Can It Be? Too Much Parent Involvement?
By Dorothy Rich
Discussion/ Reflection Questions
What causes too little or too much parent involvement at your school?
What one strategy have you developed to build more effective involvement?
The other day at rush hour, the normally very busy streets near my house in northwest
Washington were barricaded to traffic for almost an hour. No one knew what was
happening. There was no crash, just lines of backed up traffic.
Finally I found a police officer to ask what was happening. “Oh, he said, “This is for the
Obamas going to their parent-teacher conference. Get used to it,” he added. As a staunch
advocate of parent-teacher conferences, I urge the Obamas and their school to keep doing
conferences, just please not at rush hour.
For someone who champions parent involvement in education, it’s hard to say this: but the
truth is - - yes, there can be too much parent involvement well beyond the rush hour.
When parents become so wound up and wrought up about their child’s admission
to college that they write and then type their children’s essays for college, that is
When parents stay up all night completing science fair projects (while children
sleep), that is too much.
When parents become so protective of children that any rejection they suffer
(including a low grade) feels like a personal rejection, that is too much.
Today, so much more depends on school and success in school than it used to. We are a
grade-driven, credentialed, SAT society. It follows that we are more anxious about our
children doing well in school.
How can we keep a sense of balance about the line between too little involvement and too
much? How do we know what is just right? It’s not easy.
Goldilocks knew when the chair she sat in and the bed she lay down in were just right. She
just knew because that is how it is in fairy tales. In real like, it’s a lot more complicated. In
our age of terrorism as well as the possibility of low grades, the danger for parent
involvement, when it’s too much is that it can become over protection for children. This can
be a deterrent, not a help, for growing up.
The extreme stories abound as in the case of the mother who killed so that her daughter
could be on the school cheerleading team. And there’s the father so caught up in the little
league game, he attacks the coach for not doing right by his kid. There are parents who
“attack” teachers in the name of different curricula for their children.
Yet, it’s not these extremes that should keep us concerned. While they make the headlines,
they are rare. It’s the everyday over-involvement that doesn’t make headlines that is more
pervasive and can be dangerous for children. Parents want so much for children to succeed.
Many parents today want so much for children not to suffer, not even to be disappointed.
Recent books make it clear that, no matter how hard we try; there is no one right answer for
how to raise children. Yet, no matter how we do it, we need to raise resilient children who
have the confidence and motivation (I call them “MegaSkills®” that it takes to grow up
strong and responsible.
When parents step in to protect children from all possible harm, how are children to learn
how to protect themselves? from the less than kind world to the less than kind classmates.
Children need experience with difficulties and with overcoming them and even living with
them. Children are not hot house flowers. They are extraordinarily resilient.
I worry about all the over-protection children experience today and I regret the loss of
streets for informal childhood play, rather than today’s more formal playdates. I regret the
loss for kids of being able to ride their bikes to the far reaches of the town, rather than
having to constantly worry about the dangers all around them.
There is no one formula for parent involvement, no already set rules. But there is a rule of
thumb - - it’s the difference between being the coach and being the player. When a parent is
involved as a coach to children, it’s an appropriate role. When the coach runs onto the field
to be a player, that’s when the parent involvement lines are being breached.
What children need from parents goes well beyond the protection even of the biggest SUV.
I’d feel a lot better about the SUV’s on the road, ostensibly protecting children, if I could be
sure that inside of these big cars is an ongoing parent/child conversation, the sharing of
hopes, dreams and values that can provide the truest protection for these children as they
grow to be adults.
Steel is nice, but the longest -lasting protection for children is found in the softer places - -
their brain and their heart. When it comes to school success, coaching children to do their
own homework can help. Doing it for them is over-involvement, and it hurts.
Dr. Dorothy Rich is founder and president of the nonprofit Home and School Institute, MegaSkills
Education Center in Washington. She is the author of MegaSkills and developer of the MegaSkills
Teacher Training Programs. For additional information: www.MegaSkillsHSI.org.