The Risks of Becoming the Homework Cop

Homework policeYoung people need to do their homework.  It reinforces the material they are trying to learn in school, but also gives them a sense of structure, perseverance and responsibility.  In fact, in many classes homework is what enables a student to overcome a lousy test grade or reach the final grade they want.  Unfortunately, as many parents know, homework can also become a consistent source of arguing, fighting and resentment in the home.

As a former high school teacher I have encountered teenagers who refused to do their homework, lost it consistently or simply didn’t put any effort into the assignments.  They were often “good” kids who simply chose homework as their “battle of choice” with their parents.

As a therapist, however, I notice how this constant battle can undermine the relationship between teens and parent.  It creates an almost daily damaging ritual where the homework becomes a battle and eventually the foundational connection between parent and child is harmed. There are a few things every parent needs to consider when considering the worth of the homework battle.  Clearly the younger the child, the more structured a parent can be in helping them complete their homework.

With a teenager, however, suddenly imposing a rigid structure will often back fire, especially if it hasn’t been set in place early on.  The age when a homework intervention occurs is important.  Another consideration to make is the degree of impact their missing assignments are having on their grades.  If they are failing, then an intervention is necessary, but one or two assignments may not warrant a huge issue.   If your son or daughter is struggling, the goal is to provide them with motivation to want to get their homework done.  There are some concrete ways that you can help the situation that take you out of the daily grind of enforcing.

1.  Consequences.  Make it about completion of deadlines and subsequent consequences that will impact your son or daughter.  The best consequences are a lack of privileges.

2.  Rely on the school to be the cop.  Teachers are there to motivate and push students to complete their work.  They can’t make them do it.  But they can be the consistent bad guys.

3.  Explore the options at the school in terms of study halls and mentors in the building.  Many schools have periods built into the day when students can work on homework.

4.  Set realistic grade expectations and stick to them.  Not every student is going to get A’s, but all students can pass if they are in the right setting.

No one strikes the balance perfectly.  But the bottom line is to keep the connection with your son/daughter the priority.  Although you can certainly maintain that while encouraging them to strive for their best, it can easily erode if you become primarily a homework cop.

My overall message to parents is this:  Do not take on the permanent role of homework police.  Over time, this will destroy the connection you have with your son or daughter.  When you become the homework cop, the daily grind of the “role” diminishes your connection with your child. Then the dynamic between the parent and the young person can become so toxic that the connection between the two is gone.  And more often than not, the homework continues to not get done. Maintaining the connection is critical to getting through these years with a good relationship in tact.   We all want our children to succeed in life.  The best way to do this is keep the channel with them open and nurturing.