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Parents hurt kids when they do their homework for them

| Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2003

My dad loved helping me with my homework. On the other hand, I hated it when he helped.

He is an engineer, and he approached every problem with relish, precision and endless patience. It took forever. The process encouraged a certain amount of independence in me. If I could possibly do the homework myself, I did.

Many of today's parents, I have learned, have decided to cut out the middle man. They are doing their kids' homework themselves.

Marilyn Reed, a Pine-Richland school board member, says she hears parents bragging about getting As on their kids' honors English papers as though they have "still got it."

"What is wrong with parents who do this without shame• Do they really believe that they are helping these kids?" writes Marilyn, who offers comments for this column as a member of the Familyville Parenthood Panel. "They say their kids are too busy with other important things (soccer, dance lessons, a job, a boyfriend). I truly fear for this nation if this trend continues."

It is true that it is hard to back off, as a parent, and let a child make his or her own mistakes. I remember when my children fumbled for the first time with coloring a picture or gluing felt on paper. I was so torn about whether to jump in and show them the right way that I sought friends' advice about it.

I also reminded myself of one mom who did everything for her three boys, only to have them grow up angry and unsure of themselves. I have tried to quiet my inner control freak, back off and let my children work on their own.

Katie Mueller, a teacher from Gibsonia, looks at school as the time in children's lives when they can make mistakes and learn how to correct them with adults' guidance.

"Success isn't tied to an 'A' on an assignment, or take-home project," Katie writes. "Success is a job well done, an assignment completed on time, a new concept learned."

Kids learn best when they do things themselves, Katie writes, and that means parents should make sure they understand the instructions and then let them do it. Let go of the control.

"By completing our children's homework we are cheating them," she says. "They do not learn how to follow directions, meet deadlines, or feel pride for completing a job on their own."

Pam Harman, another panel member from Powell, Ohio, says she sometimes has trouble letting her 14-year-old son, Chris, make his own mistakes.

"It's very tempting to take over the project when he does something less than my idea of perfect, especially for my Type A personality!" Pam writes. "But, frankly, I can't imagine stealing learning and achievement opportunities from my kids. I have to agree with Marilyn. What will become of our nation when we produce 'nonproducers'?"

It is not always fear of letting kids fail that drives parents into doing homework, writes Carrie May, a mom from Union, Ky. Sometimes, teachers are assigning too much. She recalls a cousin, in fourth grade, being required to type papers. The cousin is now in high school.

"Most of my neighborhood friends have kids in early elementary school, and the kids get homework that seems designed to get the parents involved," Carrie writes. "Teachers need to be realistic about what a student in his or her class can finish and get to bed at a reasonable hour."

We've been lucky with teachers at my house. My first-grader's teacher assigns three workbook pages a night, but she has made it clear that this is work that builds on what the kids did in school that day. They should be able to complete it on their own, the teacher has told parents.

Doing children's homework for them not only robs them of the opportunity to learn on their own. It teaches them dishonesty. Imagine if you were that child, handing in a paper your mother or father had written. Would you feel pride• Or shame?

I know my answer. Perhaps I would feel as though I had gotten away with something. But deep down, I would feel as though my parent didn't think I could do the work. I would carry an insecurity with me into college and the workplace. Maybe I would have made As in high school, but I'm betting my success would end there.

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