Helping middle school students with their homework may not be the best way to get them on the honour roll. But telling them how important academic performance is to their future job prospects and providing specific strategies to study and learn might clinch the grades, according to a research review.

The onset of adolescence brings changes in parents’ relationships with their children. They want to hang out with friends and make their own decisions, and, according to the research (if research was needed on this point) they are not keen to have mum and dad helping them with their homework. Interest in schoolwork and grades declines. But parents can still play a vital role by “instilling the value of education and linking school work to future goals”, says Harvard’s Professor Nancy E Hill.

… [A]dolescence is also a time when analytic thinking, problem-solving, planning and decision-making skills start to increase, Hill said. At this age, “teens are starting to internalize goals, beliefs and motivations and use these to make decisions. Although they may want to make their own decisions, they need guidance from parents to help provide the link between school and their aspirations for future work.”

This type of parental involvement works for middle school students because it is not dependent on teacher relationships, like in elementary school. Middle school students have different teachers for each subject so it is much more difficult for parents to develop relationships with teachers and to influence their teenagers through their teachers, Hill said.

Hill’s research — a review of 50 studies with more than 50,000 students over a 26-year period — showed that students tended to experience parents’ help with homework as interfering with their independence or putting too much pressure on them. Some found that their parents’ help was confusing because they didn’t use the same strategies as their teachers. However, some still felt that parents helped them complete or understand their homework.

So, parents, the message seems to be, stop leaning over your teen’s shoulder and start lifting their sights to the bigger goals of education.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet