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About 18 months ago, a close friend and I discovered quite abruptly that we have very different ideas about what it means for a parent to be involved in their children’s education. My son Jonathan was a freshman in high school at the time. The primary points my friend and I dissected were homework assignments and regular communication with teachers/administrators. I maintained regular involvement in both.

Jonathan had lived with his father from the time he was a 4th grader until the last couple of months of his 8th grade year, when me moved back in with me. I had no real concept of his homework habits, and really didn’t think to ask anyone until it was already a problem for him in high school.  

The kid just flat-out refused to do homework, and would lie about having any if he thought he could get away with it. And since, at the beginning of his high school career, I had included my email address on the many school documents I filled out and signed, I received emails from some teachers expressing concerns over Jonathan’s failure to return homework assignments.  

By this time in his life, Jonathan had mostly gotten his classroom behavioral issues under control (he had tasted popularity, and it looked good on him). His classwork grades stayed solidly between fair and good and even his test scores would see him through to the next year, but the accumulation of zeroes were DRAMATICALLY reducing his overall grade average and he was in jeopary of failing.

We (the educators and I) worked together with Jonathan in trying to break him of these habits and bring his grades back up.  We approached the reward systems on a level a 15-year old would respond to, taking into account Jonathan’s history of behavioral disorders.

It never once occured to me that what I was doing was wrong. From the time Jonathan entered the school system (and even to a particular degree during the daycare/preschool years), I was encouraged to be involved with my student. I should be available for help with homework, for parent-teacher time, for awards ceremonies and choir rehearsals and football practice. I needed to just get used to the fact that for the next 13 years or so, I’d be going to school all over again.

But then I had introduced to me an entirely different perspective on this situation. I was told that I should have NO involvement with Jonathan’s homework; that it was strictly and completely Jonathan’s responsibility to get himself through high school; to sink or swim, upon his own merits.

My question in response to this statement was “And what in the hell am I supposed to do with him when he flunks out?”

And the response I got was that I’d better figure it out because I was “just guaranteeing that he’d drop out” the first chance he got.

So I’m left with this: Where should I have drawn the line? When should I have said “I’m done helping you with your homework, by the way. It’s all up to you from this point forward.” And, if I never should have taken it this far in the first place, why were the teachers still encouraging me?

I’m very curious to know how other parents have handled this sort of situation, or avoided it altogether. Was there a PTA meeting where this was discussed and I just missed it?


Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Rene' Grandon wrote Sep 30, 2008
    • Heather,

      I know where you are because I did what you did until my boys got into high school, My boys are also dsylexia, so letting go and letting them do it was tough but necessary.
      just be encoughed that you have made the right choice.


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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mary Clark wrote Sep 30, 2008
    • Heather...

      When your child reaches high school they should know what is expected of them.  It now becomes THEIR choice to do homework or not to do homework.  You should NOT be having to hold their hand in making sure they do it.  If they fail....then they fail.  Put the monkey on THEIR back...not on yours.  It is very hard to sit back and let them make these not so good decisions when they need to always make sure that her or she understands...ITS THEIR OWN CHOICE.  Therefore...whatever choice they make..they suffer the consequence.  Not saying you shouldn’t be made aware of what is going on....not saying that at all...because you should.  But until parents quit bailing out their kids from whatever...they are never going to truly learn the lesson of cause and effect.  If  you don’t do your homework, your grades will suffer.  Your grades don’t move on to the next grade.  You don’t move on to the next don’t graduate.  Pretty simple.  

      My son failed Biology one year in high school.  Just didn’t study or apply himself.  So...he had to go to summer school.  That one class cost $350 to take during the summer.  I told him that he would have to pay for it and if he didn’t have the money..then I guess he would go to the 10th grade again.  I told him it wasn’t any skin off my back....I didn’t have to do it.  So...he cashed in a few of his savings bonds and paid for his summer class.  I never had another problem out of him with failing classes again.
      He knew that I wasn’t bailing him out and it was either sink or swim.  

      It’s hard to see our kids make the wrong choices, but for some kids...that is the only way they truly learn.  All you can do as a parent is teach them the difference from right and wrong...and bring them up the best way you know how.  The rest is up to them.

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Feathermaye wrote Sep 30, 2008
    • I can appreciate and respect that approach; in fact, I would have much preferred it, to be honest. My line of thinking was that I had already passed high school.

      But, when I got emails from 2 different teachers AND a guidance counselor, should I have ignored them? Or told them that since Jonathan was in high school now, regardless of his special ed history, that I was leaving it up to him and them?

      I just have a really hard time swallowing that.

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mary Clark wrote Sep 30, 2008
    • I understand that...and it is a lot to swallow.  Believe me I know.  Even with his special ed still shouldn’t let him use that as an excuse for NOT doing his homework.  I would be glad that his teachers and guidance counselor contacted you and they should.  But you and your son should sit down and discuss what the issue is.  Make sure he understands what is expected of him....that it is his “job” to go to school and do what is expected.  If he needs help...then it is YOUR job to make sure he gets that help.  But ultimately it is his responsibility to get it done.  No  you should not ignore the emails from the staff.  What did they suggest?  When they get to this age...YOU CAN‘T MAKE THEM DO can take away and take away....but sometimes that works or sometimes it doesn’t.  Dont’ make things easy for him when he chooses NOT to do the homework (meaning...allowances....buying this or that...etc.).  Encourage him daily to make the right choices...maybe sit down and talk about goals...encourage him to make some goals.  If you can make these types of all of your homework...then maybe we can do this...or you can go here...etc.  He needs to understand that it is in his best interest to make the right choices.
      If he doesn’ have to let him fall on his face.  Very very hard....but I promise they will get tired of looking at the floor.  Best of luck....parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life!!!!

