How To Get Your Teen To Do Homework

We all know yelling doesn't work. Consider these ideas on how to modify teen behavior.

by Ginger Long • Member { View Profile }
Photograph: iStock

I always knew the day would come when my children would reach a point when they would see me as less than perfect. Of course, there have been glimpses along the way. Let's face it. There have even been absolute, certain, no-mistaking views of nowhere-near perfect. My children are now 15, 20, and 22 years of age. The two on the double decade side of things are now making adult decisions without much input from me. Occasionally, they are faced with the reality that I have not prepared them fully. Maybe frequently. I have shared some of my parental flaws with them. Some of these flaws are genetically based, some culturally, some plain old "I have no idea where that came from" flaws, and a couple of “I can’t believe I let that happen all those years” whammies. 

I have a couple of years left to help or harm the 15 year old.

With the help of hindsight, experimental tweaking with the first two, and wizened age, I am thinking of creating a few new techniques. What the hey? It’s my last shot at getting this right. 

Sometimes I get angry. I get frustrated and impatient. I try to talk, prompt, remind and offer support. I start off engaged and interested and delighted. Teaching responsibility and independence call for patience and support. I want to minimize the anger and frustration and increase the pride and transference of responsibility. I love my children. The sense of high expectations gets remembered, differently at different times, but not always as the kind and warm-hearted unconditional transparent operation intended.

Time management seems to be the hardest skill to teach. Two weeks checking in, reminding, and talking about a project that is due typically ends with aggravated loudness and deep regret. After a recent bout of "What do you mean you haven't completed (blank)!," that was determined right before heading off to an unrelated event that I was carpooling toward, I broke the rule of carpooling, and I spoke, directly. When his friend got in the car, the tension was hard to push passed. I decided to break free and ask the sweet friend of my son, what happens in his home when scheduling and homework problems occur. This was slightly safe. I have been told that his mother and I are very similar in our parenting. I wanted to believe that his mother was able to stop before the yelling stage and that I would be handed the secret code for parenting perfectly.

When asked, “How does your mother handle these situations?” He smiled nervously, knowing I was breaking the rule, and said, “She mostly talks to us.” Not letting go, I pushed onward, a risk that I knew was breaking the code for my son (I was sensitive to the possibility of humiliation). “Yeah, and then what? What happens when the talking doesn’t help?” The smile, wider, but thinner, couldn’t stop him from sheepishly replying, “Yelling.” I sighed, “Yep, that’s where we are.”

And I drove the rest of the way planning and scheming.
How can this be done differently? Year after year, child after child, with much love — smile, listen, talk, prompt, nudge, support, nag, threaten, yell. Retreat, feel guilty, repeat next time despite the vows and promises to God and the devil not to go there again.

I teach. I have worked with very challenging students. I understand behavior, and I am skilled at helping students overcome negative behaviors to achieve some modicum of success in a rather rigid environment. How is this done? What is the secret to altering or modifying behaviors? Hit them where it hurts. Not literally of course. But first, observe and watch and understand what causes the behavior, what motivates the behavior, and what purpose is the behavior serving? What is the reward of the behavior? Remove or replace the “reward,” and teach the student the skills needed to achieve success without demanding negative attention or getting negative outcomes.

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