plan

Homework, like any constructive activity, involves moments of frustration, discouragement and anxiety. If you begin with some appreciation of your child’s frustration and discouragement, you will be better able to put in place a structure that helps him learn to work through his frustration — to develop increments of frustration tolerance and self-discipline.

I offer families who struggle with this problem a Homework Plan:

• Set aside a specified — and limited — time for homework. Establish, early in the evening, a homework hour.

• For most children, immediately after school is not the best time for homework. This is a time for sports, for music and drama, and free play.

• During the homework hour, all electronics are turned off — for the entire family.

• Work is done in a communal place, at the kitchen or dining room table. Contrary to older conventional wisdom, most elementary school children are able to work more much effectively in a common area, with an adult and even other children present, than in the “quiet” of their rooms.

• Parents may do their own “homework” during this time, but they are present and continually available to help, to offer encouragement, and to answer children’s questions. Your goal is to create, to the extent possible, a library atmosphere in your home, again, for a specified and limited period of time. Ideally, therefore, parents should not make or receive telephone calls during this hour. And when homework is done, there is time for play.

• Begin with a reasonable — a doable — amount of time set aside for homework. If your child is unable to work for 20 minutes, begin with 10 minutes. Then try 15 minutes the next week. Acknowledge every increment of effort, however small.

• Be positive and offer frequent encouragement. Make note of every improvement, not every mistake.

• Anticipate setbacks. After a difficult day, reset for the following day.

• Give them time. A child’s difficulty completing homework begins as a problem of frustration and discouragement, but it is then complicated by defiant attitudes and feelings of unfairness. A homework plan will begin to reduce these defiant attitudes, but this will not happen overnight.

Most families have found these suggestions helpful, especially for elementary school children. Establishing a homework hour allows parents to move away from a language of threats (“If you don’t… you won’t be able to…”) to a language of opportunities (“When” or “As soon as” you have finished… we’ll have a chance to…”).

Of course, for many hurried families, there are complications and potential glitches in implementing any homework plan. It is often difficult, with children’s many activities, to find a consistent time for homework. Some flexibility — some amendments to the plan — may be required. But we should not let the complications of scheduling or other competing demands deter us from establishing a reasonable homework routine.

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