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Feathermaye wrote Sep 30, 2008
    • Just FYI: I am not seeking a solution. It’s no longer really an issue for me, since he is now in the Job Corps and essentially we’ve all moved on. The lingering questions, which re-occured to me the other day in light of something else, is what prompted me to post this background in order to open the topic up for discussion.

      I was more than encouraged by the educators to ask him if he had homework every day; to request to see work that was sent home (either to be done, or already done and returned to him, graded); to ask if he attended tutorials (I can find him the help but can not MAKE him go, right?). I did as I was asked to do by those who I considered knew better.

      Two of his freshman year his teachers (high school teachers) and his guidance counselor all contacted me at various times, with various suggestions. His counselor suggested a merit/demerit program that, according to her, had worked from some previous students who were having a hard time transitioning to high school.  Although I didn’t consider the transition to be Jonathan’s problem, I trusted her educated instincts when it came to kids, and thought that the least I could do, as a concerned and involved parent, is just as she requested.

      One of his teachers emailed me project assignments and due dates, so that I could follow through with him.

      So, when a counselor wants a sign-off sheet at the end of every week (between me and the teachers), and the teachers email ME the assignments, then where exactly DID I go wrong?  

      I’m hearing the message that I handled it badly, and should have left Jonathan to his own devices. I just find it ironic that what the educators were encouraging me to do is not at all well-received by other parents.  

      So, is that a statement about me (or other parents who find/found themselves in this situation), the educators, or the other parents? :)

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mary Clark wrote Sep 30, 2008
    • Oh ok...I see.  The sign off sheet at the end of every week was a great tool.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t have done those things...because you should.  I am now remembering about another post you had explaining he was out on his own.’s all coming back to me now.  You did the best you could do.  Who is telling you did wrong?  The contact with the staff should have happened and from reading your post it did.  You can still be in “the know“, but ultimately it is the child’s responsibility to do the work.  You can ask to see it and if it isn’t there..then you say oh choice not to do suffer the consequence.  That is all I’m saying.  Don’t beat yourself up about it.  It’s over now.  As a parent...we do the best we can do...sometimes we even make mistakes...but hey....we‘re human.  WE are not perfect..and we are going to not always do everything right.  Give yourself a pat on the back and say to yourself...I did the best I could do.  

      I hope I didn’t make you think that you had not done the right thing.  After your last post I understand this has all come to past.  You have to stay in the know with your kids...encourage them to do the right thing..and then the rest is up to them.  

      Let it go did the best you could on to his next phase.  Hate to tell never gets easier...LOL...we always trade off one thing for another...with our kids.

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Molly Rosen wrote Oct 1, 2008
    • maryclark gives really great advice.  I too think you did the right thing by cooperating with the teachers and counselors and doing what you could do to help your son through this.  I also had a EBD/ADHD son and I had to practically drag him through high school, but I never gave him the option to drop out and he ended up having to do the work to graduate.  He didn’t graduate on time, and not with his original school (he ended up going to an alternative learning center), but he knew that I cared and wasn’t going to let him just walk away from it... so he DID graduate.  Man, I had to choke back the tears at that graduation ceremony!!  I think that if I hadn’t made it clear to him how important it was that he get that diploma, he would have likely just dropped out.

      Now, I didn’t hold his hand through each assignment but I did keep open communication with his teachers and went to all the conferences so that he knew that whatever he was doing (or not doing), I would hear about and he would have to answer to me as to why he wasn’t doing well... he never did get terrific grades but he did get through school and I know with that kid, it was as good as it was gonna get and I’m grateful he graduated at all :)

      I have a couple of other kids who don’t have the special needs, and I have higher expectations of them and am more hands-off with them.  Sure they have both gone through their “Ah I don’t really care about this so I’m not gonna try” phases, but they realized they were only hurting themselves with that, as I was quick to remind them as well.  It IS their job, and it IS they who will suffer in the future.  Luckily one of these kids is 20 and the other is 14, so the younger one can see what happened with her sister (didn’t get into the college of her choice even though she did very well in the last couple years of high school), and can learn from that.

      It sounds to me like you‘re a great mom and you should not be beating yourself up one bit!  Whoever is giving you a hard time should (a) walk a mile in your shoes and (b) shut the F up.

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Feathermaye wrote Oct 3, 2008
    • squeeky, it sounds like you have your work cut out for you!

      Your 5th grader sounds a lot like my Jonathan. Jonathan would slowly lose every privelege available, then gradually work himself back into my good graces, earning everything back. Then BOOM! Back to losing them.

      Jonathan was very active in sports and activities, until he would fail out. Then all the ‘users fees’ and equipment and everything I’d paid for would be out the window. Finally I told him that he had to pay for his own activities, since I was done throwing money away.

      Thanks so much for your input and sharing your own experiences.

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