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by Debby Shulman
Another school year has come to a close. My daughter received her grades, thereby ending my sophomore year experiment. While my daughter did the hard work, I felt equal pressure. Yes, I am an involved parent and yes; I offer help when it is needed, but this year, I decided to stay out of the picture.
Do you ever think perhaps you are doing just a little too much? Calling teachers, observing a class, nagging a teen to get off Facebook and return to his studies – many of us do not realize how involved we have become in our student’s lives.
Last October, I committed to pulling the plug. While it took some time to change old habits, I eventually stopped interfering with my daughter’s daily habits, didn’t follow her grades or assignments online, and didn’t contact any teachers, per her request.
Not surprisingly, she had felt that my past intrusion on her decision-making altered her eagerness to get the work done. She spent too much time resenting my commentary on life in high school, her ‘job’ as a student and what colleges would be interested in her should she get too many C’s. I heard her complaint, and so, with much restraint…I let it go.
Without surprise, we had a rocky start. My life’s work revolves around getting students accepted to their dream school. I see 50 fresh-faced, excited and bright seniors every year, who have set aspirations and goals and the truth is, I know too much. I speak with admissions officers, stay current on trends in the application process and speak with colleagues weekly. How could I possibly stay silent about my anxiety regarding her performance? How could I just let her be? What would happen if I did?
As it turns out, my daughter did an outstanding job. All by herself.
Professor of Sociology Keith Robinson from The University of Texas at Austin recently published a fabulous commentary in the New York Times OpEd section entitled, “Parental Involvement is Overrated.” Over the past few years, his study evaluated how effective parent involvement was in relation to student success. The answer might not surprise you.
In the age of helicopter parenting, we have weaved ourselves into our children’s lives to such an extent, we are robbing them of the skills needed to screw up and know what that feels like. If we constantly call teachers to complain about classroom practices, run out on the field to dispute a call, or harass administrators on behalf of our innocent teens, then we are doing a great disservice over the long term. And the research shows that there is a difference between healthy involvement and detrimental involvement. Homework help? Forget about it. Robinson’s longitudinal study showed that homework assistance does not always bring the better grade.
The key to success is to advocate the benefits of school and send the message that support will come in the form of being (metaphorically) PRESENT. By the time our teens begin their own college search, we want them to find a school that remains commensurate with their own personal skills. In other words, work hard on staying quiet and let the authentic grades manifest through hard work, time management, and organization that was not overseen by mom or dad. As the article states (and as I can personally attest), “Set the stage and then leave it.”
Easier said than done.
Debby Dresner Shulman is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, and a former teacher and educational researcher. Currently, she is a private tutor and college essay consultant with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. She has published blogs for AOL’s The Patch, Girlilla Warfare and, most recently, Your Teen Magazine. She is a member of the Association of Writers and Writing Teachers, PFLAG and is a community ambassador for Autism Speaks. She and her husband live in Northbrook, Illinois with their three children.