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A parent's view of homework: I waver between tolerance and outright hatred
From new mathematical methods to the appropriate level of help, mother-of-three Toni Hargis shares her pet peeves about homework
L ike many parents, I have a complicated relationship with homework. One day I’m reminding my children to get to work – vocabulary doesn’t happen by osmosis – and the next I’m struggling to understand the work myself, let alone find the time to help.
I’ve had nearly two decades of helping my children (now aged 22, 19 and 12) with everything from simple addition to Spanish verb endings. Homework has covered the gamut of straightforward memorization or comprehension, to detailed research of family matters, complete with photographs and tales supplied by me.
There are some things I accept about homework: teachers can’t spend the entire lesson making sure all children keep up and most students need time for new topics to sink in. Unfortunately, however, there are a few items on my dislike list too.
First there’s the dreaded instruction to “Ask a parent to help”. Many of us also work full-time, have other children needing homework help, dinner or a lift somewhere. While we love helping our children learn, we don’t always have the time to build a small scale ark at the end of a long day.
Inviting parental involvement can also be a slippery slope. My approach is usually to brainstorm ideas then see how much the child can do on their own. But I’m well aware of parents who roll their sleeves up and do 99% of it themselves. Therein lies the dilemma – I don’t want to do my child’s homework for them, but I also don’t want their lovingly created ark to get laughed off the playground just because it looks like a child made it.
An introductory email at the beginning of the school year, spelling out exactly how you’d like us to help our children, would be extremely useful. Do you want to see all their mistakes or should we go over homework, catch mistakes and have them try again? How much of their homework should we help with? Is it okay to write a note on the homework pointing out the exact place where the penny didn’t drop?
My pet peeve is the extra questions or challenges thrown in at the end of a homework sheet. This can range from an extra set of brackets suddenly appearing in the order of operations maths homework, to a newer verb added to the “Use this verb in a sentence” assignment.
It may seem harmless – a good exercise in independent learning, even – but parents have a one in three chance of this ending well. Some children rise to the challenge and give it a go, others are frustrated they can’t do the work, and the last third simply say “Why do optional homework?” and resist all persuasion. Most of us aren’t teachers and simply don’t know how to introduce new concepts or topics without tears – theirs and ours. What’s more, while many children are quite happy to take instruction in the classroom, bristle when their parent tries it around the kitchen table. I get that sometimes it’s a race against the syllabus, but if parents are expected to cover new material, please give us tips on how to teach.
It appears I can no longer do long division and multiplication. Or at least, I can’t do it the way my children are taught. If I’m going over their homework, I can tell them whether their answers are right or wrong, but for the life of me I can’t tell them why in terms they understand. (The phrase “Carry the one” is like a foreign language to them.) For me to help them, they first have to teach me their method so that I can see where they’ve gone wrong. If they don’t fully understand that method, it all falls apart very quickly.
Cheat sheets – where teachers share their method with parents – would be really useful. There are now excellent internet tutorials on many academic subjects; sending us links to these if they use the same methods would be extremely helpful. Last year, when my youngest was studying operations of arithmetic (Brackets, Operation, Divide, Multiply, Add, Subtract, or BODMAS to me), his terminology was so different to mine, I had to email his teacher to confirm that I had remembered the method correctly. Her availability to me was much appreciated – I know teachers have a life outside of school.
Too many subjects per night
The kids may have five or more lessons a day but problems arise when subject-specific teachers all give homework on the same night. Even if students don’t have after-school activities, life (in the form of a sibling trip to A&E or a panic shop for new gym shoes) can get in the way, making hours of homework a challenge.
Teachers can help by allowing students a day or two extra to hand the work in work so that they can plan when they’ll do each assignment. After all, time management is a life skill we all need. Alternatively, collaborate with colleagues to ensure that pupils aren’t being given every single subject for homework on the same night.
As I said, it’s complicated. Most parents want what’s best for their children; we want to help them do well, but we vacillate between tolerance and outright hatred of homework, depending on what else we have to juggle. Teachers can’t win either as there are usually complaints when there’s no homework at all. We need a middle ground, where teachers teach and parents support the learning at home, both parties respect each other’s’ roles and communicate regularly about the how best to help the individual child.
