“Please, DON’T volunteer for the field trip. I won’t go if you do.”
“You will embarrass me if you say anything to my teacher.”
What’s a parent to do? You can’t just walk away and let the child raise himself, yet your caring support is met with a mandate to back off. And even if the request is genuinely felt, is it really the best course to take? Won’t your well-intentioned involvement actually be appreciated deep down, or at least later (even if it takes many years to happen)?
So what’s going on here? It’s a young person’s job to establish their independence. It’s a parent’s job to stay involved. These two opposing goals often clash, especially during the middle and high school years, even though each wants what’s best, from their differing points of view, for the child. This is especially true when both sides are strong personalities and each are determined to ‘win’.
The kind and amount of parental involvement that is best differs for each child. Main considerations to determine whether parents should get involved or should back down include: the age of the child, the scope (qualitative and quantitative) of the parental activities, and importantly the child’s view of what’s acceptable.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution on the amount or kind of parental involvement for all families. Much depends on the child’s specific developmental needs at the time, without concern for the parent’s needs. Often the parents have their own agenda for participating – perhaps they want to be seen as a great parent by the other parents (like there is an unwritten contest going on); maybe they missed out with their own parents lack of involvement and are making up for it by going overboard with their own children; sometimes they really enjoy the activity and want to participate for themselves, even if the child would rather they not. When parents recognize that they may have their own agenda and are able to put it aside to prioritize the child’s needs, conflicts can be averted.
Some ideas of parental involvement areas that absolutely are important to participate in are:
Parent-Teacher school conferences – don’t miss these, as not only are they a chance to see what is being taught but also for the strong message it sends to the child about your view on the value of education
Appropriate homework help – help yes, but appropriately, as the path for the child to achieve intellectual autonomy and to be able to take ownership for their own brilliance in the future
Discussion about school happenings – it’s important to stay informed and in the loop with chats to keep up with what’s going on in their life
Other volunteer opportunities are optional, using the yardstick described above to determine participation. When in doubt ask – “I’d like to volunteer to help during the OctoberFest outdoor fair – would that be OK with you?”
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: Research indicates that increased parent involvement is not always beneficial (yes, you can be overly involved to the detriment of your relationship with the child). What’s important for parents is to encourage effort over performance, to communicate expectations of high standards, and to maintain and to express an unflagging belief in the child potential. This last should be absolutely genuine.