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What Parents Should and Shouldn't Do to Help Their Kids in School

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What Parents Should and Shouldn't Do to Help Their Kids in School

Forget what you think is beneficial for your school-aged kids—new research shows that parental involvement in school does not affect a student’s test scores, and could even hinder their learning.

A recent article in The Atlantic by Dana Goldstein outlines a new study on parents, children, and school performance. Many parents in America today are concerned with their involvement, or lack their of, in schools. The “ideal” parent is supposed to be involved in all aspects of their kid’s school: PTA, bake sales, and homework help. Until recently, very little data existed on academic performance and parental involvement in schools, and a direct correlation was always assumed.

What You Shouldn't Do

This January, professor Keith Robinson of the University of Texas at Austin and professor Angel L. Harris of Duke, found that many types of parental involvement—regardless of a parent’s race, class, or level of education—“from helping them with homework, to talking with them about college plans, to volunteering at their schools,” ultimately has no impact on a student’s academic performance. Furthermore, once a child enters middle school, homework help from parents may actually bring test scores down. Researchers found that the more involved a parent was in school, the more anxiety a student felt about school.

Since the 1960s, the federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this wrongly assumed trend. Although low-income students generally do poorer academically than their middle-class counterparts, this study proved that this has nothing to do with parental involvement in schools. Instead, researchers found that parents of all ethnicities and income levels emphasize the importance of school to their children—the difference between these two groups is the environment and social settings in which middle-class children grow up. Middle-to-upper class children are often surrounded by a greater number of successful adults, giving them concrete proof that schooling is important for their future, instead of simply being told.

What You Should Do

If you cannot help but get involved, Robinson and Harris suggest that if anything, parents should communicate with their kids’ schools to ensure that they are placed with excellent teachers. “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,” Goldstein explains. Also proven to be beneficial to young students is reading aloud on a daily basis, which is often overlooked by parents. Parental involvement in finding a tutor for their child—someone, unlike many parents, knows how to properly teach the material—can also improve academic performance.

The next time you think you are helping your child in school, take a moment to consider the short term and long term effects of your involvement. While volunteering for your kid’s school or PTA is a great contribution to the community, your child may not directly benefit. Set goals, encourage autonomy, and then step back—let your smart kids do their homework themselves.

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Sophie Borden graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with degrees in Environmental Studies, Spanish, and Writing. She is a Marketing Associate at TeenLife and lives in Boston. She loves traveling, cooking, and dogs, especially her little rescue pup, Lily.

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