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5 Ways Parents Are Ruining Their Child's Academic Future

It goes without saying parents want the best for their kids. No parent intentionally tries to negatively influence his or her student’s grade performance, but many make getting good grades harder than it needs to be. Here are five common mistakes parents make during their child’s academic career:

1. Over involvement:

Just recently I finished tutoring a young girl* for an upcoming standardized test. She was a smart kid, as all my students are, but I noticed very quickly that she never did the homework I assigned her – and it didn’t take long to figure out why. After a few brief conversations with both the student and parent, I quickly came to realize that the child was over-involved. She was in Girl Scouts, dance class, science club... You name it; she was in it. Parents often think the more activities they stick their child in, the more-rounded she will appear to future admissions committees, which will in turn increase her chances of admission. This is true to an extent. But grades and academic performance still matter – a lot. In fact, they are probably one of the most important – if not the most important – factor admissions committees look at, so try to strike a balance between good grades and moderate extracurricular involvement.

*Names, gender and extracurricular activities have been changed for the sake of privacy

2. Too Much Pressure:

Several times in high school my parents reassured me that it was okay if I got a B or even a C every now and then because they knew I was trying my hardest to get the best grades. My parents realized that I put a substantial amount of pressure on myself on my academic performance, so the last thing I needed from them was additional pressure. (Note: I ended up graduating magna cum laude.) Had they pressured me like my peers’ parents did, I probably would have lost a lot more sleep by staying up later, trying to cram night after night, and my grades would have gone in the opposite direction. Research has shown that students who sacrifice sleep to cram actually end up performing worse the next day than their well-rested peers. So I urge you to evaluate your current role in your child’s life: are you a stressor or a helper?

3. Waiting for a Bad Grade:

In a Full House episode I watched recently, nine-year-old DJ Tanner brings home her report card and reads her grades to her dad, Danny. There’s a string of As and then, bam! Out of nowhere, a D in Spanish. Danny, believing there to be some sort of mistake, goes and talks to DJ’s teacher. The teacher is more than happy to help DJ set up a study program to bring her grade up, but she does not change the grade on DJ’s report card – she is stuck with that D.

My point is that parents often wait until it’s too late to help their child. They wait until their child gets a bad grade on a quiz or test before taking action, and while some teachers offer post-quiz or post-test extra credit, by then the grade is pretty much fixed. As an alternative, Jesse Loznak, a science teacher at Dr. Martin Luther King Middle School in Germantown, MD, recommends checking your child’s homework on a regular basis and having him explain it to you: what he did to get the answer, what his thought process was, etc. Even if your child is tackling honors physics and you have no idea what is going on, you should be able to get a good feel of how well your child understands the subject by how confidently he explains it to you. If your child seems unsure of his work, that is your red flag to step in.

4. Equating Struggles with Genetics:

The worst thing parents can say to their child after she receives a bad grade is, “That’s okay, honey – I was bad in math, too.” What this tells the child is that she doesn’t have to push the envelope because no good will come of it – her learning abilities are limited by genetics. So what should parents say instead? I would suggest an equally sympathetic – but more proactive alternative – such as, “I know that math can be difficult sometimes. I’m not sure I can help you with it, but why don’t you ask your teacher to explain it to you after school tomorrow?” What this tells your child is that improvement often comes from seeking help, as opposed to trying to do everything yourself. This is a life lesson that will serve her well beyond the classroom.

5. Not Limiting Digital Distractors:

Some students swear they can do homework while watching TV. But all this really does is slow down the child’s work pace and limit the time he can devote to other things, such as extracurriculars or even sleep. What’s worse is the academic attitude this digital obsession can foster in students. According to Robert Needlman, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, overexposure to TV, computers and video games can cause kids to seek fast-paced, constantly changing activity all the time. As a result, something a little less active, such as a classroom lecture, pales in comparison, and kids decide to tune out until a better stimulus presents itself. In this way, academic performance can be affected indirectly. This doesn’t mean you should set hard and fast limits on how long your child should use such technology, but know when to say when.

It’s impossible to be a perfect parent, just as it’s difficult be a student with perfect grades. But avoiding these common mistakes may benefit your child academically in ways you never imagined, so why not give it a shot?


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