It may cause more harm than good.

Melissa Locker
December 26, 2018
Catherine Delahaye/Getty Images

Sending the kids off to school is one of the great rites of passage—and for many parents it also marks the start of nightly homework battles. Before you start preparing for hours of arguments with your child about iambic pentameter, the quadratic equation, Faulkner’s oeuvre, and the causes of the French Revolution, consider this novel concept—don’t do it. You can support your child while they do their homework, but there are a few scientific and developmental reasons to stay on the sidelines.

 

Not helping your child with homework not only makes your night easier, but research also shows that giving your child too much help could actually hinder their development of skills. And, if you’re the type of parent who ends up doing the child’s homework because “it’s just easier to do it yourself,” according to a Vanderbilt study,it can lead them to feel incompetent.

 

While your child may think homework was designed just to aggravate them, depending on the teacher, it is usually assigned for other reasons, too. When a math teacher doles out an assignment it’s to make sure that their student is understanding the concepts being taught in class. If they can’t do the homework, it’s a sign that the teacher needs to go over whatever mathematical concept again so that the student truly knows the material. Basically, teachers use homework to get an accurate reflection of the child’s work. If you step in and help, you may be short cutting the learning process, which is not ideal for long-term learning.

 

Plus, researchers have found that all that homework help and all those tension-filled hours of homework aren’t particularly useful. Not only are they scientifically proven to negatively impact families, but they don’t really help kids improve their grades and sometimes make grades worse. A group of researchers from the University of Texas, Austin analyzed three decades of surveys of American families about family homework behavior and kids’ achievements that were conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and had some interesting realizations. “We found that when parents from various racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups regularly helped their child with homework, in most cases, it made no difference for the child’s improvement in their test scores in reading, math, and their grades,” Prof. Keith Robinson, who conducted the research,toldToday. “Regular help with homework… even compromised achievement in grades for white, black and non-Mexican Hispanic children.”

 

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Luckily, the researchers have a few helpful suggestions for parents concerned about their kids’ learning. The two biggest ways parents can support their kids is by advocating to make sure children were placed with the best teachers available at a school. Since this doesn’t always work, the researchers suggested also reading aloud to young children, talking to teens about college plans, and perhaps most importantly, listening to your child about what you can do to help them succeed at school.“Ask them ‘Do you want to see me volunteering more? Going to school social functions? Is it helpful if I help you with homework?’” Robinson told The Atlantic. “We think about informing parents and schools what they need to do, but too often we leave the child out of the conversation.”

 

Instead of doing your child’s homework for them, advocate for them to get good teachers who can do the heavy lifting of teaching and then focus on motivating them to do it yourself, and talk to your child about whether or not it’s working to best equip them for a life of learning. It’s a lot of work, but it sure sounds easier than re-learning the quadratic formula.