Toni Hargis is a British author and blogger, currently living in Chicago, US.
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Should parents help their kids with homework?
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, University of Oklahoma
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Schools across the country encourage parents to help their children with homework.
Parents are listening. Helping with homework is one of the most common things that parents say they do to support their children’s learning.
Many experts have found that helping with homework cultivates positive learning behaviors , reinforces class material and signals to children that their education is important. The federal Department of Education says that parents play an important role in their children’s learning when they help with homework.
Yet parents often hear through the media that helping with homework may not be worth it. After seeing headlines such as “ Why It’s So Important You Never Help Your Kids With Their Homework ” and “ Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework ,” moms, dads and other caregivers can be left wondering whether they should even bother.
I’m a professor of education policy. Together with sociologist Angran Li , I set out to make sense of this conflicting guidance.
Cause or consequence?
The basis for claims that parental help with homework can be bad for students comes from research examining national surveys . These studies find that frequent homework help from parents is associated with lower test scores .
But this finding does not necessarily mean that moms and dads do harm when they help with homework. When children are struggling in school, parents may step in to help more often. That is, frequent homework help from parents might not be the cause of problems, but rather, coincide with them.
My colleague and I wanted to see if this was the case.
To find out, we studied data from an important nationally representative survey administered by the federal government – the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study . We found that low-achieving children were far more likely to receive frequent homework from parents.
And importantly, after we factored in children’s achievement levels, help with homework from parents was no longer associated with lower test scores.
While this finding was insightful, we figured that the effect of homework help from parents on student achievement might also be influenced by many other characteristics.
So we used a statistical technique that would account for many overlapping factors, such as how well parents and their children get along, the number of siblings, and behavior at school.
Our results also indicated that children with low test scores benefited the most when their parents frequently helped with homework.
In other words, calls for all parents to stop helping with homework could end up hurting some children.
In addition, one common concern is that only affluent and highly educated parents have the time and resources to help their children with homework regularly. We find little evidence to support this presumption. On national surveys , low-income and minority families report helping their children with homework frequently. And this was also true in our study.
It is important to point out that our study looked at the frequency of homework help from parents. However, evidence suggests that the quality of homework help also matters. Parents can make a difference through warm encouragement and a positive outlook and by communicating high expectations to children.
The effectiveness of homework help also seems to increase when parents foster independent learning behaviors . When helping with homework, parents should avoid trying to control the process and should also resist the temptation to complete assignments for their kids . Instead, they should let their children figure out answers on their own while offering helpful hints and positive feedback as needed.
Although parents should always consider their child’s individual learning needs, researchers say that parents should gradually reduce homework help as their children grow older, probably phasing out direct assistance with homework by the time their children reach high school. Parents can also seek advice from teachers and other school staff on how to make homework support engaging and attuned to their child’s learning needs.
Blanket statements about whether homework help is simply good or bad can be misleading. Under the right circumstances, parents can help their kids learn more when they help with homework.
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Should Kids Get Homework?
Homework gives elementary students a way to practice concepts, but too much can be harmful, experts say.
Effective homework reinforces math, reading, writing or spelling skills, but in a way that's meaningful. (Getty Images)
How much homework students should get has long been a source of debate among parents and educators. In recent years, some districts have even implemented no-homework policies, as students juggle sports, music and other activities after school.
Parents of elementary school students, in particular, have argued that after-school hours should be spent with family or playing outside rather than completing assignments. And there is little research to show that homework improves academic achievement for elementary students.
But some experts say there's value in homework, even for younger students. When done well, it can help students practice core concepts and develop study habits and time management skills. The key to effective homework, they say, is keeping assignments related to classroom learning, and tailoring the amount by age: Many experts suggest no homework for kindergartners, and little to none in first and second grade.
Value of Homework
Homework provides a chance to solidify what is being taught in the classroom that day, week or unit. Practice matters, says Janine Bempechat, clinical professor at Boston University 's Wheelock College of Education & Human Development.
"There really is no other domain of human ability where anybody would say you don't need to practice," she adds. "We have children practicing piano and we have children going to sports practice several days a week after school. You name the domain of ability and practice is in there."
