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For the parents and guardians who see their roles as constant monitors, managers, and even intervenors in the lives of their children, the growth in access to technology, social media, and instant communication has accelerated a troubling trend. Terms like “helicopter parenting” and “snowplow parenting” have been used to describe their ultra-high levels of involvement. Now, some parents and guardians are essentially accompanying their child virtually throughout the school day.

Increasingly, teachers are reporting experiences where parents text their child frequently, even hourly, to check on their progress, performance, and mental state. Others describe instances where parents monitor classroom conversations in real time by having their children maintain an open microphone app on their laptop, tablet, or phone. Still others note parents quickly intervening to mediate classroom conflicts and confusion on behalf of their child rather than waiting for or allowing the student to solve challenges on their own. The list could go on.

Obviously, these parent and guardian behaviors are not encouraging the growth of key learning and life management skills their children need to develop. While parents may feel as though they are protecting, they are also depriving their children of experiences and lessons that will become more and more important as they approach adulthood. Additionally, they are adding to the distractions, interruptions, anxiety, and stress students experience throughout the school day.

However, we need to remember that, for the most part, these parents are well-intentioned. They want their children to be successful, after all, and they are investing considerable effort in trying to help their children navigate life. They also may have become accustomed to immediate access to their child during the pandemic and now have difficulty adjusting to the separation their child’s life at school presents.

While some parents embrace the integrated role they are playing in their child’s life and may resist stepping back, others may not even be aware of the potential problems their behavior can create for their child. Consequently, we need to be thoughtful and sensitive in our approach to nudge and coach our students’ parents and guardians.

It is worth our time and effort to help parents understand the potential impact and consequences of their behavior. They may need knowledge, encouragement, and strategies to help them adjust their behavior and allow their child space to experience learning with more independence.

We can start by sharing with parents and guardians the key developmental skills children and adolescents need to develop as they grow. Skills such as problem solving, conflict management, priority setting, time management, planning, and independence require that young people are allowed and supported to experience and learn on their own.

We might share with our students’ guardians the value of learning from mistakes and overcoming missteps. While coaching can be helpful, young people also need to be given opportunities to experience and work through life challenges. Our experience and insights can help parents evaluate the issues their children face and sort those that are normal and will pass from those that will need more attention and support.

We also might share with parents the emotional and psychological consequences of constant communication to and from their children involving routine information. Texts and other communication during times when students should be focused on learning create distractions that undermine learning efforts. Inquiries regarding progress and performance from class to class interrupt the flow of the day and increase levels of stress, and expectations for responses and assessments of how their child’s day is going can elevate the amount of anxiety students experience.

While asking parents to have no communication with their child during the school day may not be realistic, we might suggest a midday check-in. We can advise them to resist texts and other communication while students are in class and focused on learning. If parents have non-urgent information to communicate, they might remove the expectation that their child respond immediately.

We also can reinforce channels and timely schedules for us to communicate information parents may need and want to know so they do not have to rely solely on their child’s interpretation of expectations and events. Meanwhile, we can reaffirm the processes and opportunities available to parents to reach out to us with comments, questions, and concerns.

Obviously, school and school district policies and guidance need to play a role in the approach and strategies we choose. We may not be able to control the behavior of those parents who become overinvolved in the learning and life of their child. However, we can help them to understand the importance of and consequences associated with the parenting behaviors they choose.

Thought for the Week

Simply pulling a strategy “off the shelf” or defaulting to the most recently read article or staff development session topic may not generate the results we seek.

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