Living with Children: Ditch the ‘homework buddy’ approach

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QUESTION: The school our 10-year-old daughter attends believes parents should micromanage homework sessions — they call it “being a homework buddy.” As a consequence, our daughter believes we should help her with her assignments. Mind you, we’re willing to help when help is truly needed, but we don’t want to be our daughter’s “buddies” under any circumstances. What are your thoughts on this?

ANSWER: When are teachers, administrators, and college professors going to realize that enabling by any other name is still enabling? Homework buddies? Give me a break! Back in the dark ages of my youth, when children did their homework independently, they did their homework, and student achievement was considerably higher than it has been since.

Yes, it is possible to get a child to do his/her own homework, even in the face of teachers who want parents to be “homework buddies.” My three-point plan:

First, do not allow a child to do homework at the kitchen table or in any other family area. Make it clear that homework, being the child’s responsibility, is to be done in the child’s room. Parents should make sure the child has a suitable work area stocked with appropriate homework supplies — i.e., paper, pencils and/or pens, crayons, a ruler, etc.

Rule of Thumb: When homework is done in a family area, homework will become a family affair, thus diminishing its benefit to the child in question.

Second, limit the number of times per evening you will render assistance to the child, and limit the length of any such rendering. For example, when our children were of school age, my wife and I made a rule that we would not provide help with more than three homework problems per evening, nor would any one such “helpful occasion” exceed five minutes.

Within these draconian (by today’s standards) limits, our children managed to make grades decent enough to get into good colleges.

I am convinced that one of the unintended messages the “homework buddy” system sends to children is that they are not independently competent. Along those lines, veteran teachers tell me today’s kids are liberal users of the phrase, “I can’t.” Also, I think many a child has figured out that paying attention in class isn’t that important because his/her parents are going to re-teach everything anyway.

Third, hold children responsible for their school performance. Just as negative consequences befall irresponsible adults, so should negative consequences befall children who do not accept their responsibilities. Lessons in real life should begin early, lest they come too late.

When all is said and done, the “I am NOT your homework buddy” system described above amounts to nothing more than proper discipline, which has forever been and will always be the key to a child’s success in school.

Despite modern noises to the contrary, there is nothing new under the sun.

[Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com. Copyright 2022, John K. Rosemond]