It’s a cringeworthy meeting for any teacher: A student’s mom or dad comes to demand extra time, extra points, extra help for a project you are pretty sure the student can and should do alone. Or worse, young Jacob or Izzy has turned in a stellar science project that you know darn well wasn’t their work. But is it worth confronting the parent about it?
Yes, if new Australian research is correct. A study in the Journal of Psychologists and Counsellors in Schools is the latest in a pile of evidence suggesting that, while parental involvement in education is generally helpful, parents don’t always recognize when their involvement crosses the line into harmful “overparenting.”
Researchers at Queensland University of Technology in Australia surveyed 866 parents from local independent schools on their parenting beliefs and their attitudes about their children’s homework assignments. The researchers used a newly developed scale to identify those who would be considered “helicopter parents.”
The researchers found the most highly involved parents were no different from other parents in how much responsibility they expected their children to take in doing homework. But they did take significantly more personal responsibility than other parents—and expect teachers to take significantly more responsibility—in making sure the homework was done. Where parents of middle and high school students typically taper off their close supervision of homework, parents who scored high on overparenting continued to tightly supervise older children. They are now digging into how those attitudes and behaviors are connected to students’ achievement, motivation, and resilience later in life.
“The irony is a helicopter-parenting style with the goal of fostering academic achievement could be undermining the development of independent and resilient performance in their children,” said Judith Locke, a clinical psychologist at Queesland and the lead study author, in a statement on the study. “Parental assistance with homework should slowly reduce as a child gets older, and daily parental involvement in an adolescent’s homework would be developmentally inappropriate.”
Moreover, other studies have shown inappropriately high parental involvement can lead to school- or districtwide inequities that tend to disadvantage poor or minority students—whose parents are less likely to harrangue a teacher or principal for extra support or opportunities for their child.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.