Now that we are well into the school year, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself some questions. How involved should I be in my kids’ homework? How should I handle Johnny’s dislike for his algebra teacher? What will I do when Susie wants to skip school “just this once” to hang with her friends? Your answers to these questions might depend on the precedent set by your own parents, your relative exhaustion over fighting your kids, your concerns about how your kids feel about you, and your own priorities. All understandable, but will these reasons lead to the best approach? Probably not.
So I’ll begin by saying this: Good parents don’t cover for their kids. What good parents do is warn their kids of landmines and impending doom, help their kids avoid both, but accept that if their kids choose those paths, they must face the consequences. Good parents educate and facilitate; they don’t berate or dictate. Good parents hold kids accountable for their responsibilities and refuse to save the day when their kids fall short. They understand that we learn best when we think through our problems, strategize, and overcome adversity, not when well-meaning people carry us across the finish line.
What parents do the best job of helping their kids be successful?
- Parents who insist kids do their own homework. Sure, you can help your kids work through a problem or quiz them on their history facts, but your involvement should end there. Never, ever do your kids’ homework, rewrite their essays, or write a note to the teacher that Chrissy couldn’t do her assignment because she didn’t understand it. Chrissy can tell the teacher that herself and get the help she needs. Teenagers, especially, should advocate for themselves.
- Parents who form alliances with teachers to strengthen the school experience. Never create an “us versus them” mentality. Never agree with your kids that their teacher is stupid, careless, or ineffective. Instead, remind your kids that they will always have bosses with varying personalities and expectations and it’s one of life’s most important skills to learn how to work with them. Get to know your kids’ teachers, share important information with them, and speak respectfully with them and about them. It will make a huge difference in how your kids view their teachers.
- Parents who view regular attendance as crucial to school success. Your kids will not be successful in school if they are chronically absent. Therefore, you should send a consistent message that their job is school, it’s not an option, they will be there every day, and they will be there on time. Do not believe your kids when they say everyone is skipping school. It’s simply not true. And besides, how many times have you told them you don’t care what everyone else is doing? Mean it when you say it.
- Parents who refuse to lie for their kids. I’m sorry, but lying for your kids is one of the worst parental infractions I’ve seen as a teacher. Don’t think for a minute that we’re buying the story that Matt didn’t know what plagiarism was. Don’t think we don’t know about your family ski trip to Colorado even though you claimed Amy was out with the flu. Think about what you are teaching your kids when you lie for them. Instead, do what you tell them to do – tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. Will there be consequences, some of them painful? Of course. Don’t you want your kids to learn that?
Make sure your parental decisions reflect a belief that your kids are both capable and resilient. Capable to make choices and face consequences, and resilient enough to bounce back and move forward with a little more wisdom and maturity.