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 Goes Into Their Court - To parents, teenagers often appear to have all the freedom they could want. After all, they can drive, stay out later in the evening, and have part-time jobs. Frequently, however, their anger comes from the feeling that others have all the power, and they have none. Instead of insisting that your teen accept your homework help, give him a choice. For example, if his biology grade isn't what it should be, ask him if he'd like to work with a study group, stay after school for teacher help, or work with a tutor. Allow him to make the decision of how he will accept help. Getting assistance isn't an option, but the way he obtains it is.
Become A Supporter - Be there to offer support and guidance, but resist the urge to correct or provide answers. A good rule of thumb 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. Do not 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, especially in adolescents.
Plan Ahead - Arguments over homework often occur at stressful times, especially when a deadline is approaching. Pick one evening every week to preview the upcoming workload. If the week is going to be particularly stressful, determine what extracurricular activities can be skipped. Teens tend to hunker down and resist support when they're feeling overwhelmed. If this is what's happening in your household, plan a weekly meeting to work out a less hectic schedule. By planning ahead, both you and your student will be more at ease.
Stick To It - Parents often ask me how they can establish routines when their adolescent has his own schedule, friends, and social agenda. The bottom line is that parents of teens should still make the final decisions concerning academics and socializing. Parents can insist that schoolwork comes before socializing or screen time, but allow your teen to choose his homework schedule. For example, if he likes to start after dinner and is able to get it done, then 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 your struggling student) is important. It sends the message that school is the number one priority. Enforce this policy consistently, instead of haphazardly, and your teen will adjust in time.
Use Technology - Teenagers these days are extremely tech savvy. Use their interest in everything online or interactive to provide additional support during homework time.
- Math - When your teen is resisting 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, as well as supplementary practice to reinforce trouble spots.
- Writing -There are many software programs out there to help students with all aspects of the writing process, from brainstorming to essay organization. These programs also help students overcome the initial hurdle of "getting started." Check out Inspiration (www.inspiration.com), Co-Writer, and DraftBuilder (www.donjohnston.com).
- Reading - If your child struggles with reading, consider utilizing books on tape. Many textbooks have audio versions that allow students to listen to chapters while they follow along in their book, providing both visual and auditory input. These are available through the publishers or online. Be sure that you purchase the full text and not an abridged version. Kurzweil 3000 is a more expensive option, but it allows students to scan in book pages that are "read" to them by the computer. It also includes highlighting and note-taking features that many students find helpful.
Leave It Alone - It can be difficult to decide how much support you should provide your teen as she matures, but it can be the case that the more you "hold her up" the less she learns. Ultimately, providing 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 are not always a reflection of your parenting abilities. At some point, there will be diminishing returns on the work that you put into the situation. Letting your child be a self-sufficient learner may be difficult, but this is a way for her to learn and internalize new skills.
Ann Dolin received her M.Ed. in Special Education from Boston College. Ann founded Educational Connections Inc. and employs over 160 tutors, serves the metropolitan D.C. area, and has worked with over 5000 students. Ann sits on the board of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder) and the International Dyslexia Association. Ann is also the author or the newly released book Homework Made Simple - Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework. For more information visit www.anndolin.com.