Homework. It is almost always on the list of concerns parents bring to me. It is a routine cause of frustration and helplessness for parents. But missing homework can be a symptom of something deeper going on. Homework is a parent-child HOT button and power struggle extraordinaire because it is:
a) measurable (you know when it’s done, or not done, and how it impacts grades) b) something lots of kids dislike and resist doing c) seen as the first step in the slide to mediocrity or failure, which will impact the all-important college acceptance. Missing homework isn’t always an indicator of impending doom; however, it is worth a closer look to see the bigger picture. An attitude about homework can represent an overarching attitude about school and motivation. It bears repeating that you are preparing your child for the real world. Let me share a personal parenting story. My son’s teen years were challenging. Homework was just one piece of much bigger picture of that slide.
When he (and my husband and I) interviewed at Hyde School, I was still thinking ahead about a college education. The interviewer was the first person to speak honestly to me in many years. He said, “Mrs. Weis, you have far more important things to worry about than whether or not he gets into college. Even if he had the grades, he’s not prepared to be successful in college. You’d be throwing your money away.” That was my wake-up call to get my priorities straight. It was time to focus on what really matters: best effort, positive attitudes and being prepared for life, not just academics. Homework and grades were signs of missing life skills and emotional intelligence. I had to find a new way to parent that would support his growth, rather than enable him. (My son is an adult now, and living a full and productive life. Thank you to the Hyde School parent program for helping us get back on track.)
Back to the homework dilemma. How do you handle homework? Do you monitor every day, checking grades online? Do you and your child fight about doing it, when to do it, and how to do it? Do you intervene with teachers on your child’s behalf, or ask if extra credit assignments are available? When parents continue to prop up their child’s schoolwork, the child loses. When parents focus more on the grades than on traits such as persistence, resilience and personal responsibility, the child loses. When parents care more than their kids, something is out of balance. As a former middle school teacher, I did share with a few parents that sixth grade was an ideal time to let go and let their child experience the discomfort of the consequences of missing homework. That perspective received mixed reviews. It was, however, the perfect time to practice backing away from the homework wars. The student who truly cared, and for whom this was a blip, would get back on track. Taking the zero felt awful. For the student who continued to slide, it was a warning sign of academic, emotional or personal difficulties. Once exposed, they could be addressed. I can hear parents of high schoolers saying, as I did, “But what about the transcript? What about college?” What I’m about to propose is not a popular viewpoint. Just keep in mind that by this time in his life, you have almost no control over what your teen does or doesn’t do. It takes a major shift in mindset, a shift from expecting a four-year college education immediately after high school as the only path to higher education. Yes, sometimes it means giving up the ideal image of your child’s trajectory through life. When you look at the statistics about college graduation, though (40-60% of students will take five to six years to graduate, or not graduate at all), it begins to make sense. The American educational system is very forgiving. There are many options: summer school, GED, two-year colleges, vocational programs, gap year, six-year plan. Even if it is a slide, it is rarely permanent. You can go back and earn a degree at any time in your life, like the 80-year old who earns a BA. Homework not done is not the end of the world, although it may feel that way. Look beyond the homework, and take the long view about what it means about your child’s preparedness for life.
Fern Weis is a certified life coach who learned that caring and good intentions are not enough in parenting. In fact, they are often the problem! Fern supports parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, including addiction recovery. She helps parents release guilt, end enabling and confidently prepare their children to thrive through life's challenges. Her articles are featured in Thrive Global, Medium, Motherly, The Teen Mentor, and Bergen County Moms.
Learn more about coaching and classes at www.fernweis.com. And then download your free guide, "Five Powerful Steps to Get Your Teen to Talk." For information on Family Recovery programs, visit www.familyrecoverypartners.com.