So everyone is up in arms about the art of helicopter parenting. All sorts of experts weighing in and parents ready to debate. The general consensus is that it is detrimental to the child to hover over them in a manner that is "too much." Can someone please define "too much"? And if you don't want parents to hover too much - don't equip them with so much information about their kids.
I am not a helicopter parent. I am not in support of that theory either. I have however caught myself in a parenting lifestyle that I call 'preemptive parenting'. Parenting in a way to discourage my child from making poor choices by intervening too early before they have had the chance to make the choice. Example: If I give you this - then you might do this - so I just won't give it to you.
I am doing my best to rid myself of this mindset. Allowing my children to make their own choices and learn consequences the hard way without my running interference for them. One of the areas that we have done this is with my kid's education. But it isn't as easy as you would think. At least not when it comes to school.
School management databases. Heard of them? Does your child's school have one implemented? They are software systems designed to "connect" the administrators, teachers, students, and parents. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Everyone working on the same page. They are also designed to manage student records, contacts, athletics, activities, schedules, attendance and...why yes, now that you bring it up - their GRADES.
The first time I became familiar with a software system of this kind was a few years ago when they implemented one in the middle school. Seems harmless enough. The teachers post all of the upcoming homework, projects and deadlines for their students. Seems like it could be helpful. It would have been nice for my children to learn to use them in addition to actually having to WRITE down their assignments given each day - but I soon I realized they would use it as more of a crutch. If it wasn't on the "school site" - it was simply out of mind. They were relying upon the teachers to post their work - not keeping track of it themselves. Tho it may not have been the intention - we took away some of the accountability of being a student.
As parents we were encouraged to "keep track" of our child's school career with this web site. But I learned quickly not to use that system in place of communicating with my child first. My kids wanted me to ask them what they had for homework - not tell them what it was. They wanted to have some privacy - some independence at that age.
For a while, I trusted their answers. With the first report card I learned that things weren't hunkey dorey. It became clear that the school expected me to be verifying my student's work on their web site. When I went in for conferences due to the fact that my son's grades were not where they could have been, my husband and I sat at a table with 5 of his teachers who numerous times referred to that system. They felt that if we had been keeping track on the website, we would have had a better handle on our child and his grades. That was my first realization how important these web sites were considered. The school was putting my child's academic responsibility ultimately on me - by being able to say that they had informed me of all that was expected of my child on the web site. If I hadn't been informed - well then perhaps the responsibility would have fallen correctly - on my son.
My two eldest then moved on to high school and once again we were introduced to our accounts for the school administration database. We were cautioned not to spend too much time on it or exasperate our children over it - to simply use it as a tool. Yeah - I had heard that before...
Let me give you My Real Life Parenting take regarding parenting my kids with these databases...I hate them. I hate everything about them. They are making parenting unnecessarily complicated. During a time that I am doing my best to let go and give my child some more space, the school is giving me incredibly detailed information.
Perhaps the initial thoughts were by having parents "involved" children's performances would improve. I am concerned it is having another affect. Parents are the driving force of too many things. Part of the experience of education is that a child learns to be an independent student. While I think it was meant with the best of intentions - many parents could probably admit - that watching their children's grades can have a flipside.
When I was in school, the only grades my parents saw were on the report card. Interim reports were sent home periodically - but you only received those if your grade was not up to snuff - to alert the parent that the child needed some help or encouragement with that subject. If your kid brought home multiple interims - well you had an idea that perhaps you should intervene. Otherwise - guess who was the management system back then? That's right - THE STUDENT. There's a novel idea.
So, I managed my grades. I was in charge. If I studied, I did well. If I didn't study, not as well. (It's brilliant - isn't it?) If there was something I knew I didn't understand, I was pretty aware of that fact and arranged extra time to work with the teacher who was MORE than happy to spend that time with me and help. It did not require my parents following my grades daily or even weekly and then telling me when they thought I should get some help. I knew what grades were acceptable in my home under my parent's roof and when I entered into murky waters - I went searching for a life ring. I alone was responsible for my grades. Because no one knew what my grades were other than the teacher and myself.
So when the report cards came out - my parents saw the fruits of my effort or the disappointment of the lack of effort. If the grades were good, my life continued in a very blessed manner. If the report card was not up to snuff - we will just say alterations were made in my lifestyle to help me out until I could recover.
In high school, I had one particular subject that I struggled with. Math. My father worked with my constantly and consistently - I don't recall him ever turning me down when I said, "Would you help me?" But in addition, I stayed after school, before school - whatever I needed to get the job (MY job) done. But I didn't do it because my parents organized the effort. It was because I knew I needed help and my teachers ALWAYS approached those that struggled with a helpful attitude. A willingness to come along side their students to enable their success. My teachers gave extra to the students who wanted extra.
My parents NEVER knew what my grades were in my classes on any given day during my school career. They knew what was on the report card only. I was responsible for myself because I was allowed to be. They didn't have a way to check up on me. If I didn't turn in an assignment and got a zero - then I would have to decide to work harder to counter it. But Mom and Dad were not at home managing a computer system that reported that I didn't turn in my homework that day waiting to discuss it with me.
This school management system is conflicting with my parenting for many reasons:
1. I don't need to know every time my child doesn't turn in a homework assignment. Because if I do, am I supposed to acknowledge that he is not doing his work - or pretend that I don't see? Those are really my choices. It is a bad place to be as a parent.
