No matter how many hours you spend helping your teen with his math homework, he’s unlikely to succeed unless you actually love math, according to a new study in Child Development. Researchers surveyed 1,500 ninth-grade students and their families and found that teens with “engaged but unmotivated” parents—those who are happy to help with homework but report limited interest in the material—tend to do worse on math exams than students with aloof parents who love math but seldom help.
Students succeeded when “families were interested in math and perceived their own math competence to be high, regardless of their amount of academic involvement,” said co-author Isabelle Häfner, in a press release. On the other hand “helicopter moms can impair their child’s performance if they are not themselves interested in the subject.”
For the study, Häfner and colleagues collected data from more than 1,500 ninth-grade students and their parents. They first asked each student how comfortable and interested he or she felt in math class, and requested their math grades and scores on standardized tests. Then they asked each child’s parents how often they helped with math homework (a metric they defined as “engagement”) as well as how interested they were in the subject (how “motivated” they were).
Students with motivated and disengaged parents displayed the highest levels of academic achievement and, five months later, these students also reported higher self-concepts. On the other hand, students with unmotivated and engaged parents watched their grades plummet. The findings confirm that parental involvement has little to do with a student’s success, and suggest that outside factors such as parental passion for a subject may give children the boost they need.
Which means you may be off the hook for helping your kid with his math homework. The bad news? If you want him to succeed, you’re still going to have to fall for Pythagoras. Hard.