Children's homework is becoming the bane of their parents' lives

Homework is no longer the bane of just students. It has also become a daily grind for their parents as well.

In a recent online post, a netizen said she was awakened at night by a woman yelling next door. “What’s the relationship?” she heard her shouting. 

Her first thought was a couple arguing about suspected infidelity. But when she picked up her ears and listened more carefully, she realized that the woman had lost her temper over a math problem in her child’s homework.

Indeed, homework is no longer the bane of just students. It has also become a daily grind for their parents as well.

The netizen’s online post drew sympathetic response from many who read it. Some web users said the whole neighborhood could no doubt hear them shout when they were helping their kids with homework. Others said they were frustrated by the stupidity or carelessness of their children. Some even confessed to losing their patience and spanking their children.

One parent reported a heart attack attributed to the stress of helping children with homework.

“After thinking it over and over again,” the heart attack victim wrote, “I decided that life is more important. Now when it comes to homework, I just go with the flow.”

Alisa Chen, an office worker and mother of a third grader in Shanghai, told Shanghai Daily that she thought of herself as the “wicked stepmother” of fairy tales when trying to help with homework. Her daughter was often reduced to tears by her criticism.

“She is so slow and makes the same mistakes over and over,” Chen said. “I just couldn’t help but raise my voice in reminding her that she needs to be careful and correct her errors.”

In fact, she added, her daughter’s homework became more arduous than her own office work. Losing her temper with her child created a depressing atmosphere in the family home.

So why are parents getting so involved with homework? Many blame the education system. Many blame parents overanxious to see their children succeed at school and get good grades.

“Teachers assign tasks to parents, such as checking homework, listening to their recitations and helping with word dictation,” Chen said. “Now there is even a new concept called ‘home dictation,’ which we never had in our childhood. It means dictation assignments needing to be done at home with help from parents.”

Parents are required to sign their names to attest that they have helped with each assignment.

Chen said she tried to save a lot of home stress by signing her name without checking her daughter’s performance. That had repercussions.

“A teacher sent me messages via WeChat, blaming me for being irresponsible when my daughter could not recite text in class that I had signed my name to saying she had recited it fluently at home,” she recalled. “I had no choice but to treat homework more seriously than my own work.”

The involvement – often reluctant – of parents in homework is also increasing the stress levels of students.

In feedback gathered by the East China Normal University Press on the subject of parent involvement in homework, many Shanghai students said they were scared of their parents, who had become homework tyrants at home.

Second grader Huang Xun said her mother always asked her to raise her voice when reading texts aloud.

“If I failed to do so, she would raise her voice and eventually get into such a rage that the roof was almost blown off,” she wrote in her feedback.

Wang Beiyi, a third grader, described how her mother’s temperament has changed in the past three years.

“When I was in first grade, my grandma would stay in my room and play with an iPad while I was doing homework,” she said. “When I was in second grade, she moved to another room because she could not bear my mother’s angry voice any more. And now, the door of the other room is always closed, and sometimes when my mother gets too loud, my grandpa admonishes her, ‘Be gentle. I have a weak heart.’”

Li Yige, another third grader, said his mother tore up his writing book after he wrote a bad essay.

“It seemed she would tear me up, too,” he said. “Once when I refused to do homework, she was very angry and forced me to stay up past midnight to do it. She was like a furious dragon breathing fire and I was terrified.”

Is it really necessary for parents to be so involved with homework?

Ding Limin, headmistress of the Primary School Affiliated to the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, thinks not.

“It’s necessary for parents to help cultivate good study habits, such as urging the completion of assignments on time,” she said. “But they should not have to check every answer. That’s what we have teachers for, to evaluate student performance.”

Xiong Bingqi, vice director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said he believes parents should stay well away from children’s homework.

“In cases where schools make it a requirement, it’s hard to escape the responsibility,” he said. “But even in cases where schools don’t require it, many parents intervene because they want their children to go to the head of the class.”

Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces, the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Beijing all have issued regulations banning schools from asking parents to check or correct children’s homework. The directives followed rising complaints from parents.

Xiong said schools need to change their practices and parents need to change their perceptions.

“When parents interfere too much, they end up basing their relationship with their children on test scores,” he said. “It increases the anxiety of parents, strains the parent-child relationship and deprives children from cultivating independence.”

Most parents who have busy, high-pressure jobs aren’t really qualified to be tutoring children in subjects where they have little or no expertise, Xiong said.

Instead of losing their tempers over the details of homework, Xiong said parents should devise study plans with their children and then supervise them in compliance.

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