Tell me. Did you think you had the homework with a middle or high schooler figured out? You had a homework schedule, you provided family support, AND you helped create a productive workspace for your teen. But your teen still finds homework a struggle. Besides pulling out your hair while spending long nights battling homework with your teen, what can you do? We’ve got a few ideas.
First, know that homework becomes increasingly complex across the middle and high school years so even children who used to breeze through homework may get stuck. You can also start by setting up a structured space where teens can focus on completing their various homework assignments. However, you may still see that your teen is struggling. That’s why today we’re highlighting some of the common struggles that teens may face when trying to complete assignments and the ways in which parents can help.
Make homework a regular topic of conversation.
We don’t mean you should constantly nag, although that may seem to be how you usually converse about homework! Instead, having open communication with your teens about their homework (What is it? What’s interesting? What’s hard?) is an important first step: You can’t help if you don’t know what the problem is. And the solution varies depending on the problem.
Schedules should reflect your teens work style.
Sitting and studying can be hard – especially following a long day of sitting in classrooms. If your teen is struggling to stay focused while completing homework incorporating structured break times into their homework strategy may help.
- Consider allowing a specified period of free time between the end of school and the start of homework. Help your teen divide homework time into reasonable “chunks” (e.g., based on subject) with breaks in between to provide opportunities to move around and reenergize. Keeping healthy snacks and water around also provides a natural way to focus attention and keep energy levels up.
Doing homework is different from test taking.
Some students who do all their homework, still find tests to be stressful. They can find themselves anxious beforehand, or even during the test itself. Other students do well on tests; yet seem to be unable to handle the discipline of regular homework.
- Taking a “practice” test in a “no-pressure” way to prepare beforehand and can be a useful exercise to familiarize your teen with the different formats or styles of questions they might encounter. This can improve performance even for those who do not suffer from text anxiety.
- Talking through material that will be covered, or asking practice questions orally, can allow teens to process and internalize the information in a way that leads to better recall of information during the test than they otherwise would have from simply reading a textbook.
- There are also many tricks available online to help with memory of material. One example is the roman technique, which is a way to memorize facts or dates easily by creating a story that can help you recall the details you need to remember.
Some subjects will be harder than others.
Because different classes and subjects require different skills, it is common for teens to struggle in some, but not all, areas. This could be especially challenging for teens who are used to doing well and are suddenly faced with an unfamiliar and difficult subject.
- It is important to emphasize that persevering through the homework assignment, asking for help and utilizing different resources (e.g., tutoring) are all steps towards gaining a better grasp on the subject. The commitment your teen makes to continuing to try and the small successes should be acknowledged. Less focus on an “end grade” can provide room for highlighting important life skills such as following through on commitments, taking on challenges and learning about interests and preferences.
Homework can seem unimportant.
Many assignments may seem irrelevant for teens, posing a challenge for taking it seriously or dedicating time to completing it thoroughly and thoughtfully.
- When possible, offer real world examples of how the material your teen is working on may be used in their future. If teens have a personal investment in the work they are doing, they are more likely to invest time and effort into the task.
- Even when homework topics are dull, the process of sticking to homework is valuable. Share with students who are unmotivated to do daily assignments that “showing up” is essential for success in life. For instance, most famous athletes succeed because they kept showing up and practicing even when it wasn’t fun or rewarding. “Stick to it” is an important lesson for students who find school easy as well. Encourage successful students to challenge themselves so they develop the coping and study skills they’ll need later in life.
What tricks have worked for your teen in getting through challenging classes or stressful homework assignments?
Article by Dayana Kupisk
Dayana is a graduate student in Human Development & Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Dayana previously worked as a life skills coordinator at a residential living program for teens and young adults. She has one older brother, and, for the first time in her life, is living in a different state from her parents.