Parents play an absolutely vital role in their children’s online education. A parent’s involvement – or lack thereof – can often be a critical factor in the difference between their children’s success or failure at school. This is true no matter where that education takes place – whether in a public school, traditional private school, homeschool or online school. The qualities of that involvement need to be the same no matter what the venue, however the need is particularly poignant in an online setting for a number of reasons.
At the core of good parental involvement is the need to have a realistic assessment of our children’s qualities – both good and bad – not thinking too highly, or too lowly of them, but with sober judgment (Romans 12:3). We have to avoid the tendency of wanting to see our children only as little angels, and accept the fact that they, like all of us, are fallen creatures. Often these faults only become fully apparent as they get older; the little things they did when they were 5 or 6 aren’t so cute when they’re 12. Often our tendency is to deny what we see – it can’t be, or maybe it isn’t so.
It seems like God has a sense of humor, in that our children’s faults often lie in the areas we prize most, and have the hardest time dealing with. For example, athletic parents having children who are couch potatoes; brilliant parents having children who have difficulty learning. Extremely organized parents have children who are messy, parents who prize honesty discovering that their children sometimes manipulate and deceive. We may find our natural disposition and skills don’t completely equip us for dealing with our children’s problems, and that we need to humbly ask God for help and seek the counsel of others around us.
Having a realistic understanding of our children, and ourselves, by seeking help when we need it, we can avoid the common pitfalls – denying and ignoring our children’s needs, over-indulgence, frustration and giving up, being overly harsh, inconsistency, and vacillating between over-indulgence and harshness. We need to not only see our children’s faults, but we need to see them through God’s eyes – with grace and love and compassion (Eph 6:4).
We also have to recognize that our children’s brains are not fully developed. In teens in particular, the limbic system, which drives emotion, tends to develop ahead of the prefrontal cortex, which guides judgment – teens can be overwhelmed by new emotions and lack the judgment to make good decisions. In addition, young adults are not always fully aware of the consequences of their decisions – they simply don’t have the experience that we do. They might procrastinate too much, or not recognize the difference between marginal and completely unacceptable decisions.
The exact nature of a successful parent-child engagement is different for every parent and every child. There is no one-size-fits-all. If a child seems unmotivated or discouraged, we may need to encourage them; if lacking in judgment, we may need to monitor them; even if they seem self-sufficient, we need to be on-guard for their weakpoints. We also need to balance guidance with being domineering or overprotective – ultimately we want to teach our children how to make good decisions and set their own boundaries.
The need for good parent-child mentoring is particularly poignant in an online-school setting. If a child is not logging in to their lessons on a regular basis, their teachers will try to contact them via e-mail, but if the student is not even reading or responding to their e-mails, there is little that the teachers can do. This is where parent involvement becomes vital. Parents should check their children’s progress about once a week to make sure their children are staying on schedule; and if additional resources are needed or accommodations need to be made, notify the school immediately. Parents should carefully read and review progress reports, and respond as soon as possible if contacted by the administration regarding an issue.
Other pitfalls parents can watch out for:
- Children appear to be online, but are not actually logged in – they are doing something else
- Children log-in and are present, but are not actually working.
- Children who are undisciplined and tend to procrastinate – this can quickly avalanche.
One of the biggest pitfalls parents need to watch out for is thinking of online education as a “completely outsourced” activity – and taking their hands completely off the wheel. This can lead to disastrous results. In addition, parents can never delegate their responsibility for their child’s moral and ethical education to someone else (Deut 6:7). Teachers can instruct children in how to solve algebra problems and write essays, they can teach them about history and science, they can set good examples and encourage them to make good decisions, but ultimately it is the parents who teach their children values like hard-work, honesty and perseverance.
By properly engaging with their children and their education, parents can ensure that their children’s online educational experience is a successful one. An online education provides tremendous flexibility and adaptability. Parents can leverage those advantages to their child’s benefit, and achieve results that surpass what is available in more traditional venues. Successful involvement and engagement is the key.