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How Much Should I Help with Homework?

By Dr. Michelle Alvarez, Consulting Educator

Question:

I am having trouble balancing being involved as a parent in my son's schoolwork and knowing when to back off and let him learn on his own. I know there are several parents who review their children's homework every night. I, on the other hand, take the less involved approach - I ask about school, what he is working on, if there are any tests coming up, but I never look at his binders and homework. I figure if he was doing poorly I could see it on PowerSchool (the Web-based system that many schools use to allow parents to monitor their child's progress) or somehow I would hear from school. Anyway, I know I am not alone and that this is a big dilemma for a lot of parents - learning when and how to let go of my middle-school child.

Answer:

Middle school is a challenging time for children and their parents. Your son is trying to become independent and you are trying to find that balance between "parenting" your son and giving him a chance to begin to feel independent. That balance will look different in every relationship between parent and child. However, it is very important to stay involved in your son's life.

Parental involvement can be defined in many different ways. Utilizing a good relationship with your son as the foundation for your parenting, your role is that of monitoring his progress as he develops into a young adult. If he is doing well in school, completing assignments on time without much assistance, it is very appropriate to ask questions about school, his assignments, and his tests. E-mail his teachers and ask them every once in awhile how is doing and if there is anything you can be doing at home to support him. If what he is telling you does not match grades on assignments and/or feedback from the school, that is when your level of monitoring could increase. This sends a message that you continue to hold him accountable for his schoolwork but will not monitor it unless he needs more support in being successful.

Another area to consider monitoring, that is just as important as his schoolwork, is the realm of social relationships. Ask questions about who his friends are at school, what they like to do, about their involvement in school activities and anything your son is willing to share with you. Accountability for where he is and what he is doing during middle school and high school are very important. Hold him to your family rules about dating, going out with friends, and other social activities.

Finally, middle school is a very important time to keep lines of communication open on topics that may cause some discomfort for you. Let your son know you are available to talk about any topic he wants to discuss. Start conversations about topics that you think he needs to know about at this stage in life. You can do this in a manner that makes it interesting for him, for example, I read today that "The average age when youth first try alcohol is 11 years for boys and 13 years for girls", Do you think this is true in our area or your school?


Dr. Michelle Alvarez is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Indiana and project director of Safe Schools/Healthy Students for the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation. A former school social worker in Pinellas County, Florida, she is co-editor of School Social Work: Theory to Practice and chair of the National Association of Social Workers, School Social Work Section. She is also the parent of a special needs child.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

