When my daughter was at primary school I often used to help her with homework, a Hong Kong parent writes. Since starting high school she has become very private about her homework and won’t even tell me what she is got. I feel totally out of touch with what she is doing at school.
Many parents would be very grateful to be in your position. Your daughter is showing independence and developing the self-organisation skills necessary for success at secondary school. If she isn’t completing homework assignments, or if her work is below par, the school would have let you know by now.
Recent studies have shown that parents who get too involved with their child’s homework can actually do more harm than good. Children of these parents often lose motivation and drive. With the best intentions, overenthusiastic parents offer help when it’s not needed or wanted, making children doubt their own abilities and become less persistent when tackling difficult or complex tasks and also become more easily distracted. Students who complete homework with minimal interference from parents, or indeed anyone else, tend to be more successful in the long run.
Most homework tasks are focused on consolidating concepts and knowledge covered in class rather than attempting to introduce new learning. Homework is often used as a tool for instilling a good work ethic and developing skills such as time management. Not surprisingly, studies show that pupils who complete homework before other activities are associated with higher test scores than those who do not prioritise it.
Homework can undoubtedly have a negative effect on family life, putting strains on relationships at home. The teenage years are tricky enough to navigate without having constant arguments about how and when to get homework done. Maths is a particular case in point: with the best will in the world, parents try to help their children using the methods they learned at school which can be very different to the methods taught today. This often causes confusion and upset.
Some parents dread onerous projects given out by schools to be completed at weekends or during holidays that are too complex for their children to attempt on their own. Although they can be interesting and rewarding there is no denying that such activities can be far too time consuming for busy parents who more often than not end up doing more than their child; hardly a recipe for academic success.
However, there are exceptions: one father told me that his son had been set the difficult task of designing and making a model of a Viking boat that could float. He enjoyed working alongside his son so much he couldn’t resist making one of his own and was so proud of his achievement he asked the teacher if he could display it in class. In this case, the exercise had been a great bonding experience for father and son and huge steps in the boy’s learning were made through the discussions and trial-and-error involved in facing the challenge together.
Every child has different levels of concentration and commitment when it comes to learning, meaning that some will need more help and encouragement than others with time management as well as academics. If secondary pupils are struggling to organise themselves to complete homework on time the school’s pastoral system will usually be there to offer support.
Seeing homework tasks can be valuable for parents, helping them to understand what their children are learning in school. However, schools are very open and transparent these days when it comes to curriculum matters. I’m sure there will be plenty of information on your daughter’s school website and don’t forget to make the most of curriculum evenings and workshops when they are offered.
There are many positives about your daughter managing her own time. She is likely to complete homework more quickly, giving herself more time to see friends and follow her own interests and hobbies. This may not be the timetable you would choose for her but try to resist intervening.
The importance of “down time” in between homework activities should not be underestimated as research shows that the chance to relax and think not only leads to creativity, but can also increase performance and concentration at school.
Academic expectations are particularly high in Hong Kong and competitive parenting is rife. Evidence suggests that as parents, micromanaging our children is neither helpful for the homework accomplishments or general development, however well meant it is.
It’s natural for teenagers to move away from parents in every respect. They become more private and want their own space. Let your daughter know you’re available if she is stuck with work or has questions, but giving her greater autonomy will let her know that you believe in her capabilities and skills which will in turn, encourage her to believe in herself.
Julie McGuire is a former Hong Kong primary schoolteacher
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