Cleared for Takeoff
50 Ways Parents Can Help Their Teenagers Grow Up, Out and into a Life of Their Own
back to school
Kids and Homework: Stay Out of It!
By Wayne Rice
When it comes to kids and homework, I recommend that parents resist getting involved. It’s their responsibility, not yours. It’s common these days for parents to work themselves into a “quality time” frenzy—supervising their kids’ homework on a nightly basis, making sure that every assignment is done correctly and on time. Sometimes these parents actually “go back to school” themselves, heroically reading the textbooks and trying to learn the subject matter so that they can tutor their kids, or, if all else fails, do their homework for them.
Don’t do that! Don’t try to be a hero. Your job is to monitor progress, to coach and encourage from the sidelines, and to hold your student accountable—but that’s about it. Of course you care a great deal about how well your teen does in school, but you should also care enough to allow your teen to do it on his or her own. That’s the only way they will truly benefit from their school experience.
While there are always exceptions, most teenagers—if they are left alone and not overly pushed by their parents—will do OK in school and require little supervision and extra motivation. Don’t worry if your teenager isn’t getting straight As or winning academic-achievement awards. It’s not likely that you can turn your average student into an overachiever by nagging or pushing. In fact, the more you get involved, the greater the likelihood the student will do worse, not better. Remember, it’s her job to get her education.
Most kids are motivated to do well in school by a combination of two things: ambition and anxiety.
Despite what some think about today’s teenagers, most are pretty ambitious. They like challenges and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from getting good grades and pleasing their teachers and parents. Career ambitions or just a desire to excel at whatever they do may motivate others. Some kids are ambitious by nature, and others develop it gradually over time. It can be encouraged in teenagers by modeling it for them and by providing them with lots of affirmation rather than nagging. Your teenager probably is more ambitious than you realize, even if that ambition is not channeled directly into schoolwork.
Anxiety—or fear—is also a significant motivator. Most students fear what might happen if they don’t do their schoolwork. They might be embarrassed in front of their classmates or put their future at risk or lose a scholarship or make their parents angry.
Ambition and anxiety work in tandem. One of the other usually provides the motivation necessary to make students out of most kids. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if your teenager seems to lack both ambition and anxiety? What if he or she just doesn’t care?
The answer is not to make their performance your problem, but theirs. Sometimes parents and teachers worry and fret about a student’s poor grades while the student could care less. Unless your teenager cares as much (or more) than you do, he or she won’t be motivated to change or to take responsibility for performing up to his or her capabilities.
The best solution is to make school performance something that your kids care about. You can’t give them ambition they don’t have, but you can increase their anxiety level by tying school performance to the privileges that they enjoy and/or expect. Most kids care a lot about having time with their friends, having money to spend, having a car to drive, participating in sports, or having additional freedom. If their bad grades translate into a loss of privileges, they’ll start caring about their school performance. They’ll start feeling some anxiety.
Most kids won’t take kindly to this exercise of your authority. They will probably fight it tooth and nail at first. They’ll act like they really don’t care what you do to them and refuse to change just out of spite. They’ll act like victims and try to blame you for ruining their lives. Don’t fall for it. Just follow through and be patient. Eventually they will learn that you are serious and that if their situation is going to improve, they will be the ones who have to do the improving.
Of course, to make such a system work, you’ll need some way of monitoring how your student is doing, preferably on a weekly basis. There is simply too much time between report cards. What you need to know is whether or not your son or daughter completed the work that was assigned to them for the week, whether or not they are getting an acceptable grade. Some parents make arrangements with teachers and administrators to use a simple form at the end of each week (brought to the school by the student on Friday), which asks teachers in each class to give a progress report, along with a signature to discourage student dishonesty.
Your objective is not to micromanage your teenager’s life but to communicate clearly that they are in total control of their lives. They have responsibilities that they can choose to accept or ignore. The choices are theirs, just as the outcomes of their choices are also theirs. That’s how real life works.
This may not be necessary for your kids. Keep in mind that some underachieving students may have significant learning disabilities that should be properly diagnosed and treated. But the best response for the vast majority of kids who lack the motivation to apply themselves at school is to simply back off and let them take responsibility for their own school performance. Make it matter to them. In most cases, they will turn things around on their own, and they will learn a valuable life lesson in the process.
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Wayne Rice is the founder and director of HomeWord’s Understanding Your Teenager parenting event. Besides conducting dozens of UYT seminars each year and his work as a consultant for HomeWord, Wayne is a frequent speaker at youth, family and leadership conferences and other events for youth, youth workers, and parents.
Excerpted from Wayne Rice’s book, Cleared for Takeoff. Printed by permission of HomeWord. For additional information on HomeWord, visit www.homeword.com or call 800-397-9725.
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