Your Homework Help Might Not Be That Helpful

They’re some of the most vivid memories of my childhood: sitting at the dining room table, long past sunset, as my dad coaxed me to finish math problems. More often than not, these tutoring sessions ended in tears (“This just doesn’t make any sense to me!“). While he had the best of intentions, research highlights a bleak truth: those late night homework sessions probably didn’t make any impact on my academic performance.

Most parents are told that, when it comes to their involvement in their children’s education, it’s the more the merrier. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Keith Robinson, a former professor at UT Austin, and Angel Harris, a professor of sociology at Duke, conducted an extensive study on the real effects of parental involvement on a child’s academic performance. They looked at activities like volunteering in their classroom, joining the PTA, helping with homework, and contacting teachers – in total, they analyzed 63 different kinds of parental involvement. What they found was that “most forms of parental involvement yielded no benefit to children’s test scores or grades, regardless of racial or ethnic background or socioeconomic standing.” In some cases, parental involvement actually seemed to hinder academic performance.

There has long been a push for parents to get more involved in their child’s schooling, with the idea being that academic success starts at home. There has been a narrative pushed that racial and ethnic achievement gaps could be remediated if parents simply gave more at home: more time, more effort, more help. This study suggests that that’s not true at all; in fact, this push for more often ends up simply making parents feel guilty over what they can and can’t do.

That said, Robinson and Harris did find that some forms of parental involvement seemed to have positive impacts across the board – and, thankfully, they don’t involve midnight math sessions. One thing that they found “generally works” is simple: expecting your child to go to college. They found that parents who taught their children the value of a great education from a young age seemed to have more academically successful children. Discussing the importance of higher education, helping your child choose universities, and discussing college applications can make a real impact on their trajectory. Making brownies for a school bake sale or emailing their teacher over a bad essay grade… not so much.

Researchers Robinson and Harris sum up their conclusions succinctly: parents “should set the stage and then leave it.” One way to set the stage? Enrolling your teen in the Enrichery College Workshop. They’ll work with one of our coaches to craft their college list, write their essays, and complete their applications, all before their senior year starts.