To help or not to help: How much is too much when it comes to your kid’s homework?

Illustration: Jason Crosby Illustration: Jason Crosby

It’s Thursday at 9:45pm, and your child is crying. They have a big project due, oh, tomorrow. They have no outline, they have no poster board; in short, they have no clue. What do you do?

“Late-night runs for supplies are acceptable,” says Lori Linville, a parent of two high schoolers. “Doing work for my children, or giving them a ‘pass’ from school for work that is not completed is not.”

Since Linville is also an eighth grade language arts teacher at Burley Middle School, she has perspective on both sides of the homework help issue. As a parent, she wants to assist her children and get invested in their education—and she hopes the parents of her students feel the same way. “But,” she says, “I remind myself that this is the right time in my children’s academic career for their work and the results of it to be fully theirs.”

Village School math teacher Linde Tassell also recommends that parents take a hands-off approach to homework help, if only so teachers can better assess students’ progress.

“Parental assistance can undermine a child’s progress toward becoming an independent learner, one who is confident in their ability to figure things out,” she says.

Beth Gehle, a world history and AP human geography teacher at Charlottesville High School who both teaches high schoolers and parents two of her own, adds, “I don’t offer my own kids help on homework, although I do ask about what’s due and what’s coming up.”

And that’s the kind of help she says she’d like parents of her students to offer.

“The best way for a parent to be involved with homework is to help make a weekly plan of what times can be set aside to do it, and what assignments can be completed in each available timeslot.”

Aka no more Thursday night meltdowns.

But are all the other parents doing their kids’ homework for them? If you don’t help, are you putting your kid at a disadvantage?

Not necessarily, according to Celia Castleman, parent to two elementary schoolers. “I never offer homework help,” she says. “My husband automatically does, but when he’s on a business trip, the kids are on their own.” She appreciates her husband’s willingness to sit with the kids and encourage them, but says, “I’m more laid-back. I think if we do a lot of things for our children, it can atrophy their ability to become independent and self-motivated.”