Friday, February 13, 2009

Boys and Parental Involvement with School

We are often asked how involved a parent should be in his son’s academics. Our first response to this question is to commit yourself to a long, consistent journey of nurturing an independent learner. Our mission as parents is to empower our sons with a belief that he can monitor and own his academic life well. We need to always be a resource to him when he needs help, finds himself stuck, stumbles into an area of deficit or just needs some encouragement. However, we should never care more about his academics than he does.

When we start caring more than he does, we take ownership of what’s his to own. We are then nurturing a dependent learner. We see this young man every day. He doesn’t attempt homework, prepare for tests, focus on organizing his schedule or work, unless nagged, prompted, questioned, screamed at, stood over, or strong armed. Homework can be one of the more unnecessary battles parents take up with boys. So, how does a parent avoid stepping into this quick sand?

One, frame your involvement from the earliest moments in his academic experience as support. Make sure he knows you’re available, but only if he gets stuck and needs assistance. Don’t train him to need you present for his work or projects, but available to review assignments upon completion or drill him in preparation for tests or quizzes if needed.

Two, in order for him to develop organizational skills (which is half the battle for school), he’s going to have to experience some natural consequences along the way. You shouldn’t be available to run to the store at 9:30 pm when he announces he just opened his back pack for the first time and needs glue sticks for a project due the next morning. Allow him to be docked a grade for turning in a late project or even fail a project for the sake of developing skills around organization.

As we discuss allowing him to struggle and fail, it’s important to note that no college or university in our country cares about your 5th grade transcript. Not even Ivy League schools will pay attention to your 7th grade math scores. Therefore, K-8 is a pivotal time for him to begin developing these skills, passing and failing, succeeding and bombing.

Next, we’d recommend you work in tandem with his teachers in double teaming him as he develops in this area. He needs to experience you being on the same page, giving similar consequences and supporting one another in seeing him develop as an independent learner.

We’ve officially lost count with the number of young men we’ve worked with who were Valedictorians, National Merit Scholars and ranked in the top percentage of their classes, who within two semesters managed to flunk themselves out of college. You may wonder (as have we) how it is possible for a young man with those cognitive abilities could find himself in this scenario. It’s possible if he has no experience as an independent learner. If boys only know how to perform with an adult standing over them and then are cut loose to an environment with that much freedom and that little structure, it’s very possible.

It should start early. Next time you walk the halls of your son’s school observing 2nd grade projects that were clearly done by a contributing adult, smile and imagine your son armed with his messy work and imagine him as an independent learner.


  1. Hi Stephen and David. I just ran across an ad for your book at 5 minutes for mom, and I am so excited to read it! I have three boys, ages 11, 7, and 4, and having grown up with two sisters, I pretty much feel like I've entered some sort of parallel universe. Now that we've officially entered "tweenhood" with the oldest, it's added a whole new dimension to parenthood! I have a blog about life with three boys (and a husband and male dog) found at boogersandburps(dot)blogspot(dot)com. I'd be so excited if you'd consider letting me read a copy and review it on my blog, as well as give away another copy. Regardless, I'll be checking out your book and learning what these boys are all about!

  2. I love this post as it shows that the best parenting is done by letting our children learn from their mistakes in order to grow into, hopefully, mature and independent adults. I have two boys 5 and 2. The 5 year old is bright, too smart for his own good sometimes. I am trying the parenting with Love and Logic and like the approach stated in this post of being supportive when needed but not hovering to create that independent learner. It's hard as I want to help him because I love him but know that sometimes my help is not wanted from this very independent boy. Thanks for the post and my "support" in knowing that this approach is the right one even if it is hard at times to implement.