Thursday, October 25, 2012

On parental authority

“I hit a parental dip this week during a particularly trying homework session.

“After an hour of gently bickering with my ten-year-old, the bizarre conclusion seemed to be that I was to blame for inconsistencies in Victorian modes of transport. “

So here’s my “rule book” response to this reader.

First, ask yourself how you made the decision to spend an hour bickering with your child over homework?  What made you think that getting this assignment done was worth the battle? What made you decide to draw the line with your child over this issue? Certainly, parents need to draw lines with their children at different times. But wise parents also know when to back off and let a requirement go. It’s like that country and western song, “you’ve got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them.” Did it ever occur to you that it was your choice whether or not to enforce homework that night, and did it ever occur to you that you, as an adult, have the right to determine how an hour in your home will be spent?

Most likely, you will get through this experience with you and your child relatively unharmed. But, you might not. In my practice as a psychologist (in fact, this week alone I have met three such people), I see adults whose lives have been negatively influenced by homework policies that have taught them to dislike school, and have served to separate them from healthy peers in their high school years.

The fundamental question we should be asking is not just whether there should be homework, or what kind of homework there should be, or even how much homework a child should have, but, why are we giving people (at least 30 in the course of a child’s education) outside the home so much authority to dictate behaviors in your home.

Most parents support the schools and seek compliance with teachers’ expectations. But there is something  wrong when a parent lacks authority for decision-making in the home. So the first lesson in my "definitive parenting rule book," is to always know that you, as the parent, are the one who is in charge.


Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

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