Homework is also the place where schools and families most frequently intersect.
"The children are bringing things from the school into the home," says Paula S. Fass, professor emerita of history at the University of California—Berkeley and the author of "The End of American Childhood." "Before the pandemic, (homework) was the only real sense that parents had to what was going on in schools."
Harris Cooper, professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and author of "The Battle Over Homework," examined more than 60 research studies on homework between 1987 and 2003 and found that — when designed properly — homework can lead to greater student success. Too much, however, is harmful. And homework has a greater positive effect on students in secondary school (grades 7-12) than those in elementary.
"Every child should be doing homework, but the amount and type that they're doing should be appropriate for their developmental level," he says. "For teachers, it's a balancing act. Doing away with homework completely is not in the best interest of children and families. But overburdening families with homework is also not in the child's or a family's best interest."
Negative Homework Assignments
Not all homework for elementary students involves completing a worksheet. Assignments can be fun, says Cooper, like having students visit educational locations, keep statistics on their favorite sports teams, read for pleasure or even help their parents grocery shop. The point is to show students that activities done outside of school can relate to subjects learned in the classroom.
But assignments that are just busy work, that force students to learn new concepts at home, or that are overly time-consuming can be counterproductive, experts say.
Homework that's just busy work.
Effective homework reinforces math, reading, writing or spelling skills, but in a way that's meaningful, experts say. Assignments that look more like busy work – projects or worksheets that don't require teacher feedback and aren't related to topics learned in the classroom – can be frustrating for students and create burdens for families.
"The mental health piece has definitely played a role here over the last couple of years during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the last thing we want to do is frustrate students with busy work or homework that makes no sense," says Dave Steckler, principal of Red Trail Elementary School in Mandan, North Dakota.
Homework on material that kids haven't learned yet.
With the pressure to cover all topics on standardized tests and limited time during the school day, some teachers assign homework that has not yet been taught in the classroom.
Not only does this create stress, but it also causes equity challenges. Some parents speak languages other than English or work several jobs, and they aren't able to help teach their children new concepts.
" It just becomes agony for both parents and the kids to get through this worksheet, and the goal becomes getting to the bottom of (the) worksheet with answers filled in without any understanding of what any of it matters for," says professor Susan R. Goldman, co-director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Illinois—Chicago .
Homework that's overly time-consuming.
The standard homework guideline recommended by the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Education Association is the "10-minute rule" – 10 minutes of nightly homework per grade level. A fourth grader, for instance, would receive a total of 40 minutes of homework per night.
But this does not always happen, especially since not every student learns the same. A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Family Therapy found that primary school children actually received three times the recommended amount of homework — and that family stress increased along with the homework load.
Young children can only remain attentive for short periods, so large amounts of homework, especially lengthy projects, can negatively affect students' views on school. Some individual long-term projects – like having to build a replica city, for example – typically become an assignment for parents rather than students, Fass says.
"It's one thing to assign a project like that in which several kids are working on it together," she adds. "In (that) case, the kids do normally work on it. It's another to send it home to the families, where it becomes a burden and doesn't really accomplish very much."
Private vs. Public Schools
Do private schools assign more homework than public schools? There's little research on the issue, but experts say private school parents may be more accepting of homework, seeing it as a sign of academic rigor.
Of course, not all private schools are the same – some focus on college preparation and traditional academics, while others stress alternative approaches to education.
"I think in the academically oriented private schools, there's more support for homework from parents," says Gerald K. LeTendre, chair of educational administration at Pennsylvania State University—University Park . "I don't know if there's any research to show there's more homework, but it's less of a contentious issue."
How to Address Homework Overload
First, assess if the workload takes as long as it appears. Sometimes children may start working on a homework assignment, wander away and come back later, Cooper says.
"Parents don't see it, but they know that their child has started doing their homework four hours ago and still not done it," he adds. "They don't see that there are those four hours where their child was doing lots of other things. So the homework assignment itself actually is not four hours long. It's the way the child is approaching it."
But if homework is becoming stressful or workload is excessive, experts suggest parents first approach the teacher, followed by a school administrator.
