Why You Shouldn’t Help Your Kids with Their Homework


Parents who get too involved in helping their children with their homework may be inadvertently hurting their kids’ academic achievement, according to researchers.

Angel Harris, a professor of sociology and African and African-American studies at Duke University, and Keith Robinson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas in Austin, are the authors of a new book, The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement with Children's Education.

To conduct their research, the scholars analyzed surveys of American families released over the last 30 years by the U.S. Department of Education. The surveys followed families over time, collecting information on the children's achievements as well as on the behaviors of both the kids and their parents. 

When parents from a variety of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups regularly helped their children with homework, it made no difference in the children's grades, nor was there improvement in their reading and math test scores, according to the researchers. Even more surprising: Regular help with homework frequently compromised both achievement and grades.

The surveys only provided information on how often parents helped, leaving Harris and Robinson to speculate on why the help wasn't effective. Robinson says the message to parents is that "being involved will not always result in better grades."

Another take-away lesson: Ask the child if what you are doing is helping them. Parents tend to take over the reins without asking the child. And many teachers feel that over-involved parents enable helplessness in students. Elementary school ages might need limited help from parents because they are still learning basic study skills, and older students can benefit from talking through the "big picture" on a project with a parent.

In general, parents should focus on making sure the kids are getting their homework assignments completed, and in holding children accountable by regularly monitoring their grades. The goal is to create independent, lifelong learners.

Harris and Robinson suggest three alternative ways for parents to be involved. It's okay to request a particular teacher for your child, to set expectations that he or she will go to college, and to discuss school activities and assignments with your child.