Schools have grasped technology and enabled today’s parents to keep far better tabs on school progress than any previous generation. But does using these tools mean that I am a helicopter parent? It’s an issue with which I wrestle since I’m aware that Dad isn’t always going to be there when they’re adults. And this morning I opened the paper to a column by Betsy Hart, who’s thinking about how much she should follow the schoolwork. On one level, I agree with her opinion that we should let the kids learn from their mistakes. But such a course of action doesn’t necessarily help a kid learn the coping skills necessary in a busy world.
Her situation was different in that her child is in the third grade and the principal was discussing upcoming advance placement tests, which I find amazing for the elementary school level. Parents were advised so that they could assist the kids in preparing. My elementary equivalent has been a reminder that standardized testing is approaching so be sure that Junior gets good food and plenty of sleep. But starting at the middle school level, any parent or guardian can both obtain the child’s homework assignments and follow the grade progression on a daily basis. I’ve used it intermittently through the years but now follow it more closely.
Kids do need to learn from mistakes and some of my best lessons were from time management screw-ups. But these were lessons gained in a generation that was less scheduled and with more parents at home.
Children are born with no framework for anything in life and part of our job as parents is to help them build those different structures. This is no different for time management and organization than any other skill set. But not all children are created equal in talents and some require greater attention than their siblings or other peers. This is compounded by the growing brain’s re-wiring itself as it moves towards adulthood. Attention will wander and assignments will repeatedly be copied wrong in planners. Failing to monitor schoolwork can lead to greater heartache for the kid who’s foundering because intelligence is hampered by a lack of organizational skills; the reality is that a trait of some gifted and creative kids is a fundamental tendency towards disorganization.
With each of our kids, we started in early elementary school to walk through the backpack and take-home folders to see what had to be done. The repeated routine of doing so helps create the structure that enables them to handle their responsibilities as they age and permits us to step back. And our continued surveillance – yes, that’s the appropriate word – of schoolwork lets us assess how they’re doing and whether there are indicators of other issues. But since all children aren’t equal in these skills, we’ve adapted the level of involvement to each child. This ranges from what’s the homework look like tonight? to let’s sit down with the planner and the site.
But as I write this, perhaps the best route is to continue going through the planner but keep the school website information to myself. And let the kid take the occasional hit when the two don’t jibe. Experience isn’t always the best teacher, but it is some of the time.