Helicoptering, Homework, and Learning to Let Go

When you enter my classroom, there’s a newspaper article by John Rosemond tacked to the bulletin board that discusses why parents should not be involved when it comes to homework. As I teach an honors level English class, I often have a handful of parents each year that I would classify as “helicopter moms.” They expose themselves early enough through seemingly innocent emails, but as the year progresses, it becomes clear that they are after one thing: That A.

Often, the parent wants the grade more than the student does, and it becomes increasingly difficult to watch especially when the child doesn’t earn that A. Panicked emails are sent on the day that grades are due begging me to “round up”—emails that I’m sure are typed out with Mom hovering right behind the keyboard.

Rosemond claims, “There is no evidence that actual achievement is enhanced through parental involvement in homework. After all, achievement has gone down as parental involvement has gone up. Grades improve, yes, but that is because parents make sure homework is returned to school virtually without error.”

As achievement decreases, anxiety (and often depression) increases. Some students will completely disengage with their school work, while others live in fear of making a mistake. The result is a growing society of people who lack responsibility and are paralyzed when it comes to making decisions.

By the time a student is in high school, it is no longer age-appropriate for the parents to be involved in homework. My five-year-old though? She can’t even read the directions to her homework on her own, and many of her assignments demand our involvement.

For math homework one night, my kindergartener had to play a game called Bicycle Races. A makeshift spinner was created by using a paperclip and a pencil. A button and a ring acted as the game pieces. I read through the directions, then asked my husband if he would play the game with her.

After they had completed a couple rounds, I inquired who had won.

“Daddy did. Both times.”

“Was it a game of luck?” I asked.

“Not for me!”

Often, homework is a chore. It is one more thing that needs to get done in the short hours between the time we arrive home in the evening and the time the kids go to bed. In a two-hour span, there’s dinner to cook, eat, and clean up; lunches to pack for the next morning; baths and showers to be had; teeth to be brushed; and the request for an episode of Teen Titans Go! Add to that homework, and it’s a tight fit.

That’s not to say I don’t believe in homework. I do. I assign it with my students and I am thankful that my children’s teachers assign it too. There is merit in struggling with a challenging math equation without a teacher nearby to help, just as there is merit in requiring children to read each night. Through homework, children learn how to manage their time, how to problem solve, and how to take responsibility. However, when it comes to completing homework, the less involved I need to be, the better. After all, often I am sitting at the table with my own stack of grading to do.

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In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, the kindergarten homework assignment was to disguise a turkey. My daughter decided she wanted her turkey to masquerade as a slice of pizza. I manned the hot glue gun and cut out red felt pepperoni, my older daughter cut up orange and yellow construction paper into strips of shredded cheese, and the mastermind behind the project assembled it all together with some scissors, red paint, and a giant glue stick. After the feathers were attached, it was a collaborative work of art, but I can only imagine what it would have looked like had I truly let her do it on her own.

Still, it’s a slippery slope.

Recently, a colleague of mine asked one of her junior-level AP students where his project was when it hadn’t been submitted on time.

He matter-of-factly replied, “My mom and I are still working on it.”

She had suspected that this mother had been involved in some of his previous assignments, but never expected he’d come right out and admit it. But it doesn’t surprise me.

I’ve read countless articles on helicopter parents who keep on hovering right on into college and adulthood– calling college professors about grades, submitting resumes on their child’s behalf, even attending job interviews. I’ve witnessed students of mine, while he or she is in class, receive text messages from their mom the second a grade is entered that is deemed unsatisfactory. If a parent hasn’t loosened the reigns by high school, it’s likely they never will.

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As the first semester of the school year wound down, my kindergartener had another holiday homework assignment; this time it was to decorate a foam Christmas tree cut-out. Unlike the pizza turkey, she did it all on her own.

When I came home from work that evening, she was eager to show me her creation.

With brown marker scribbles and globs of light blue glitter in a nonsensical arrangement, it was truly hideous.

“Is this your best work?” I questioned.

She said that it was.

Having just bought some Christmas stickers for my own classroom, I offered her some. She stuck a few on, but it didn’t help. The tree still looked like something a five-year-old would do. But then again, she is a five-year-old…and this was her homework, not mine.

Looking at it, I shrugged my shoulders and stuck it in her backpack to be returned to school where it would be proudly put on display.

One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, in a Ted Talk titled 12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing says, “you can’t run alongside your grown children with sunscreen and Chap Stick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them. It’s disrespectful not to.”

That release, I’d argue, is one that begins with homework. It begins when I don’t frequent the online portal to check my children’s grades. It begins when I only review my fourth grader’s homework if she asks me to. It begins when I allow my five-year-old to complete as many of her assignments as she can with total autonomy, no matter how challenging for me that may be.

 

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5 thoughts on “Helicoptering, Homework, and Learning to Let Go

  1. It’s a slippery slope, as you say. You can’t just tell a 8 year old to go get his own bristle board when he tells you he needs it tomorrow and he had two weeks to plan for this project, but you can tell your tween who takes the transit to school to figure it out on his own. If he doesn’t need it tomorrow.

    My 10yo has a lot of anxiety about school work, and very high expectations to do well (she does). But to say we are not involved would be a lie. It took a while for us to find a way to help her get there on her own, and now by middle of grade 5 she has figured out a system. But she’s nearby when I cook dinner and still asks or needs support (not help exactly) from an emotional standpoint.

    I was so not like that. We were raised free range, pretty much. Things have changed a lot since I was in grade and middle school. 🙂

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  2. This reminds me of what my whole school district adopted -the LET GROW PROJECT- one night a week, in lieu of typical hw- students have to try something new ( make their beds, do the dishes, set the table, bring a snack to a neighbor, etc.). It’s for both parents and kids- the parents learn to “let go” of doing everything for the kids their way and the kids learn that they CAN do new things w/o them. I’m trying w/my own kids-when I remember to!

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