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Defiant Teens and Homework Refusal: 30 Strategies for Concerned Parents

Research suggests that over 50% of moms and dads fight with their teenagers every night over homework, and over 70% of teens regularly refuse to do their homework. Guess who’s winning this war? You guessed it!

If you’re like most moms and dads, you feel overly-responsible for getting your teenagers to take education seriously, and you get worried and angry when they refuse to do their homework. This can easily turn into a power struggle if you feel this is a “war” you have to “win.” It’s very easy to react to your own anxiety about this dilemma rather than acting in a well-planned way that will get your youngster where he or she needs to be academically.

Below are 30 strategies (some of which may be controversial) for parents who want to “influence” (rather than “control”) their defiant teenagers to do their homework. Some of these techniques will work – some won’t. But pick a few that seem relevant and give them a try. You can always come up with “Plan B” if “Plan A” isn’t working so well.

1. Adolescents often feel loved "conditionally" rather than “unconditionally” (i.e., they only think you approve of them when they do a good job). This can lead to depression and bitterness. Try to be as positive as possible. If your adolescent comes up to you and tells you something really terrible, like she failed a unit test or something, be understanding. It took a lot of courage for her to work up the nerve to tell you this. So, the cooler you are with it, the more likely she is to come and talk with you on a regular basis.

2. Bring your teen’s backpack to her. This may seem ridiculous, but it can work. Adolescents are lazy by nature. It can be all the more difficult to get them to work if what they need is downstairs and they are comfortable on the couch upstairs. Sometimes, adolescents will forget about work simply because it is not in sight. So, get your teenager started with homework by setting her stuff down in front of her.

3. Doing a good job as a mother or father means that you have done all that you can do as a responsible parent. It does not mean that you have raised a perfect child who has made all the right choices. Once you really get this, you won’t be so anxious about your youngster’s behaviors, actions, and decisions. You will be able to see him objectively, and therefore be able to guide his behavior, because you’ll have seen what he actually needs.

4. Don't "bitch." This will invite adolescents to resist. Be kind, yet firm – and be proactive. How? By brainstorming with your adolescent. She is a lot more inclined to follow a plan that she came up with herself.

5. Getting your kids to listen to you is primarily about setting up the conditions under which they choose to do so. In order to do this, make a conscious effort to sprinkle your relationship with more positive interactions than negative ones (e.g., hug, show affection, laugh together, spend time together, etc.). Point out your appreciations most instead of constantly correcting, instructing, teaching, yelling, and complaining.  While it’s true that you will need to correct and reprimand as a mother or father from time to time, try to make a conscious effort so that every time you do this, you will follow it with many positive interactions. Teens tend to remember the negatives much more than the positives. Most of them will be happy to listen and be guided by the adults in their lives who they like and respect.

6. Have realistic expectations. If adolescents forget certain chores or assignments, it does not mean they are irresponsible – it means they are adolescents. So give them reminders in a good humored way. Use your sense of humor and remind without saying anything. Point, use charades, or write a note and leave it on their door or chair. If you have to say something, ask, "What was our plan?"

7. If you are a single mother or father, read all you can about identifying with your adolescent one a personal level. Adolescents who see their parent as the "annoying grown-up" will be even less likely to listen.

8. If your adolescent feels social pressure to go out and do things with his peers, let him. But make a deal that no matter how late they get home, they will do the homework before the next day. Make a deal and a plan of action. Some adolescents will do their best not to let you down in exchange for going to be with friends. (Disclaimer: As stated at the top of this post, some of these strategies will work for your teen, and some won’t.)

9. If your adolescent is already sitting at the computer, but simply is surfing or doing other things, have her get off. Force her off by standing there and watching her until she turns the computer off. Offer then to take her out to spend some of her money (which usually makes adolescents happy), or take her out for ice cream. It does not have to be a long outing, but getting her out of the "surfing mood” can make all of the difference. When you return home, she needs to start on the homework.

10. If your adolescent is simply being lazy, ask him to get up and do something that he will enjoy for a few minutes. Once he is off of his rear-end, it might become very much easier to get him to go and get his work.

11. If your adolescent simply dislikes the subject, "confide in her" that you will do it for her if she brings it out. Have her bring it to a couch where the two of you can sit together and work. Judge the scope of her understanding on the subject matter, then sort of trick her into doing the work herself (a controversial strategy, I know). Tell her you have to use the restroom, and just walk away. Before you go, ask her to do two or more parts of the homework on her own.

12. If your teen is planning on going out with friends, don't nag him to get the homework done before hand, but let him know that if he fails any assignments, he will not hang with friends outside of school for a week. The same applies if he wants to do something like skateboarding. Allow him to go, but with conditions.

