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Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz Headshot

How Involved Should Parents Be in Their Child's Education?

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CHILD DOING HOMEWORK
AE Pictures Inc. via Getty Images

The common answer to how involved a parent should be in their child's education is this: As much as possible! I know, as a parent, that's the loving impulse in my heart.

However, two professors have actually found that parental involvement is often harming student performance. Their research has indicated that most forms of parental involvement with their children -- such as helping a child do homework, observing the class, contacting a school or helping to decide which courses to take -- do not improve, and in some cases hurt, student achievement.

Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris write of their findings:

There were more instances in which children had higher levels of achievement when their parents were less involved than there were among those whose parents were more involved. Even more counterintuitively: When involvement does seem to matter, the consequences for children's achievement are more often negative than positive... consistent homework help almost never improved test scores or grades. Even more surprising to us was that when parents regularly helped with homework, kids usually performed worse.

They did find that some parental involvement does help:

As it turns out, the list of parental involvement that generally works is short: expecting your child to go to college, discussing activities children engage in at school and requesting a particular teacher for your child.

We may be tempted to roll our eyes at yet another "less is more" study. However, this is not a counter-intuitive finding. While the study authors did not elaborate, it can be seen that even well-intentioned parental over-involvement can be destructive. A parent may wind up doing a child's homework or take-home graded assignments in a mistaken effort to have that child excel in school and get good grades. This is the equivalent of a parent taking over and driving a car in order to teach a child how to drive: it may appear to work for a while, but ultimately it handicaps the child, as it prevents learning.

We know that the role of parents in their child's education is crucial: to guide, structure, teach, coach, encourage and set the stage for success. But we also know that we must follow the theological model of tzimtzum (setting the stage for another to succeed and then humbly retreating making room for them to engage freely). We shall not always be present for our children, and we need to allow them to absorb the lessons of life. Hugging too much or too little leads a child to struggle with affection. Getting involved too much or too little in social and academic life is detrimental.

I long for my children to be happy and thrive more than anything. But I must remember that this often means loving and supporting from a distance and not intervening. Loving our children means doing what is best for them not what feels most right for us. Some simple values require consistent reminders.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L'Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V'Aretz Institute and the author of five books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America."