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Senior Correspondent

With the advent of a new school year, it seems appropriate to tackle the issue of homework: More specifically, the question of how involved parents should be and how parents can limit their involvement to only what is necessary.

As for the question of how involved parents should be, my unequivocal answer is “not much, if at all.” I am a member of the last generation of kids to do their own homework. We had to because our parents simply expected it of us. Furthermore, I distinctly remember teachers telling us that if there was evidence of parental help on an assignment , it would be graded down. Apparently, those adults knew that accepting personal responsibility would carry one further in life than mere good grades.

By and large, today’s parents are enmeshed, entangled and enmired in their children’s homework. The result may be better grades (in the short run, as long as the parent in question maintains his or her involvement), but the weakening of personal responsibility. When, I ask, are administrators, parents, and teachers going to get it? Over the past forty or so years, student achievement has been going down as parental involvement has been going up.

I have been a contrarian voice concerning this issue for a long time. During said long time, I have met many, many parents who have extracted themselves from their children’s homework and successfully resisted peer and school pressure to become re-involved. To a person, they testify that after a period of adjustment of anywhere from a month to a grading period, their children began doing better than ever in school. This should not surprise. For one thing, the child who knows that his parents are not orchestrating his homework chores will pay better attention in class.

For those parents who are enmeshed, entangled, and enmired and want to experience the joys of homework liberation as well as the immense pleasure of watching a child accept responsibility and perform better as a consequence, my advice is three-fold:

First, assign said child his or her very own personal homework place, preferably in his or her very own personal bedroom. That assignment goes a long way toward sending the message “Your homework is indeed YOUR homework.”

Second, stand at the ready to serve as a consultant, but set a limit. You might, for instance, make a rule that you will provide assistance on three occasions per evening and that no such occasion can last longer than five minutes. Suggest to your child that he do all that he can do on his own and then bring the three most vexing homework problems to you. If my experience serves me well, within three months your child will be bringing no more than one problem to you per evening. In the process, he will have discovered that he’s far more capable than he thought he was!

Third, set a limit on how late your child can work on homework. Having to put homework away, whether finished or not, at a certain time will force your child to begin managing his time more efficiently — yet another important life skill.

Begin enjoying the many fruits of retro-parenting!      

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