After school reopens next fall, teachers all over California will be making house calls--not to tutor children but to encourage parents to get more involved in their kids' education. Jim Sweeney, superintendent of a Sacramento district where such home visits are already in place, says they have "changed the whole relationship" between teachers and parents. Test scores and attendance are up, and discipline problems are down.
The program's success is not surprising, especially considering the results of a new survey conducted for the Nickelodeon channel and TIME. What emerges from the poll of 991 kids, ages 9 to 14, plus 400 parents and 103 middle school teachers, is a noteworthy disconnect in many families over parental involvement in their children's education. While 92% of the parents said they are very interested in their kids' schoolwork, the number falls to 75% when kids were asked if this is true of their parents. Similarly, 77% of parents said they help the kids with homework to help them learn more, as opposed to just checking it over to make sure it is done, but only 60% of kids agreed with that. Teachers overwhelmingly said they wanted parents to be extremely involved in their kids' work, but only 3% of teachers said they believed parents really are. Nearly 4 out of 10 teachers said their schools don't do enough to involve parents.
It is not hard for parents to fall short, says David Elkind, professor of child development at Tufts University and author of The Hurried Child. "There's a time famine," he says. "Jobs are becoming more and more demanding, and when something has to give, it may well be involvement with kids' schooling." More than a third of kids surveyed say they want to spend more time with their parents. The biggest obstacle to being together? "Works a lot," say kids.
Another reason: parents of children entering adolescence struggle to balance closeness and separation, says Dr. Leon Hoffman, co-director of the Parent Child Center at the New York Psychoanalytic Society. "The child is in this in-between state," he says. "He wants to be young and taken care of, but he also wants to be independent." Parents often give too much freedom, in part because kids of these ages tend to brush their parents off. Notes Hoffman: "Kids talk like they want their parents out of their lives, yet they are begging for rules and limits and attention."
The Nickelodeon/TIME poll suggests such attention may be more important than ever: 50% of the middle schoolers say they know someone who smokes pot, and 36% feel pressure from their peers to do so. Nearly half know someone who has had sex; 40% feel pressure to do so. And 37% of the kids polled say they feel pressure to steal something from a store.
Kids are becoming more materialistic too. Compared with the same survey last year, a greater number of kids (23%, up from 14%) say they would rather be rich and unhappy than poor and happy. While the majority of kids still say that if they had to choose between making more money and helping others, they would choose to help others, this year 39% would take the money (vs. 33% last year). A year ago, about the same number of kids wanted to become a CEO as wanted to be President of the U.S. This year 56% want to be a CEO, while only 40% want to be President. Perhaps it says something about role models, both in the White House and at home.
--By Andrew Goldstein