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Parent portals - are we encouraging helicopter parenting?

We've use a parent portal to our student information system data for at least seven years. Using a common browser (and now mobile apps), parents can view current grades, attendance, work completion, and other data on their children.

All good, yes?

As the father of a child whose idea of satisfactory school performance and his teachers' were often at odds, I would have found such a resource invaluable. While I never did my son's work for him, I always saw my parental role as doing quality control and assuring school work came before recreation. Good access to information about my son's academic performance would have helped me do a better job of both those tasks.

"Homework all done? Grades good? Projects complete?"

"All good, Dad, so let me get back to my video game."

I don't think my son ever deliberately misled me about how he was doing in school. I just think he was a little clueless at times. As a parent, I could have done a better job cluing him in if I knew how he was doing on an ongoing basis.

But helicopter parenting seems to be a growing epidemic. defines it as:

a style of child rearing in which an overprotective mother or father discourages a child's independence 
by being too involved in the child's life: 
In typical helicopter parenting, a mother or father swoops in 
at any sign of challenge or discomfort.
Where does good parenting end and helicopter parenting begin? Does access to student performance data in real time encourage overparenting? Are we doing our kids an injustice by not allowing the chips to fall where they may when work is missing or badly done? Or are we neglecting our role as responsible adult if we don't insist our children put work before leisure and work to the best of their abilities*?

Any good guidelines for how access to student data can be used responsibly?
* In an ideal world, homework would be so engaging and meaningful, children would happily pursue it before any other activity. I am not holding my breath waiting for this to become the norm.

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Reader Comments (7)

Maybe not encouraging so much as enabling it to happen and providing tools at the same time.

Granted, by just providing a tool it will be abused by SOMEONE.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBob Martens

Doug, that picture you shared worries me too. Will that become the norm? Terrifying.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Wees

I'm not sure we're encouraging it exactly, but we are enabling it.

It's a double-edged sword, and it takes wise parenting to know how to wield it. We are in a very highly networked society, and I see no reason parents should be immune from information available on the network. If a parent has detailed information on performance issues in their child's school career, s/he has a number of choices. Parent A may choose to do the homework for his/her child or nag until the work gets done. Parent B may lock the Wii away or impose other consequences related to the issue. Parent C may ignore it and choose to let the school impose consequences. If it's independent and self-motivated learners we're after, which parent will succeed?

It also takes wise teaching to know how to best support good parenting choices. Teacher A who communicates with parents to "remind your child to do his/her math homework tonight from page 13, even questions 1-20" will elicit very different parenting behavior than Teacher B who asks parents on Mondays to "have your child share his/her planner with you to help them remember his/her responsibilities for the week." Those teachers who employ the strategy of Teacher B will most likely create a learner who will not need the intervention of a high school helicopter parent.

How to engage our kids in a networked world is anything but a question of black or white. It is subtle and nuanced, and requires us to examine our own needs and motives, just like anything else when we're deciding how to guide them. Neither parenting nor teaching is for the faint of heart.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill

I have three kids. My daughter works too hard, but did well. Son #1 was a classic underachiever (which a gifted and talented professor told me are now called "selective producers"). Son #2 had a "B+" in an AP class, but otherwise has "As" and seems pretty much on top of his grades now that he's a senior. Other kids have taken more AP classes than he did, but hey, this semester he's taking AP Calc, AP Bio, and AP Chem, along with band, jazz band, and philosophy. Because he couldn't fit it into his schedule, he meets with his band teacher once a week for an independent study in music theory. He’s weighing college offers now.

Son #1 didn’t do well no matter how much I lectured him or tried to motivate him--nothing worked. For a year, I had his grades emailed to me, but that just made me sad, so I stopped checking. He had to make up 8 credits in order to graduate (which he did with two days to spare). However, he also made it into both All State choir and All State band his senior year. I couldn't do anything to change his grades, but music changed his mind. He decided to graduate from high school, so he did. He decided (at the last minute) to go to college, and so he's there now, doing REALLY well.

My best friend doctored every one of his report cards in the days just before online portals came into existence. He was also a classic underachiever, but his parents never knew because he'd turn every "F" and “D” into an "A" with just a little creative editing (I showed him one of my son's "F"-laden report cards, and he said, "This would be really easy to change.") His parents were shocked to learn that he wouldn't be eligible to attend Harvard or Yale, but even that didn't matter. He went to a state school, did okay, then earned his master's at a better school, doing even better, and with any luck, he'll soon be pursuing a doctorate in education, of all things.

Seeing my underachiever's bad grades made me feel horrible, and nothing worked to change his mind until he figured out his own motivation. I'm pretty sure the same thing was true of my best friend. There's a slight chance that my high school senior is in over his head, but last semester he made straight "As" with the same schedule, so I think he's probably okay. In fact, all of my kids are okay. My daughter is pursuing her master's in England next fall.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJude not HeyJude

I think parent portals are great for keeping track of the progression of their children and also allow communications with teachers.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmber Johnson

Hi Bob,

Yeah, people are creative in finding ways to misuse anything!

Thanks for the perspective,


Hi David,

Unfortunately, it's a pretty accurate reflection of some kids. It's tough sometimes to internalize that making your child self-sufficient is the kindest thing we can do as a parent.


Thanks, Bill. Great observations.

Does teacher training cover how to best involve parents in their children's education? I wonder to what degree parents feel it is the teacher's role to teach parenting skills? I also wondering if good parenting, like good teaching, may look different from one child to the next?

Isn't fascinating how little we still know about education and human nature?


Hi Jude,

Great stories. Thanks for sharing these. It made me reflect on just how very different my two children were as students. Happily, they both have turned out to be very decent, responsible people. As it sounds like yours are.

All the best,


Thanks, Amber. That's the message I get from parents in our district as well.


March 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

The older our kids get, the less we know about how they are doing in school. Parent conferences are a thing of the past (unless your teen is in trouble) and the only snapshot in time that you get is a report card provided that it makes its way home to you. A good parent, not a helicopter one, will look at a school website once or twice a week to see announcements in case they are never mentioned at home or your kid is a couch potato saying they have nothing to do.

A motivated student looks at the portal themselves. They want to know how they are doing. A parent can also see but shouldn't immediately ask a teacher why the grade is 87 instead of 91. Instead, talk to your child and understand what is happening in their life.

Last of all, parent portals can make teachers uncomfortable. It holds a teacher accountable for grading in a timely manner. There shouldn't be last minute surprises when 2 months worth of grades are input the day before report cards come out. How fair is that to a student? A simple word is BALANCE. Educators do their job and parents do their job and kids need to learn how to succeed with a little guidance from all of them!

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDenise Smith

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