2. How many times do I watch them not turn in an assignment and not say something? When is it too many? Maybe I am never supposed to say anything. But if I know they are not doing their work - as their parent do I continue to allow the behavior? What happens when I see them skateboarding, playing video games, hanging with friends after school but I know they aren't getting their work done?
3. If I choose to say something, you can be sure that I get one of these responses: "Mom, I've got this taken care of. You don't need to worry about it." or "Oh, that isn't correct. The teacher made a mistake."
4. Now I'm sucked in a little deeper and have to decide how lightly I should tread. Do I trust that my child is handling it? Well that is what I want to do. But we already know that in the past - I was reprimanded for not being more engaged with the database and staying on top of things better.
5. So now more time has passed and more grades are posted. Some good. Some not so good. More not turned in homework assignments. More below average grades. And the one that I asked about originally? Well that hasn't been changed yet either...but no interim report came home to inform the student and parent that things are not going well.
6. Do I intervene because I know what the grades are? Do I intervene because I can see without a doubt that the grades are dropping and that WAY too many things are not being done?
(See this is where not having a clue about the grades other than the school sending me an interim - would be much preferred. Then it is clearly defined BY THE SCHOOL, that the student needs help. My child knows this is NOT just me deciding that the level of effort isn't up to par- they are getting the message from the school too. But as long as those grades are posted 24/7 they are really expecting that the parent will intervene when the student needs help. Thus making me the bad guy to my child - who is still insisting that all of those grades are incorrect and that he is doing really well, by the way.)
7. Now just how long is a parent supposed to be aware of poor grades from the child on a fairly consistent basis and NOT say something? Because it seems to me that if I spoke up each time, I would be pretty much hovering over my kid in a helicopter fashion which I have read time and time again is NOT an effect way to raising a healthy child. I've even been counseled by the school to not use it as a means of hovering over our kids.
Ever been near a helicopter? They are ridiculously noisy and incredibly windy - rendering it impossible to have a conversation without yelling. So - yes, if I choose to intervene that is precisely what is going to happen -- a very loud conversation. Because my child is going to say one of two things: Please refer back to #3 - and thus the cycle begins.
This pattern will continue until the madness is finally stopped by the posting of the report card. At this time, one of two things can occur...
1. The report card will be wonderful and reflect the fact that my child was correct when he said that he had it all covered and that all of the teachers were making many errors and that I should have just left him alone and not wasted so much time and NEVER looked at that stupid web site
2. The report card will reflect everything that I saw being posted for the previous 10 weeks...and either chose to ignore or worried on a daily basis that yet ANOTHER assignment had not been turned in or failed.
Where does this leave me?
Don't show me every little grade that is entered for my child. If my child is struggling - send me something notifying me that my child is in dangerous waters within the academic expectation of your school. That way my child knows that it isn't just me who is disappointed with the lack of effort. Then show me the end result. Clearly the report cards and still the determining factor here. Then I can make the decision how I want to parent that report card at that time. Showing me all of those grades for all of those weeks just created a parenting dilemma for the parent and stress for the child.
Putting a parent and child in the scenario that the parent is "all knowing" about their child's grades is dangerous. It allows the parent to take a leadership role over the grades in a way that they should not. The student/my child needs to feel his own sense of responsibility to the grade - not to my reaction to the grade.
Oh, I heard that...you said, "So don't look at the grades."
Let's say that I do that - let's say I don't log in and look at my child's grades until the report card. When my child's report card is covered in grades that do not reflect his ability and finally engage with teachers - am I then going to be greeted with, "Well, everything is right there on the web site. You should have seen that he was having difficulty."
Honestly, if I went by the grades on that web site - my child would appear to have been having difficulty EVERY single day. There is always a low quiz - a 'forgotten' homework - an incomplete paper. Really? I don't need to nor should I be required to see every grade entered for every subject. It's unfair to the child. It's unfair to the parent.
Parents see lower grades and feel worried. They feel the need to say something or do something. Maybe we aren't supposed to feel that way and maybe that is not the desired response- but we do and it is the effect.
When I think back, there were assignments I didn't do, pop quizzes I failed, papers that I didn't do on time -- why? Because I was a teenager and those things happened. If I try to imagine my parents being able to see those things every single day - I'm not sure that we could have ever had any peace in our home.
You remember being a teen. If each day that I returned home from school and my parents had had the ability to know exactly what my homework was each night and exactly what I didn't turn in - when I asked to go out with a friend to the mall or stayed up late talking on the phone would they not feel the need to say something? I think it may have been hard for my parents to keep quiet knowing those things. I think it is hard for any parent.
Back then because they didn't know, my parents trusted me to be responsible. So I learned to make my own decisions. To juggle a schedule. To coordinate my own study time and arrange my own tutoring help. Like a real student.
Now? I struggle everyday - do I look? Do I not look? If I look - do I say anything? Which is the right parenting thing to do? Let him fail and remain silent. Speak up and guide? Ultimately, it affects the trust that I have for my child and it affects his willingness to be open with me because he feels like I am too involved in something in which he wants desperately to be independent.
One thing is certain - if I say ANYTHING - anything at all -
my child is most definitely going to have something to say back...
...and it probably isn't the kind of dialogue that is going to help a parent/teen relationship.
How can anything interrupting the trust in a relationship between child and parent during adolescence be a positive addition?
Just because 'we can' doesn't always mean 'we should'. How about giving our teens and the parents a break - sometimes parents just don't need to know everything.