Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Teens Doing Homework

I came across this article “Making Teen Boys Do Their Homework.” The article has some good advice, and it has some points that I consider worth questioning and commenting on.

"The biggest reason that students procrastinate on their homework is because they don't know the concepts or how to do it."

This is absolutely true. The article goes on to add “Other common problems include disorganization and boredom.” That is true, but that is also true for many kids who get their homework done. We need to emphasize the issue of ability, rather than get distracted by personality differences and moral issues. Some kids are disorganized. Some kids are more prone to boredom. We need to educate kids regardless of who they are and develop strategies that teach them as they are, not as we think they ought to be. Keeping the focus on educational issues (I call this The Myth of Motivation) is one of the most important things we can do.

“For some teens, an hour is enough, but for others, two hours is more like it.”

It is true that kids will differ in how much time they “need” to spend on their homework. But we should not confuse what they need to do with what they need to do to get it all done. If the criterion is simply homework completion, we run the risk of taking kids with ADHD who actually need unwind and spend less time at homework and make them work more. We run the risk of taking kids who work well with their hands and making them spend too much time dwelling on what they don’t do well. “Need” needs to include issues regarding their mental and emotional well-being as well as their need to have time to explore other, not necessarily academic types of types.

“Consequences will be if he doesn't do his work” This is a tricky area. The author recommends attaching electronic and weekend privileges to homework. Perhaps, that works for some kids, but in my experience, those consequences are either unenforceable, or, if enforced, used too often. The definition of a “good consequence” is one you don’t have to use anymore, since that tells you it was effective. Consequences used repetitively without positive results reinforce acting out behavior, and are not good for kids.

“Teachers and parents work together with the student.” Before parents and teachers can truly work together, they need to make sure they understand the boundaries of their authority: Parents in charge of the home; teachers in charge of the school. I certainly support dialogue and cooperation between parents and teachers, but if teachers retain final say about what must be done in the home, the disturbance to the natural hierarchies between parents and teachers is too great for productive work, unless the problem happened to have been small. Parents should tell teachers that they will do what they can to support them, but make it clear that, in the end, they have the authority to relieve pressure at home if, in their best judgment, that’s what is needed.

“Look at Long-Term Goals.”  There is no question we want to keep long-term goals in mind, but long-term goals are not restricted to academic goals. We also want to make sure that our children have healthy late teen years. We want to make sure that our children have access to healthy peer groups in high school. Relentless homework pressure can drive children to negative peer groups with significant consequences.

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