"Many times, we can solve a lot of issues by having conversations," Steckler says, including by "sitting down, talking about the amount of homework, and what's appropriate and not appropriate."
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The Cult of Homework
America’s devotion to the practice stems in part from the fact that it’s what today’s parents and teachers grew up with themselves.
America has long had a fickle relationship with homework. A century or so ago, progressive reformers argued that it made kids unduly stressed , which later led in some cases to district-level bans on it for all grades under seventh. This anti-homework sentiment faded, though, amid mid-century fears that the U.S. was falling behind the Soviet Union (which led to more homework), only to resurface in the 1960s and ’70s, when a more open culture came to see homework as stifling play and creativity (which led to less). But this didn’t last either: In the ’80s, government researchers blamed America’s schools for its economic troubles and recommended ramping homework up once more.
The 21st century has so far been a homework-heavy era, with American teenagers now averaging about twice as much time spent on homework each day as their predecessors did in the 1990s . Even little kids are asked to bring school home with them. A 2015 study , for instance, found that kindergarteners, who researchers tend to agree shouldn’t have any take-home work, were spending about 25 minutes a night on it.
But not without pushback. As many children, not to mention their parents and teachers, are drained by their daily workload, some schools and districts are rethinking how homework should work—and some teachers are doing away with it entirely. They’re reviewing the research on homework (which, it should be noted, is contested) and concluding that it’s time to revisit the subject.
Read: My daughter’s homework is killing me
Hillsborough, California, an affluent suburb of San Francisco, is one district that has changed its ways. The district, which includes three elementary schools and a middle school, worked with teachers and convened panels of parents in order to come up with a homework policy that would allow students more unscheduled time to spend with their families or to play. In August 2017, it rolled out an updated policy, which emphasized that homework should be “meaningful” and banned due dates that fell on the day after a weekend or a break.
“The first year was a bit bumpy,” says Louann Carlomagno, the district’s superintendent. She says the adjustment was at times hard for the teachers, some of whom had been doing their job in a similar fashion for a quarter of a century. Parents’ expectations were also an issue. Carlomagno says they took some time to “realize that it was okay not to have an hour of homework for a second grader—that was new.”
Most of the way through year two, though, the policy appears to be working more smoothly. “The students do seem to be less stressed based on conversations I’ve had with parents,” Carlomagno says. It also helps that the students performed just as well on the state standardized test last year as they have in the past.
Earlier this year, the district of Somerville, Massachusetts, also rewrote its homework policy, reducing the amount of homework its elementary and middle schoolers may receive. In grades six through eight, for example, homework is capped at an hour a night and can only be assigned two to three nights a week.
Jack Schneider, an education professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell whose daughter attends school in Somerville, is generally pleased with the new policy. But, he says, it’s part of a bigger, worrisome pattern. “The origin for this was general parental dissatisfaction, which not surprisingly was coming from a particular demographic,” Schneider says. “Middle-class white parents tend to be more vocal about concerns about homework … They feel entitled enough to voice their opinions.”
Schneider is all for revisiting taken-for-granted practices like homework, but thinks districts need to take care to be inclusive in that process. “I hear approximately zero middle-class white parents talking about how homework done best in grades K through two actually strengthens the connection between home and school for young people and their families,” he says. Because many of these parents already feel connected to their school community, this benefit of homework can seem redundant. “They don’t need it,” Schneider says, “so they’re not advocating for it.”
That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that homework is more vital in low-income districts. In fact, there are different, but just as compelling, reasons it can be burdensome in these communities as well. Allison Wienhold, who teaches high-school Spanish in the small town of Dunkerton, Iowa, has phased out homework assignments over the past three years. Her thinking: Some of her students, she says, have little time for homework because they’re working 30 hours a week or responsible for looking after younger siblings.
As educators reduce or eliminate the homework they assign, it’s worth asking what amount and what kind of homework is best for students. It turns out that there’s some disagreement about this among researchers, who tend to fall in one of two camps.
In the first camp is Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. Cooper conducted a review of the existing research on homework in the mid-2000s , and found that, up to a point, the amount of homework students reported doing correlates with their performance on in-class tests. This correlation, the review found, was stronger for older students than for younger ones.
