Dear Dr. Wes & Miranda: How do you get high school kids to do homework? Our son is a 9th grader and in the first class to be in Lawrence High at that age, and this is the first time we’ve had problems with getting homework done. What do you suggest?
Miranda: By writing to us, you’re showing concern, which is great because having an involved parent is key to success in high school. You’re promoting good study habits now before your son heads off to college, because you won’t be there to help him.
It’s not rocket science that students don’t want to do homework, but it’s crucial for understanding the material and getting good grades. Sitting with your kid after school and going over assignments and what’s due in the coming week is a great way to get him started. Make sure he’s keeping track of assignments instead of you. It’s a small jump from involved parenting to helicopter parenting.
Also keep communication with teachers, but not excessively. Attending events like open houses and parent teacher conferences, and communicating by email can let teachers know that you are there for support if they ever have a problem with your child. Technology can also help. Most districts have a nifty program like PowerSchool or Skyward. All you have to do is get your account information, and you can access your child’s grades and see missing assignments.
By taking these steps, you are enforcing good practices that will hopefully last for the rest of your child’s education. This is one of those parenting moments where your kid may not be happy with you, but in the long run he’ll be thankful. Playing the “bad cop” will send the message that homework isn’t optional, which will benefit your child down the road.
Dr. Wes: Asking a young man if he has homework is like asking if he’s dating that girl you hate. He’s likely to give you anything but a truthful, straightforward answer. I suggest that as early as elementary school the idea of “homework” be dropped and “study time” put in it’s place. Study time is a defined period of the afternoon or evening in which the student works on learning something. As classes get harder, study time increases by about ten minutes per grade level, so your guy would get 90 minutes in ninth grade. I realize that sounds painful, but as Miranda says, it’s not supposed to be fun, just necessary.
If your son brings his homework, then he can do that during study time. If he doesn’t, you will provide him with enrichment activities via software or texts you can purchase online. One of my favorites is the list of vocabulary words for the SAT, or the study guide for the ACT. If you do this correctly, your son will never again claim to have no homework because he’ll have to use the time one way or another, and who wants to do homework and enrichment exercises?
If the student does the full 90 minutes Monday through Thursday without fail, then give him Friday and Saturday off. If you can get away with it and still get the job done, you can also give him Sunday off. If he gives you problems of compliance, just keep the entertainment devices shut down until the study time is over. There are software packages that give you complete control of the Internet and even shut down the computer without your magic unlocking code. Use them.
So what to do if your kid finishes early? I favor using the entire time at least four days a week. There is invariably a chapter to be read or a test to be studied for, and if there isn’t, you’ll find some excellent learning opportunities for him.
College is expensive, and the economy is down. If you’re going to spend the money on sending your son for higher education, hedge your bet now by giving him the tools to succeed. There’s plenty of time for Xbox, soccer practice and the girlfriend you hate. Ninety minutes isn’t much of an investment for what you and your son stand to gain.