Living with a teenager is challenging in and of itself; trying to assist a student who may not want help is even more difficult. Teens desire nothing more than independence from their parents. They crave autonomy even though they still want parental feedback and approval. Teens are known for testing parental boundaries and limits. In addition, hormonal changes can wreak havoc on teens’ daily moods. One moment an adolescent can seem perfectly secure and happy and the next she can snap over an innocuous comment. Homework and academic expectations add another layer of stress. If this situation sounds familiar, try any one of the following strategies.
The Ball Is in Their Court
To parents, teens often appear to have all the freedom they could want. They can drive, stay out later, and have part-time jobs. Often, though, their anger comes from the feeling that others have all the power, and they have none. Instead of insisting your teen accept your homework help, give him a choice. For example, if his biology grade is subpar, ask if he’d rather work with a study group, stay after school for teacher help, or work with a tutor. Let him decide how he’ll accept help. Getting assistance isn’t an option; the way he obtains it is.
Become a Supporter
Be there for support and guidance, but resist the urge to correct or provide answers. A good guideline is, “A parent’s pen should never touch the paper.” Any mark on a student’s paper should be his alone. Help him to interpret directions and get started and, if necessary, review the assignment when he’s done. Don’t criticize wrong answers or he’ll be turned off to your help. Teens often don’t want to work with their parents because they feel judged, whether their perception is true or not. The assignment just has to meet teacher expectations and reflect the course’s guidelines. Striving for perfection can inspire rebellion.
Arguments over homework often occur at stressful times, especially when a deadline is approaching. Pick one evening a week to preview the upcoming workload. If the week will be particularly stressful, determine what extra-curricular activities can be skipped. Teens tend to hunker down and resist support when they’re feeling overwhelmed. If this happens in your household, plan a weekly meeting to draft a less hectic schedule. By planning ahead, both you and your student will be more at ease.
Stick to It
Parents often ask how they can establish routines when their adolescent has his own schedule, friends, and social agenda. The bottom line is parents of teens should make the final decisions as to academics and socializing. Parents can insist that schoolwork comes before socializing or screen time, but let your teen choose his homework schedule. For example, if he likes to start after dinner and can get it done, fine. He’s more likely to stick with a schedule if he chooses it. Establishing the “work before play” family policy (for all kids, not just a struggling student) is important. It says school is the first priority. Enforce this policy consistently and your teen will adjust in time.
Teenagers are tech savvy. Use their interest in everything online or interactive to provide support during homework time.
- Math: when your teen resists your help, identify key websites where he can find support. There are many resources online where students can find additional explanations of topics, problems, or concepts, and supplementary practice to reinforce trouble spots; try S.O.S. Mathematics at sosmath.com.
- Writing: many software programs help students with all aspects of the writing process, from brainstorming to essay organization. They also help students overcome the initial hurdle of getting started. Check out Inspiration (inspiration.com), Co-Writer (donjohnston.com/ products/cowriter/index.html), and Draft-Builder (donjohnston.com/products/draft_builder/index.html).
- Reading: if your child struggles with reading, consider using books on tape. Many textbooks have audio versions that let students listen to chapters as they follow in the book, providing both visual and auditory input. These are available through the publishers or online (buy the full text, not an abridged version). Kurzweil 3000 (kurzweiledu.com/kurz3000.html) is a more expensive option, but lets students scan in book pages the computer “reads” to them. It also has highlighting and note-taking features.
Leave it Alone
It can be hard to decide how much support to provide your teen as she matures, but it may be that the more you hold her up, the less she learns. Ultimately, too much support may cause her to fall even harder down the road. Build a strong foundation to keep her afloat, but know that high school students should function fairly independently. And remember, your teen’s actions don’t always reflect your parenting abilities. At some point, there will be diminishing returns on the work you put into the situation. Letting your child be a self-sufficient learner may be difficult, but this is a way for her to master new skills.
Ann K. Dolin, MEd, is founder and president of Educational Connections, a provider of educational services in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. Her book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, offers solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework.