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Shifting Homework Responsibilities from Parent to Teen

When it comes to defiant teens and homework, I recommend that moms and dads avoid getting involved. Homework is your teen’s job, not yours. It’s common for a mother or father (with good intentions) to supervise their teen’s homework on a nightly basis, making sure that every assignment is done accurately and on time. Oftentimes, they actually “go back to class” themselves, reading the books and trying to learn about the subject so that they can tutor their teenager – and in some cases, they even do the homework for their child.

If you take more responsibility for homework than your teenager does, he will never want to do it. Conversely, the less responsibility you take, the more he will take (eventually). It’s an ownership issue. And the paradoxical approach to helping your teen to do HIS work is for you to “let go.” Less is better.

Tips for shifting homework responsibilities from the parent to the child:

1. Be creative. Sometimes homework battles need some creative solutions. For example, some teenagers who refuse to do homework at home for one reason or another are willing to stay after school to complete it. As long as they don’t have to do it at home, they’re happy and it works for them. Other teenagers are exhausted when they come home from school, and they simply want an hour to unwind before they sit down and do their homework. In this case, let your child decide when and where to do the work.

2. Communicate clearly to your teenager that he is in total control of his life. He has responsibilities that he can choose to accept or ignore. The choices are his, just as the outcomes of his choices are also his. This is representative of how the real world works.

3. Even though you need to back-off with the nagging and over-assistance, you can still make academic performance something that your teen cares about. You can’t give her ambition she doesn’t have, but you can increase her anxiety-level by tying academic performance to the privileges that she enjoys and expects. Teens usually care a lot about having time with friends, a cell phone for texting, money to spend, a car to drive, etc. So if your child’s bad grades translate into a loss of privileges, she will likely start caring about her academic performance (but for different reasons than yours).

CAUTION: When you start withholding privileges, your teen may act like she really doesn’t care what you do to her, and she will initially refuse to do HER work just out of spite. She may even act like a victim and try to blame you for ruining her life. Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated in this way. Just follow through the consequences and be patient. Eventually your child will learn that you are serious and that if her situation is going to improve, she will have to start taking her job more seriously.

4. Keep in mind that some underachieving teens may have significant learning disabilities that should be properly diagnosed and treated.

5. Most adolescents that are left alone and not pressured by their mom or dad will do fine in school and require little supervision and extra motivation. If your adolescent isn’t getting As and Bs or winning academic-achievement awards, don’t get panicky. You will NOT turn your average or below-average child into an overachiever by nagging or prodding. In fact, the more you get involved, the greater the likelihood your child will do worse, not better. So if you keep doing what you’ve always done (e.g., over-assisting), then you’ll get what you've always got (e.g., a teenager who is perfectly willing to let you do the work).

6. Rule out any underlying social issues. If your child refuses to do homework, don’t just by assume it’s an act of defiance. School-related stress, bullying issues, a break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend – and a host of other problems can contribute to behavior changes.

7. Sometimes, mental health issues can be a factor in homework refusal. Mood disorders often causes irritability and decreased motivation in teenagers. Anxiety disorders can cause them to avoid doing their homework, especially if they aren’t sure how to do it or are worried they won’t be able to do it right. Thus, rule out possible mental health issues before viewing your child’s refusal to do homework as pure laziness.

8. Tie completed homework to privileges. Let your teen know that he can have access to privileges when he has completed his homework (e.g., “When you’re done with homework, you are free to get on the computer or see your friend”). 

9. Your job is to monitor progress and to encourage from the sidelines. You can certainly care about how well your adolescent does in school, but you should also be smart enough to allow him to do it on his own. Let’s be honest here: Has nagging and complaining and over-assisting worked for you up to this point? I didn’t think so! Unless your adolescent cares as much - or more - than you do, he won’t be motivated to change or to take responsibility for performing up to his capabilities.

10. Your objective is not to micromanage your adolescent. Instead, encourage him by modeling responsibility for him and by providing lots of affirmation. He probably is more ambitious than you realize, even if that ambition is not channeled directly into homework. Also, celebrate successes. Recognize even small steps toward academic success. If your teenager brings a "D" grade up to a "C" – this is cause for celebration.

Moms and dads often struggle raising a teenager with plenty of potential, but little academic motivation. Some teenagers refuse to do homework, never study for tests, and skip school. Others bring home decent grades, but could do much better with a little effort. Although frustrating, the techniques listed above will help you guide your teenager and motivate her to succeed academically.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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