I wrote this post a while back… way before I was a middle school mom. Recently, I became the proud mom of middle school girls and began writing a series on it in an effort to share ideas for educators and families better help students make a successful transition to middle school. In that vein, I’m reposting it…

(This post is part of a series focused on middle school. To read the first post in this series click here.)


Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to know algebra to help your child succeed in high school. In fact, research by Professor Nancy Hill of Harvard University, shows,that when parents helped teens to do their homework it actually had a negative effect!

I had the amazing opportunity to conduct focus groups on parent involvement with juniors and seniors at Burton High School in San Francisco Unified two years ago. I asked them, “What can parents do to help you succeed in school?” Surprisingly, they told me that when parents helped them with homework, they were often more confused. Times have changed, and many of the ways we learned to do things in school are vastly different than the approach many teachers are using today.When teens say “PLEASE! Don’t help me on this!” we should listen to them. This doesn’t mean, however, that they no longer need us to support their success in school. 

So how can parents help? 

When students enter middle and high school, their lives become much busier. They manage multiple course loads, and after-school activities. Socializing with peers becomes also more important. At the same time, as students move toward to adulthood, they begin to seek more and more independence from parents and caregivers. It is developmentally appropriate for teens to have more say in how they use their time.
With this in mind, teens need opportunities to learn time-management skills to complete long-range assignments that require more organization and planning – skills that will be crucial in high school and beyond. Families of middle and high school students can help their teen by shifting their support gradually to a more coaching/advising role.

Parents as learning “coaches”

Dr. Hill’s research confirms. She found that successful teens have parents who work with them to establish reasonable expectations around homework, organization, and grades in a way that gives them a chance to take responsibility for their own success. Dr. Hill calls this “scaffolding independence.”

Dr. Hill explains. “Don’t jump in and help your children right away. Let them try to find their own solutions first. If you don’t bring their forgotten lunch to school today, they will be more likely to remember it tomorrow.”

Students in my Burton focus group also confirmed Dr. Hill’s research. They said they still  need help from parents to be successful in school. They want us to share stories about how we handled high-school pressures, and to help them problem-solve the academic challenges they face. They want opportunities to try it their way, to “mess up”, and help in figuring out how to do things better next time.

Here are the basics:

  1. Help your child set academic goals. Focus on both short and long term goals
  2. Monitor their success along the way. Establish a regular check to review and problem-solve together
  3. Reward success with more freedom. Allow teens to make more decisions about how they manage getting their homework done as they demonstrate success.
For more ideas on how to help secondary students, click this helpful link on Middle School Homework Tips.

How do you help support a good homework habit?

Related Reads: The Great Homework Debate – Part 1and Part 2 , Homework Tips for Parents

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About alimcollins

Ali Collins is an educator, community organizer and mom. She lives with her husband and twin girls in San Francisco, CA.

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Life-long Learning, Social Emotional

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