This conclusion is generally accepted among educators, in part because it’s compatible with “the 10-minute rule,” a rule of thumb popular among teachers suggesting that the proper amount of homework is approximately 10 minutes per night, per grade level—that is, 10 minutes a night for first graders, 20 minutes a night for second graders, and so on, up to two hours a night for high schoolers.
In Cooper’s eyes, homework isn’t overly burdensome for the typical American kid. He points to a 2014 Brookings Institution report that found “little evidence that the homework load has increased for the average student”; onerous amounts of homework, it determined, are indeed out there, but relatively rare. Moreover, the report noted that most parents think their children get the right amount of homework, and that parents who are worried about under-assigning outnumber those who are worried about over-assigning. Cooper says that those latter worries tend to come from a small number of communities with “concerns about being competitive for the most selective colleges and universities.”
According to Alfie Kohn, squarely in camp two, most of the conclusions listed in the previous three paragraphs are questionable. Kohn, the author of The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing , considers homework to be a “reliable extinguisher of curiosity,” and has several complaints with the evidence that Cooper and others cite in favor of it. Kohn notes, among other things, that Cooper’s 2006 meta-analysis doesn’t establish causation, and that its central correlation is based on children’s (potentially unreliable) self-reporting of how much time they spend doing homework. (Kohn’s prolific writing on the subject alleges numerous other methodological faults.)
In fact, other correlations make a compelling case that homework doesn’t help. Some countries whose students regularly outperform American kids on standardized tests, such as Japan and Denmark, send their kids home with less schoolwork , while students from some countries with higher homework loads than the U.S., such as Thailand and Greece, fare worse on tests. (Of course, international comparisons can be fraught because so many factors, in education systems and in societies at large, might shape students’ success.)
Kohn also takes issue with the way achievement is commonly assessed. “If all you want is to cram kids’ heads with facts for tomorrow’s tests that they’re going to forget by next week, yeah, if you give them more time and make them do the cramming at night, that could raise the scores,” he says. “But if you’re interested in kids who know how to think or enjoy learning, then homework isn’t merely ineffective, but counterproductive.”
His concern is, in a way, a philosophical one. “The practice of homework assumes that only academic growth matters, to the point that having kids work on that most of the school day isn’t enough,” Kohn says. What about homework’s effect on quality time spent with family? On long-term information retention? On critical-thinking skills? On social development? On success later in life? On happiness? The research is quiet on these questions.
Another problem is that research tends to focus on homework’s quantity rather than its quality, because the former is much easier to measure than the latter. While experts generally agree that the substance of an assignment matters greatly (and that a lot of homework is uninspiring busywork), there isn’t a catchall rule for what’s best—the answer is often specific to a certain curriculum or even an individual student.
Given that homework’s benefits are so narrowly defined (and even then, contested), it’s a bit surprising that assigning so much of it is often a classroom default, and that more isn’t done to make the homework that is assigned more enriching. A number of things are preserving this state of affairs—things that have little to do with whether homework helps students learn.
Jack Schneider, the Massachusetts parent and professor, thinks it’s important to consider the generational inertia of the practice. “The vast majority of parents of public-school students themselves are graduates of the public education system,” he says. “Therefore, their views of what is legitimate have been shaped already by the system that they would ostensibly be critiquing.” In other words, many parents’ own history with homework might lead them to expect the same for their children, and anything less is often taken as an indicator that a school or a teacher isn’t rigorous enough. (This dovetails with—and complicates—the finding that most parents think their children have the right amount of homework.)
Barbara Stengel, an education professor at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, brought up two developments in the educational system that might be keeping homework rote and unexciting. The first is the importance placed in the past few decades on standardized testing, which looms over many public-school classroom decisions and frequently discourages teachers from trying out more creative homework assignments. “They could do it, but they’re afraid to do it, because they’re getting pressure every day about test scores,” Stengel says.
Second, she notes that the profession of teaching, with its relatively low wages and lack of autonomy, struggles to attract and support some of the people who might reimagine homework, as well as other aspects of education. “Part of why we get less interesting homework is because some of the people who would really have pushed the limits of that are no longer in teaching,” she says.
