Why do significant numbers of college professors and even employers complain about parents of young adult students/employees confronting them over, respectively, bad grades and workplace issues? Why have reduced class sizes and increased per-pupil expenditures not resulted in higher academic achievement levels? Why is the mental health of today’s kids so poor when compared with that of children in the 1960s and before?
The answer is in two words: parent involvement. Prior to the psychological parenting revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the overall philosophy was that parents were not to be highly involved with their kids. They supervised well and were available in case of crisis, but they stood a safe distance from their kids and allowed them to experience the inestimable benefits of the trial-and-error process. They gave their children long ropes and made them lie in the beds they made and stew in their own juices. It was the child’s job, back then, to keep his or her parents from getting involved. That was how children learned to be responsible and sturdy.
Today’s parents, by contrast, give short ropes, lie in their children’s beds (literally!), and stew in their children’s juices. They organize their children’s games, social lives and after-school activities. They help their kids with homework, help them study for tests, mediate their conflicts with peers, and, well, get involved. This is a sure-fire recipe for kids who are not sturdy.
Researchers at Duke and the University of Texas analyzed three decades of data pertaining to parent participation in children’s academics. Their conclusions confirmed what I’ve been saying since the 1980s: Parental help with homework lowers a child’s academic achievement and is not reflected on standardized tests.
I propose that the same relationship between parent participation and child success is true no matter the context. Parents who manage a child’s social life interfere with the development of good social skills. Parents who manage a child’s after-school activities grow kids who don’t know how to fill their own free time.
These unsturdy kids have anxieties and fears of all sorts and don’t want to leave home. And their parents, when the time comes, don’t know how to stop being parents.