As most of you know, I usually write about issues facing parents of young children for EP, but this past week something happened with my middle schooler that gave me pause. My son participated in the annual science fair, which in itself is not remarkable. What was remarkable was how many projects were clearly accomplished by the parents, and not the children. As I walked through the school gym looking at the winners, I started wondering how many projects and assignments kids really do on their own nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about parents helping, coaching, or even correcting their kids work. I’m talking about parents taking on their children’s assignments as their own, and letting their kids take a back seat.
In the case of the science fair, I started asking various parents questions, such as how hard their child found it to complete their project. One parent told me that she did “about 75%” of her son’s science fair project because he was simply too overwhelmed with homework and sports to finish it “properly.” Another parent told me he “practically” did his daughter’s advanced math during the last week leading up to the science fair because she was swamped with other responsibilities. As I perused the finished projects I couldn’t help wonder what a “proper” science fair project was supposed to look like, but let me tell you, some of them were something Einstein himself would have been proud of. But the problem was this: it was so clear they weren’t done by a child. And that seemed really wrong to me.
My husband and I have a big rule in our house: Projects are done by our kids, no matter the outcome, no matter the potential for dismal grades, no matter the price our egos pay when other kids’ projects have a shiny A+ . We strongly feel that children need to learn how to develop skills to complete a project from beginning to end. But this week I started to wonder if we are suddenly outnumbered by parents who no longer feel this is important to their child’s development.
This leads me to a recent study which found that upwards of 70% of kids will plagiarize, cheat, or pass off others work as their own before they graduate college. Is this the new trend? Are we teaching our kids that success at all cost should now be a priority? Are we taking over their work to ensure their “success”? The authors of the study suggested that kids are under greater pressure than ever before to succeed, and that they have a greater number of daily stressors than any other generation. As the mother of 3 kids, I know all about the stress in kids’ lives, but is this an excuse to start doing their work for them? And this begs the question: Why are parents doing this? Is it because they have unfinished business from their own childhood, and making their kids the “best” at everything makes them feel better? Have we devolved into that much insecurity?
I also wonder if, instead of doing more for our kids, we should be doing less, in order to let them learn about life’s lessons on their own. By less, I mean, creating an environment in which they have less activities, less sports, and more time to complete these projects and their homework on their own. I simply cannot believe that sitting in the driver’s seat for our children’s academic work can possibly help them.
It’s time for all of us to take a deep breath and move to the back seat.
About Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
Dr. Joan Simeo Munson earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver. She has worked with incarcerated individuals, families, adolescents, and college students in a variety of settings, including county and city jails, community mental health centers, university counseling centers, and hospitals. She also has a background in individual, group, and couples counseling. Dr. Munson lives in Colorado with her husband and three energetic children. She currently has a private practice in Boulder where she sees adults, couples and adolescents.