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Why parents often fail to encourage their children's advancement

by Joseph B. Giacquinta and Jane E. Levin

In our first SuperKids column we wrote that for children to engage in mindful educational computing at home, parents would have to become seriously involved. By serious computer involvement we meant providing direct support and assistance. However, we ended by noting that our studies have indicated that many parents seldom, if ever, become involved. Here we discuss the reasons behind their lack of involvement and offer a few suggestions about ways to deal with them.

Reasons for Lack of Parental Involvement

Little Motivation or Skill. Two principal reasons for involvement in any aspect of life are motivation and skill. When it comes to educational computing, many parents lack the motivation, so they do not encourage their children's educational computing at home. And many parents lack the skill, so they cannot help their children very much even when they want to help.

No Time. Today's parents are overcommitted, with work and home obligations paramount to the family's well being. When both parents work, there is little time left for helping children at and around the computer. This situation is even more stark in single-parent families. Often the best that parents think they can do is buy a computer for the kids and leave it up to them to "figure out" how to use it to further their schooling.

Fear of Computers. Another frequent obstacle our studies have confirmed, is the dislike or fear many parents--especially mothers--have of computers. There are quite a few reasons for this dislike or aversion, some of which seem to be gender-related, for example, the dislike on the part of many women for mechanical and/or impersonal machines. Obviously, lack of familiarity or skill with computers both contribute.

Limited Financial Resources. After sacrificing for a computer many parents face a double whammy. They discover that the computer needs upgrading and that educational software can be expensive, particularly since children can use it for only a short period of time before more advanced or different software is needed. Even the current push to use the Internet is an expense many can ill afford. The cost of subscribing, the cost of telephone time, the cost of possibly a second line in the home--none of this turns out to be cheap.

Other Negating Attitudes. There are also a number of parental attitudes that tend to lessen involvement. For example:

  • Based on bad first experiences, many parents hold low opinions of educational software, believing that good educational software simply does not exist.
  • Some parents often assume that only children with learning difficulties need to use home computers educationally,
  • Others think that the school knows best how their children should be using computers, if at all.
Finally, some parents believe that children should decide how their home computers will be used! Not surprisingly, children most often prefer to use home computers for fun and games.

Suggestions to Enhance the Home Computer's Use

Each of the above conditions weakens, in one way or another, parental involvement in children's educational home computing. While some of these conditions are more easily dealt with than others, they often coexist.

This does not, however, make the situation hopeless. Here are three important first steps parents can take to overcome such conditions.

  1. Make Educational Computing a Family Priority
    Although we can't create more time for parents, we suggest that having the time to get involved in children's educational computing efforts at home is simply a function of giving priority to it. Ultimately, all of us choose what we do with our time. An important first step is making the conscious decision to spend time on this activity and to devote less time on others or to reorganize them. Yes, it's tough - but if you want to maximize the value of your computing investment and the potential gains in your children's education, you need to do it!
  2. Form a Shared Family Vision
    Having taken this step, it is also important that parents understand that their home is really a "social envelope" that needs to be altered in important ways if change is to occur. Although most adults and children find it difficult to change, creating a vision of educational goals to be attained through educational computing and a plan for attaining them will make it easier for parents to get involved. The formation of this vision--and there is no one vision--about what to do at home can be enhanced by talking to the local school computer expert or to friends or relatives who, because of their success at home with their own children, can act as role models.

    Parents can also read in ways that might help them develop a reasonable vision. In addition to following the on-line articles in SuperKids, parents may also want to read various articles in print magazines aimed at home educational computer use. Parents who engage in such talking and reading will become aware of the value of educational software and will discover that very good pieces of educational software exist for elementary, middle, and high school students in general and not just for children with special needs.

  3. Engage in Simple Computer Efforts
    A third step has to do with making genuine but simple computer efforts. Such efforts will help parents, especially mothers, become familiar and comfortable with computers. Computer aversion is similar to other strong negative reactions toward objects. It can be overcome through deliberate effort and with time. A slowly paced set of beginning computer activities can go a long way toward overcoming this aversion and at the same time improving motivation, skills, and attitudes.

    If relatives or friends are at all conversant with computers, ask them about the kinds of things that they do. These things do not have to be educational. What is important is that one begins to get a sense of how a computer works and to develop some control over it. The computer does not have to be forever a mystery. If money is a consideration, look for families with appropriate software that can be legitimately exchanged or search for freeware and shareware, some of which might be quite useful.

    If a computer savvy child or relative or friend does not have the time or patience to help, then take a beginner's course at a community college or at night at the local high school. Even simple projects will make one feel more comfortable around computers and make clearer how computers can be beneficial to adults and to children for educational ends.

Although there are many obstacles to parental involvement, we strongly believe that they can be overcome and that parents, in overcoming them, will help their children engage in mindful educational computing at home.

If you would like to share any reactions with us about this column or about subjects for future columns, please send us e-mail at We would like to hear from you!

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