“In general, we have no imagination when it comes to homework,” Stengel says. She wishes teachers had the time and resources to remake homework into something that actually engages students. “If we had kids reading—anything, the sports page, anything that they’re able to read—that’s the best single thing. If we had kids going to the zoo, if we had kids going to parks after school, if we had them doing all of those things, their test scores would improve. But they’re not. They’re going home and doing homework that is not expanding what they think about.”
“Exploratory” is one word Mike Simpson used when describing the types of homework he’d like his students to undertake. Simpson is the head of the Stone Independent School, a tiny private high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that opened in 2017. “We were lucky to start a school a year and a half ago,” Simpson says, “so it’s been easy to say we aren’t going to assign worksheets, we aren’t going assign regurgitative problem sets.” For instance, a half-dozen students recently built a 25-foot trebuchet on campus.
Simpson says he thinks it’s a shame that the things students have to do at home are often the least fulfilling parts of schooling: “When our students can’t make the connection between the work they’re doing at 11 o’clock at night on a Tuesday to the way they want their lives to be, I think we begin to lose the plot.”
When I talked with other teachers who did homework makeovers in their classrooms, I heard few regrets. Brandy Young, a second-grade teacher in Joshua, Texas, stopped assigning take-home packets of worksheets three years ago, and instead started asking her students to do 20 minutes of pleasure reading a night. She says she’s pleased with the results, but she’s noticed something funny. “Some kids,” she says, “really do like homework.” She’s started putting out a bucket of it for students to draw from voluntarily—whether because they want an additional challenge or something to pass the time at home.
Chris Bronke, a high-school English teacher in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, told me something similar. This school year, he eliminated homework for his class of freshmen, and now mostly lets students study on their own or in small groups during class time. It’s usually up to them what they work on each day, and Bronke has been impressed by how they’ve managed their time.
In fact, some of them willingly spend time on assignments at home, whether because they’re particularly engaged, because they prefer to do some deeper thinking outside school, or because they needed to spend time in class that day preparing for, say, a biology test the following period. “They’re making meaningful decisions about their time that I don’t think education really ever gives students the experience, nor the practice, of doing,” Bronke said.
The typical prescription offered by those overwhelmed with homework is to assign less of it—to subtract. But perhaps a more useful approach, for many classrooms, would be to create homework only when teachers and students believe it’s actually needed to further the learning that takes place in class—to start with nothing, and add as necessary.
Adolescence and homework, most young people do not welcome extending the school day by bringing study home.
Posted December 8, 2014
Although often starting in the elementary grades, homework becomes more seriously given and seriously taken in middle school, when early adolescents start having a lot of other growing concerns on their minds and generally become less welcoming of bringing study obligations home. At an age when there is more resistance to work, more school work is assigned.
“Who invented homework, that’s what I want to know? What’s it for, anyway? And who likes it?”
This question is distilled from a conversation with an eighth grade veteran of the ‘homework wars,’ ongoing skirmishes, if you will, between determined parents on one side and resistant teenager on the other. No clear winners in this case – parents not getting all the serious effort they want and the adolescent doing more than he ideally desires. So maybe compromise won out.
To the first part of the question, I had no answer, being ignorant of the history of homework. To the other two parts I did have opinions to offer.
WHAT’S HOMEWORK FOR?
The purpose of most homework is to supplement study at school. As near as I can see, it can fulfill one or more of four functions.
Function #1: Practice.
Drilling oneself with repetition drives concepts and skills into memory for automatic recall and use, like elementary facts and basic practices.
Function #2: Projects.
Assignments that require further effort outside of class, or independent study, can demand additional time at home to complete.
A test approaching, review and study time outside of class is assigned to get ready for the exam.
Function #4: Productivity .
Learning the study habit of completing unwanted work on your own, and not procrastinating, can build productive self-discipline for the years ahead.
WHO LIKES HOMEWORK?
I really can’t think of how any of the three parties involved in homework would enjoy it.