02/28/2011:
"Many students do not demonstrate good work habits, time management and organizational skills. A recent report shows that 8 in 10 middle school students do not have the academic discipline they need to be on track for college. Good work habits, time management and organizational skills are essential! We teach organizational skills to middle school students (The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the World!) Skills and strategies students need for success in middle school are: organize a 'Goof Proof Binder' survive a case of 'PPD' (Personal Planner Disorder) design a workspace that rocks! get and work with a study bud uza cmptr 4 mor thn im's take the 'grrr' out of a group project use the 'write stuff' to give written work an extreme makeover impress teachers as 'responsible' students (self-advocacy skills) detect and correct unproductive homework habits manage a long term project use awesome mental powers to remember daily responsibilities set goals for success identify and control personal goal-busters create a Homework Tracking Chart take 'to do' notes sweat the small stuff ('Grade Averaging 101') Organizational and study skills are academic skills that should be taught in school, but often are left to bewildered and frustrated parents. The list above gives you a place to start and a path to follow. Begin with organizational skills and move on to study skills. Good luck! "
02/28/2011:
"Many students do not demonstrate good work habits, time management and organizational skills. A recent report shows that 8 in 10 middle school students do not have the academic discipline they need to be on track for college. Good work habits, time management and organizational skills are essential! We teach organizational skills to middle school students (The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the World!) Skills and strategies students need for success in middle school are: organize a 'Goof Proof Binder' survive a case of 'PPD' (Personal Planner Disorder) design a workspace that rocks! get and work with a study bud uza cmptr 4 mor thn im's take the 'grrr' out of a group project use the 'write stuff' to give written work an extreme makeover impress teachers as 'responsible' students (self-advocacy skills) detect and correct unproductive homework habits manage a long term project use awesome mental powers to remember daily responsibilities set goals for success identify and control personal goal-busters create a Homework Tracking Chart take 'to do' notes sweat the small stuff ('Grade Averaging 101') Organizational and study skills are academic skills that should be taught in school, but often are left to bewildered and frustrated parents. The list above gives you a place to start and a path to follow. Begin with organizational skills and move on to study skills. Good luck! "
12/10/2008:
"I am tutoring a couple of ESL 6th and 7th Grade students. One has lived here in US all his life but no one at his home speaks english, he is only exposed to english practice orally at school and tutoring. The other student is Special Needs, he is in 7th but displays work of a 2nd grade quality of work and cannot sound out beginning or ending sounds/blends. He is only exposed to english in school and me. At home even the TV is in Spansih! He dose not go out after school, he stays in and plays video games or TV(Spanish and Cartoons). How do I get the Mothers(the Father take no part in their kids school issues) to become more educated in helping their children whether access to a library or having books available or discipline with a specific time to do home work etc. I have noticed the older child/son is asked to watch the little sibblings while the mom talks on the phone all day( I have witnessed this). I had to ask a mother to get off the phone and do something with her 2 other little children and keep them quite while I'm working the older son.(of course this was said in spanish much nicer!!). Any suggestions appreciated. Judi Mucci"
09/26/2008:
"Being a mother of a 7th Grader who is on an IEP. She definitely needs direction with homework and I think it is very important to be there for a child who needs the help, we also have another child in Jnr. High and is doing fantastic. He never really needed the help, but we always communicated about his work for the day etc... It is very hard when you have a child that struggles, needs more help than a child who just thrives at learning. Its like being back at school, again, but I definitely think there is too much pressure on our kids today because of the MCAS. The teachers have a curriculum to cover, they are moving at a very fast pace, and when a child has a learning disability and finds it hard to keep up with that pace, WHAT CAN WE DO, but help in all ways that we can. When you decide to bring a child into this world, one should be there for protect, and guide you child through life and its many paths of ups and downs. "
03/12/2008:
"What happens when you know your son can do the work but doesn't unless I keep direct contact with his teachers? (9th grade) I can ask him evey day about homework but he says he has none. This has been going on since 5th or 6th grade. Sometimes he will do the work and sometimes he will fight tooth and nail. Coming up with every excuse to delay in getting it done. Then sometimes he gets his work done but doesn't turn it in. If he is interest in the work I have no problem. "
01/24/2008:
" 11/26/2007: 'I think we all should be involved in our kids school work. Unfortently, my fiance' dont agree, when i try to be apart of her daughters, struggling daughters 7th grade work. She has failed once, and it was a very turmoil year, last year, but this year she still strugggles and my fiances' answer is, it's on the daughter, if she dont do it she will fail again...I want to be on top of it, but the fiance' gets made because im allways, checking to see if shes doing her work,and wants me to no be so invovled.The daughter is not doing the work and is gettting bad grades again, and it makes me so angry,because i notice when i am,involved shes seems happy and wanting to share her school work...But, im not the father, and the one she has is not in the picture. To save arguements i have to step back...It hurts me to see this child having no support or structure....Im glad to see so many parents that do care, good job.....' I could not help from commenting on this posting. It is so sad to see a mother not wanting her child to get help if she is struggling. If she dose not want the person she is planning on marrying helping her child. There must be more to the reason of not wanting the help than to see her child struggling. I am the parent of a set of twins girls that are 8th grades now. Did they struggle in 7th grade yes somewhat. As their mother i went to the school for help and their teachers tutored them afterschool. Why would you want your child to keep failing. As this comment stated the nonfather when he was helping her she seem to improve and enjoyed getting the help. The mother can also get help with big brothers and big sisters program. There are local college that have students that will help with this child's struggles. This mother just has to want to get her child some help. This mother needs to keep in mind too that she dose not have many years left to keep this child on track with! a good education. As a mother of four girls I feel very sorry for this little girl. I only pray that she go to the schools and seek the help that she need. "
