Homework is important for lots of reasons. It helps teachers track progress and crucially helps students to fully understand what they’re learning in class.
But getting teens to do their homework? Well, that’s not so clear cut. Every night, parents across the country deploy a bunch of different tactics to try and help their kids knuckle down and get it done.
Of course, different teens respond well to different approaches and there’s no one-size-fits-all method. There’s lots of different ways you can support their schoolwork – and some make for more positive family relationships than others.
We’ve rounded up six common homework supervision styles and spoken to Dr. Kate Jenkins, our psychology consultant, about the implications of each on you and your child’s relationship.
Which of the below happen in your home? Do you see yourself in our list?
No matter how many times you remind them to do something, it can still seem to go in one ear and out the other. Whether it’s “don’t forget to pack your P.E. kit”, “your Chemistry homework is due tomorrow” or “oh look, a spaceship has landed in the garden”, you might feel that talking to your teen is like addressing a brick wall.
On the subject of nagging, Dr Jenkins advises, “Nagging inevitably produces resistance, especially in adolescents”. So while you’re just desperate to see your teen get some work done before bedtime, often the more you ask (frustratingly), the less likely they might be to go and do it.
Try framing the benefits of getting the work done – and do it once. ‘By getting this Chemistry homework done, you’ll know what the teacher is talking about tomorrow so you’ll feel more confident.’
For kids who are incentivised not by the joy of learning, but by treats, you might find yourself striking deals as if you’re Alan Sugar and they’re a contestant on The Apprentice. This can work for a bit, but for teens to really learn the study skills they need in adulthood, they’ll eventually need to learn how to motivate themselves.
Dr Jenkins’ insight is that “They won’t do it in the future without a bribe! By bribing your teen to do work, it removes the positive reinforcement of just feeling good that you’ve done your best.” So while offering a tenner for completing their English essay this evening might feel as if the problem’s sorted for now, unfortunately, it’s more of a plaster than a cure.
Try to connect completing their homework with emotional value or their aspirations.
Of course, throw in a reward once in a while if that’s your style! Everyone likes a surprise outing/tenner/favourite dessert.
You know your teen is struggling with one of their subjects, so you roll up your sleeves to see if you can help. If you use one of their subjects in your day-to-day work, you think, how hard can a GCSE be? Well, sometimes a parent helping out can be a way for parent and teen to bond over a shared activity. Most of the time though, questions don’t look like they did when you were in school, and it’s not all coming flooding back either. Your stress can rub off on them, which can then make you even more stressed that you haven’t helped them!
This can be very confusing for your child who’s trying to reconcile one method taught at school with your method. If your child needs help, help them identify the areas they don’t understand and make a list of questions to take to a teacher or tutor for extra help.
The most helpful thing for your child is if someone with experience in the subject and exam-board is able to help them work through the bits they don’t understand. A one-to-one tutor is perfect for this. They specialise in helping kids work through the topics they’re stuck on, as well as study skills, exam prep and confidence-building.
Having a tutor is the norm these days – one in three secondary school kids in the UK receive one-to-one tuition at some point. It’s a really focussed and personalised way for your teen to get help. Because it’s just them and their tutor in the lesson, they can ask any questions they were too shy to ask in class, and go completely at their own pace. Since tuition is increasingly delivered online, more and more parents are making it part of their kids’ education ‘blend’.
So instead of nagging, time-keeping or incentivising, you’re left with a properly-supported teen and the best bits of parenting – encouragement, love and hugs.
Parenting can often feel like a full-time military operation, and no army is complete without a strict schedule. So that’s home by 4pm, snack till 4.15pm, Chemistry till 5.15pm and a 45-minute break for dinner. It’s how Britain won the war, and how you’ll win the homework battle, right?
It’s true that structure can really help a teen become more overall organised. But the flipside of enforcing a timetable is that, especially with teens, if they feel too pressured, they’re more likely to push against your clock-watching.
Dr Jenkins says that “homework has to be a collaborative approach. The child needs to know you’re there for support if they need you, but in their teens they can start to adopt a more mature attitude towards it with trust.” So if they feel that you trust them and support them, they’ll feel empowered to take initiative themselves, and feel more proud once they’ve completed something.
“Homework has to be a collaborative approach. The child needs to know you’re there for support if they need you, but in their teens they can start to adopt a more mature attitude towards it with trust.”
Dr Kate Jenkins, MyTutor Psychology Consultant
Encouraging and praising your child can be a really effective way to get them to apply themselves. Lots of teens struggle with confidence, and anxiety around schoolwork is one of the biggest blockers to doing their best. Especially as they approach exams, a fear that they’re not good enough or clever enough can stop them from getting their heads down to work at all. It’s of course really distressing as a parent to see your child struggle like this, and it’s easy to feel helpless too.
Dr Jenkins’ main advice regarding teen anxiety is to talk about it with them and try to find the source of their worry. “Try talking about what they anxiety is around. Do they feel unprepared? Is it the quantity, or the nature of the work?” By pinpointing the cause of their worry, then together you can work out how to overcome it. If they can tell their classroom or guidance teacher that they’re finding things tricky, their school might also help them find the resources they need to move forward. In any case, reminding your child what they’re good at, what makes them special, and that you support them no matter how they do in exams is a powerful way to give them the confidence they need to face the music (or rather, the homework).
“Try talking about what they anxiety is around. Do they feel unprepared? Is it the quantity, or the nature of the work?”
Whatever your homework supervision style, if you’re simply engaging in your child’s learning then you’re halfway there. By valuing their education, you’re showing them that it’s something they should care about too. Mum and dad, you’re doing great!
If you’d like to find your teen a super-friendly and expert tutor to help with homework, call us on 0203 773 6024 or have a search by clicking the button below! 🌟
This blog is in partnership with mum blogger Emma Bradley, who founded her site Emmaan...