There is the Teacher who is only making more work for herself because now she has to review and grade assignments she chose to give, sometimes doing that work at home herself. There is the Student for whom the school day isn’t over when it’s over because of assignments coming home that intrude into otherwise “free” time. And of course there is the Parent who has to schedule family time around homework time, often having to supervise getting it adequately accomplished, not appreciated for the effort being made by the person for whom it is made, and enduring the tensions that result.
Top this off with a case of very bad timing for the family when everyone is suffering end-of-the-day fatigue and would love to relax from their labors, each in their own way. Except, in addition to homework, there are the additional requirements of after-school activities and the evening meal and household chores and hygiene and bedtime which all need to be attended to.
GETTING HOMEWORK DONE
So what is the most efficient and least stressful way to get homework done? Well, there are a small minority of adolescents who, for whatever reason, are so conscientiously self-managed that they reliably just take care of homework – bringing it home, thoroughly doing it, and turning it in – without having to be directed by parents at all. However, if you have one of these responsible adolescents, you are not likely to have another.
It’s in middle school when an “early adolescent achievement drop” frequently occurs (see March 15, 2009 blog), the most common sign of which is failing to complete homework – failing to bring it home, or failing to get it adequately done, or failing to turn it in, or a combination of all three. What motivates this falling away from homework is some combination of resistance to authority and academic disinterest and recreational distractions and social priorities that devalue doing homework.
In response, sometimes parents will say: “Well, homework is your responsibility, and if you choose not to do it, you must suffer the failing consequences.” The trouble is, what young people tend to learn from this is getting by with lower grades: “I don’t need to do all my homework to pass.” Or, parents try to use reward or punishment to motivate the completion of adolescent homework. I think this is a mistake because it makes homework sound like an activity about which the adolescent has discretionary choice. Now taking the punishment, or forgoing the reward, is worth “the crime ” -- not doing the homework. No.
Homework, like chores, needs to be a “no choice” activity. Relentless parental supervision must make this inevitability so, using steadfast insistence to wear resistance down. Like nagging to get chores accomplished, this is the loyal drudgework of parenting . By thanklessly ensuring that homework is completed, parents are on the adolescent’s side -- upholding the young person’s operating capacity for present and future sake.
So, with these young people, parental inquiry and prodding and checking are required. I believe one parenting goal in middle school needs to be using supervision to put the study habit of regularly completing homework in place. This way the practice is there to be relied upon when the young person enters the more demanding high school years.
If resistance to homework persists, it is well for parents to continue supervision the first couple high school years to help the young person catch hold because now zero’s given for homework not turned in can significantly affect grades that have later value. In the last couple years of high school, however, parents may want to consider withdrawing their supervisory support of homework so that the young person can face and take responsibility for present performance as it bears on future possibilities.
It also helps when parents remember that homework, particularly for a younger adolescent, is psychologically hard in several ways.
Homework can feel LONELY to do, sitting by yourself doing work you don’t like, all alone. But the teenager doesn’t have to be alone. When in middle school, parents can sit with the young person and do job work of their own to provide working company, a “study buddy” to make the task easier to bear.
Home work can feel BORING to do. What can partially lessen dullness of the task is distraction that can make concentration easier. Lots of young people, for example, cope better with homework when listening to their favorite music.
Homework can feel DISPIRITING to do. It can feel like the dead end of a dreary day, a real downer. So it can help to schedule homework when there is time afterwards for the young person can do what feels like fun – maybe on the computer, for example, social networking or playing electronic games, or offline enjoying a hobby, watching TV, or having a relaxing read.
Whether they swear at homework for the family pressures it creates, or whether they swear by homework for the supplemental education it provides, to varying degrees parents become enrolled in the schooling of their adolescent as soon as students start regularly bringing assignments home.
For more about parenting adolescents, see my book, “SURVIVING YOUR CHILD’S ADOLESCENCE,” (Wiley, 2013.) More information at: www.carlickhardt,com
Next week’s entry: Parent, Adolescent, and How Each Other "Turns Out"
Carl Pickhardt Ph.D. is a psychologist in private counseling and public lecturing practice in Austin, Texas. His latest book is Holding On While Letting Go: Parenting Your Child Through the Four Freedoms of Adolescence.
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