Does Data Availability Turn Adults Into Helicopter Parents?

How much is too much when it comes to information schools provide to parents about their kids? With advances in technology making data collection and dissemination much quicker, schools are now in a position to keep parents much more up to date on their children's academic progress. But at least some child development experts believe that even if parents always keep their eye out, they should be less in a rush to intervene if they see things going off the rails.

Good use of information, as with most things, is about balance. Know too little and you risk things getting out of hand. Use it too much, and you're the star of those helicopter parents stories students use to scare their friends.

The term "helicopter parent" is cliched, but the risk is real. Parents who seek to weigh in on even minor faults – like an occasional low grade on a homework assignment – risk never allowing their kids the room to grow into responsible adults. However, such fears should not keep moms, dads and guardians from stepping up after a string of bad results without a sign of a turnaround. Good parenting is about knowing the difference between too much, not enough and just right.

"Teacher websites and online grade reports can be wonderful tools to help parents be engaged with their child's school," said Jennifer Shroff Pendley, chief of the division of psychology at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. "However, these same tools can lead to parental overinvolvement or helicoptering."

Most schools provide parents some kind of online access to their students' work. Public schools across Delaware use a system called Home Access Center, or "eSchool" which lets both parents and students view their kids' registration, schedule, attendance, assignments and grades.

Sarah Greco, who teaches fourth grade, says that good way of thinking about information published by the schools is "keeping a pulse" on children's results. She says that students perform better when their parents are involved, but those benefits could erode quickly if the involvement proves to be too much. Ideally, she thinks, parents should communicate to their kids the importance of keeping on top of their grades. Just as parents should use the online grade book, so should they encourage their children to do likewise.

"It is important for children to have some ownership of their work and their grades," Pendley said. "If parents become over-involved, children may take less responsibility themselves, may rely on others to manage their time and thus not be as internally motivated to learn and work hard."

"If a child is performing well in school, then a parent can check less frequently," Pendley said. "If a child is having more difficulty, the parent should increase involvement. However, the involvement should still take a partnership form."

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