01/18/2008:
"my son just got transferred from Deep Creek Middle School ( a magnet school ) and will now attend Highlandtown Middle,.I don't know if he has behavior problem or it's just becoming a teenager.Feeling his oats as I hear people say.But if a problem comes about I will be there to try to discuss and settle the problem if can be. I will continue to be involved in my sons schooling,I know he doesn't like it but too bad."
11/26/2007:
"I think we all should be involved in our kids school work. Unfortently, my fiance' dont agree, when i try to be apart of her daughters, struggling daughters 7th grade work. She has failed once, and it was a very turmoil year, last year, but this year she still strugggles and my fiances' answer is, it's on the daughter, if she dont do it she will fail again...I want to be on top of it, but the fiance' gets made because im allways, checking to see if shes doing her work,and wants me to no be so invovled.The daughter is not doing the work and is gettting bad grades again, and it makes me so angry,because i notice when i am,involved shes seems happy and wanting to share her school work...But, im not the father, and the one she has is not in the picture. To save arguements i have to step back...It hurts me to see this child having no support or structure....Im glad to see so many parents that do care, good job....."
11/7/2007:
"I am a student who is in the gifted program. My brother has a harder time in scool than I do.My mom is a more active in his schoolwork than in mine."
08/1/2007:
"Hello, I just finished reading about the piece 'How much help should a parent give on homework. A piece of information in that read was very helpful on getting your teen to open up on topics they might not talk about. I believe teen accountability is important in all areas of their life and it needs to stay on the fore-front as an reminder of the correct choices and the poor choices, we all live by them and that is what our children need to understand. Without parent involvement negative video, other teens and television are going to continue guide our teens in the wrong direction."
11/29/2006:
"This was a pretty helpful article until the last suggestion. My kid would laugh in my face and leave the room if I started a conversation about drinking in the manner suggested. I agree with the accountability part and the homework part ( also, they will let you know if they need help. Mine likes for me to go over definitions with her. We usually laugh and have fun with it and then she goes in an does well on the test) BUT I only help when asked. I do look at her assignment book at night to make sure she is on task, but do not review her homework."
10/27/2006:
"I totally agree about the your teen needs the independence but on the other hand I find myself helping my teen to make sure they have a good relationship with their teacher in order to keep your teen organizing their studies and follow up with their classes. I want to make sure they are on top of their responsibilties because this really helps with stress and pressure."
09/5/2006:
"I think this is an excellent article and couldn't have come at a better time for me. I have an 8th grader that wants to accept NO responsibility for anything but wants all the 'goodies' that come along with being a teen. Thanks to this article, you have given me permission to step back and allow him to accept the consequences for not taking care of his responsibilities."
09/5/2006:
"Enjoyed the article very much - I have a 12 year old/7th grader who is wanting to do the independent thing. A little hard, but we're working on it. Thanks for the wonderful words of advice. Mrs. Bradley"
09/1/2006:
"Same here but it's my wife and our Grandson who just started Jr high. He is getting more independent every day and she thinks he don't care about her any more but he gets embarassed when she kisses him or hugs him in front of his friends. I told her it was a phase to let it ride so I am going to mention to her about the checking up on his grades by e mail so she won't feel totally lost 'till he runs his course."
08/31/2006:
"There is a certain guilt a parent experiences when your child is nearing the age where he/she is ready for some independence and be held accountable for those things they are responsible for such as school, chores, curfews, etc. My granddaughter, whom we are raising, is going into 6th grade. She has been doing homework on her own, unless she asks for assistance, throughout her entire 5th grade and has maintained an honor student status throughout the entire year. We are contantly communicating and I ask questions regarding her day so I know what is going on in her life academically, socially and emotionally while she maintains a certain age appropriate degree of independence. The only thing I do have to remind her of on a daily basis if there are any paper/notices that has been sent home for us to review, etc. We will begin to give her an allowance this school year. We will expect her to place a certain percentage of it in a savings account as well as contribute a portion of it to a charity of her choice and will be allowed to spend the balance however she sees fit. We believe teaching her financial responsibility as well as giving to those less fortunate is crucial as well. If we are ever given a reason to 'tighten the reigns' we will not hesitate. Watching her grow into a bright, independent young lady who cares about the world around her brings us much joy and a feeling that we are truly teaching our granddaughter those things she will need in order to be successful in life. "
08/31/2006:
"Reading this was great for me, I dont know what to expect with my son(7th grade this yr) and it just so happens that the things mentioned in this article are the same exact things I started doing last yr, to keep on top of my son, let him know Im here for him and to help him academically and socially, and well its just good to know that where I thought I might possibly be overdoing it, Im just doing all of what was recommended for this age and time. Thanks!!!"
08/31/2006:
"Middle school kids are worse than the terrible twos! My son just got relatively decent and we could have a conversation and now he has turned into a defiant toddler that is too big to put onto a time out mat! Does anybody else feel this way?? or am I a goofball?"
08/30/2006:
"Excellent answer to the parent's question. My wife and I use the same type of method that you have proposed with our 14yr old son. Parents need to be involved in as many ways as possible with young adults and can do this in a manner that is not negative to the child. Glad to see thatyou are giving out very important and useful info."
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