This was going to be the year that Elaine Donovan stopped nagging Quin to do his homework. “If he fails, he fails,” the Charlestown mother told herself before school started. “Let him face the music.”
Well, it was a nice idea, anyway. By Sunday morning — one homework assignment into the year — she’d already cracked. At 11:30 a.m., the sight of her eighth grader’s backpack sitting in the front room, untouched since Friday, became too much. “I plopped it down right in front of him,” she said. That was followed by hours of reminders, initially gentle, but growing less so, as the Monday due-date loomed.
“I can’t stop myself,” Donovan said. “I want him to succeed.”
Never mind that Quin, 13, says the badgering doesn’t help — “It makes me less likely to do it,” were his exact words — or that the literature cautions against the technique. No matter how necessary it feels, family therapists and education experts say, nagging doesn’t address the underlying issue that’s preventing the student from doing the homework on her own, and instead can cause a variety of problems. Among them: It can breed resentment; make the student less interested in doing the work; turn assignments into the nagger’s responsibility, not the nagee’s; and actually diminish the value of the homework.
But with homework assignments coming in and a hyper-competitive world in which college-resume building starts in middle school, many parents say they fear if they don’t say something — or yell it — the work won’t get done.
Statistics on the incidence of nagging are hard to come by. But a number of factors have combined to ramp up the pressure families feel to get things done in a timely manner and that includes homework.
Let’s start with the amount of work kids get. The majority of students, regardless of grade level, spend less than one hour a day on assignments at home, according to research reported by The National Education Association . While this number has held steady for the past 50 years, in the past 20 years, homework has increased in the lower grades, according to the NEA.