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Study says parents’ help with homework does more harm than good

Finally some parenting advice that doesn’t create more work for Mum and Dad: Don’t help your kids with their homework.

This bit of wisdom comes from a story in the Atlantic reporting on what’s being touted as the “largest-ever study of how parental involvement affects academic achievement.” After analyzing nearly 25,000 student surveys provided by the U.S. National Centre for Education Statistics and family questionnaires from Child Development Supplement, researchers found that parent help is mostly inconsequential, and sometimes can even hurt.

In other words, let your kids sweat it out solving those calculus problems, while you sit back, relax and watch some reality TV — or more realistically do the dishes and catch up on work email.

Keith Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a sociology professor at Duke, looked at 63 measures of parental involvement in children’s lives, including helping with homework, volunteering at school, punishing kids with bad grades, observing in the classroom, returning calls from the school and meeting with teachers and the principal. Robinson and Harris found that most had little effect on a child’s academic success.

The researchers also found that as children got older and entered secondary, school parental homework help had a negative effect, bringing down test scores. “Even though they may be active in helping, they may either not remember the material their kids are studying now, or in some cases never learned it themselves, but they’re still offering advice. And that means poor quality homework,” Robinson told the Canadian magazine Maclean’s.

The only two things that had a significant positive impact was read out loud to young kids and talking with teenagers about tertiary institution.

Robinson was surprised by the study results that challenge the accepted notion that children of involved parents do better in school.

“There is such an overwhelmingly positive sentiment toward more parental engagement, even dating back to the ’70s,” Robinson told Macleans. But things jumped out at us. Affluent children with good academic success do have involved parents, it’s just that that’s not the reason they have success. The relationship of parental involvement at the school—which varies greatly over racial and especially economic groups—never yielded positive estimates even one-third of the time.”

And so why do children of more affluent parents do better in school?

Robinson believes it’s because their parents talk to their children about college and these kids are growing up in an environment surrounded by high-achieving individuals.

What can parents do to set their kids on a path of success? Robinson and Harris found that children of parents who set high expectations and then stepped back performed especially well.

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