13. If your teen is really struggling to complete homework, call or make an appointment to meet his teachers. Get to know them, make them feel comfortable to get in touch with you. This, of course, is something your adolescent isn't going to like, even if she is a good student. But, the teachers you have called are much more conscious of your adolescent in their class. So, not only does your adolescent know that you care about her education, the teachers do also.

14. Let your adolescent be the one to come up with his daily routine. He is more apt to stick with it this way. But beforehand, set up a consequence if he is unable to stick to the routine.

15. Make your teen start his homework. This seems obvious, but it is not as simple as you may think. Instead of telling him to "go start your homework," bring him to the computer or his work space and sit down next to him. Don't give up or walk away. Just sit there next to him violating his personal space until he opens his notebook or laptop and starts his work. Watch to make sure that he really starts. Sometimes, it is that simple push that he needs. Once he is on a roll, you can walk away and let him continue.

16. Moms and dads of adolescents often have trouble figuring out when to back off. When it comes to education, your adolescent needs to 'hold the bag'. What grades she “earns” in no way should reflect on you as a parent. After you have given her the time, the space, and the tools, she needs to do the learning. In the end, it’ her job – not yours!

17. Monitor your teen’s computer history. If he is working on a computer, watch to make sure that he doesn't stray. You can also set parental controls and restrictions on internet access.

18. Learn how to “inspire” your teenager, not “boss” her. Building a positive relationship with your child is your best parenting strategy. Kids want to please the adults in their lives that they have loving feelings toward. You can’t ultimately make them accept your values, but you can inspire them to do so.

19. Routines make your adolescent feel safe and secure. When adolescents feel safe and secure, they are at their best. Get rid of the 'Did you do your homework yet?' question. Know that from this time to this time, she is working on it. Be available at that time should she have any questions.

20. Responsible adults were not necessarily responsible adolescents. Remember those days when you were going through the same thing? Allow your adolescent to learn from his failure, which is an excellent motivator. Just keep track of his progress to make sure that he does not fail too much.

21. Depending on the confidence-level of the teen, some difficult assignments might be avoided. Anxiety can be a factor where fear of not doing well paradoxically causes the teen to just not do the work. If laziness or distraction don't seem to be the main factors, consider talking more in depth with your adolescent about what's going on.

22. There are many reasons why an adolescent may not want to do his homework. Is he absorbed in some other task? Is he planning on going out with friends? Whatever it is, knowing the cause is the best way to counter. Remember that a lot of trust is involved with raising an adolescent. Put him in the position where you are trusting him, and if he violates that trust, it is nobody's fault but his.

23. When teens enter high school, they are offered many different activities. Some adolescents try to do it all. This is a good time to explain to your adolescent that there is such a thing as 'too much of a good thing'. See how she handles the responsibility of an activity before allowing her to engage in additional ones.

24. When your youngster's grades slip, or you find that he's not getting his work in on time, “supervise” to help him get on track. For certain periods of time, he will not be able to do anything other than homework. During that time, no games or gadgets are allowed—just studying. In this way, you are providing structure that your teen can’t provide for himself. The time that you set aside for studying should be a time when you will be around to enforce the rules that you have set. Give a fixed amount of time, and once that time is up, your youngster is free to go elsewhere, homework done or not. (Disclaimer: Again, as stated at the top of this post, some of these strategies will work for your teen, and some won’t.)

25. Work to avoid getting pulled into a power struggle. Your defiant youngster will need many more learning opportunities and more rewards and negative consequences—and more time to learn these lessons.

26. You are not responsible for the choices your youngster makes in life. It’s impossible to take on that burden without a battle for control. Measure your success as a mother or father by how you behave—not by what your youngster chooses to do or not do.

27. You can't "program" your youngster to care about her work, but you can create a work environment that promotes a good work ethic. Children who regularly get their homework done do better throughout school and in life.

28. Your adolescent will have friends that completely “blow off” all of their work, and this can be a negative influence. Show your child that he can be cool AND have good grades, not one or the other. Do this by telling him stories about when you were a youngster, tests that you failed, and homework that you did not turn in. Don't make it seem like you are encouraging not turning in the work, but your adolescent will look at you differently when he knows that you were just like him at his age.

29. Your message to your children (which does not require long sit down conversations) is, “Your job is to take care of your responsibilities, which includes getting your homework done. Once you’ve done that each day, you are welcome to do whatever you want.”

30. The bottom line is this: You can’t get defiant teenagers to do - or care - about what they don’t want to do or care about. Teens have their own genetics, roles, and ultimately their own free will. So, focusing on getting your son or daughter to “change” will not work long-term and will most often turn into a power struggle. Sometimes the best strategy is to simply let him or her feel the negative emotions (e.g., “I’m a failure) associated with the poor choice of making mostly F’s and D’s.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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