We’re Getting Unprecedented Access To Our Kids’ Activity at School—But How Much Is Too Much

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When kids are little, parental involvement at school tends to spike. But as children grow up, many parents start to feel torn. We want to let our kids develop a sense of independence and responsibility, but simultaneously feel pressure to stay on top of everything that happens at school. 

Even when letting kids take the lead in their school lives feels right, many parents are struck with guilt (at times from other, seemingly more involved parents) to stay connected. Adding to the confusion is the trend toward online portals like Skyward, Canvas, and Google Classroom, which allow parents to keep track of assignments, grades, and child-teacher communications, something many schools across the country have adopted in recent years. Meanwhile, lots of teachers and schools have policies about not dropping off late homework assignments or missing gym clothes for students who are old enough to be responsible for those items themselves.

With so many mixed messages, it’s no wonder so many parents are left wondering: How much parental involvement is too much?

“In elementary schools there wasn’t very much information on those portals, but now my sons are in high school and everything is there,” says Beatriz Sordo, a mother of two in Chesterfield, Missouri. “Over time I’ve realized that once every two weeks or so feels right unless one of my boys is having trouble with something. Sometimes teachers are late entering information and it appears like there are missing assignments when there aren’t. Asking about things all the time creates stress for everyone.”

Some parents and experts alike believe good study habits are learned “on the job” at school, where kids are held accountable for their grades and assignments. Their relationships with their teachers is something else that really can’t be developed by their parents, as they’re not present in the classroom day to day. 

Few of us seem to agree on what the right level of parental involvement is, in part because it’s different for every age, stage, and perhaps even every child. Some children are naturally more independent than others. Others are more sensitive to comments and criticism from over involved parents, so giving them some space seems the better option. 

Some schools gently send the message that the best way to let your child grow is to back off completely. Others insist that you check digital grade portals — something previous generations never had to deal with at all — and keep the lines of communication with teachers open. It’s no surprise that many parents don’t know what to do.

What about a child’s right to privacy?

Then are the privacy issues. Don’t kids deserve time to figure things out, turn in late work, and get a handle on their assignments before parents jump in with their comments and opinions? Don’t teachers deserve the same? Many educators feel immense pressure from parents to keep those portals updated daily. 

Making things even more complicated are apps that some schools are using to track everything from bathroom breaks to visits to the nurse, principal’s office, and more. Some apps even collect data about intelligence, disciplinary issues, personalities and schedules. Does this invade a child’s privacy? The education technology industry is at a crossroads. Will it put practices in place that protect students privacy or will it let schools, parents, and students figure things out on their own? Only time will tell.

Setting personal limits might be the answer.

For now, much like curbing screen time for kids, experts suggest limiting the number of check-ins with your child’s school to once or twice per week. This gives both the child and their teachers some breathing room to complete assignments, including anything that may need to be redone or turned in late. “I check my kids’ portals just once per week on Fridays,” says Sarah Davey, mom to a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader in Winter Park, Florida. “It’s how they earn Xbox or screen time in general. It’s up to them to stay on top of everything if they want to have fun on weekends.”

Other parents, like Lisa Lombardi from Larchmont, New York, take it even further and wait until progress reports or quarter grades are posted before they take a peek at any online portals. “I ask my sons how things are going,” Lombardi says. “I’d rather they share with us rather than us checking on them.”

Whichever route you choose, talking to your kids — and perhaps also their teachers — about it is a good way to gauge how your involvement may or may not be received, so you can tailor it appropriately. After all, if a parent is either too involved or not involved enough, it will affect their relationship with both their children and the educators who spend the day with them. 

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.