Teen Homework Procrastination

Jan Faull, MEd, answers a parent's question about helping her teen manage her time better.
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Q. I have a teenager in 10th grade this year who has trouble turning in her homework on time. Sometimes she will start off with a lot of interest, gather all the material, and ask us for help with projects but when it comes to actually putting it together and turning it in, it does not happen on time. Sometimes she won't even start doing assignments that she doesn't want to do.
My husband and I have worked out so many ways to improve this: Meeting with the teachers on a regular basis, keeping log sheets between the teachers and us, motivating and rewarding her if things were done on time, etc. However, once in a while some missing assignments still pop up.

A. It's time for you and your husband to drop out of this homework situation with your daughter. Homework is her responsibility, not yours. If she were still in elementary school, your involved approach would be effective and appropriate. Your high schooler must grasp hold of her academic responsibilities without you. Drop out by proceeding in the following manner:

First, tell her you realize that she's struggling to complete her assignments. Then tell her that if she needs specific help you're happy to offer it but you're not going to interfere any longer; you will only assist, guide or oversee her homework upon her request. From now on, homework is between her and her teachers. Explain further that although you're always interested in how she's doing, the consequences for uncompleted assignments are for her to bear. Tell her that you have faith she'll figure out what to do to complete and hand in assignments on time.

Second, ask her if she'd like assistance from a professional tutor, homework assistant, or a counselor.
It's usually impossible for teenagers to take homework guidance from parents. Teens typically make an emotional break from their parents as they move toward independence. Their task is to develop their own identity separate from Mom and Dad. If your daughter remains under your parenting umbrella, she's not doing her developmental homework.

Many teens are, however, willing to accept advice and guidance from other respected adults. If she's open to the idea of meeting with a homework counselor once or twice a week -- and you can afford it -- arrange for this. Managing, organizing and completing assignments are skills that all children can acquire. It's simply harder for some children than others. If this is the case with your daughter, a skilled adult can probably help with the process.

Third, ask yourself why she's not handing in or finishing her work on time? Is she a perfectionist? Children who are perfectionists fear that their work is never good enough. They worry that it will be harshly judged. To avoid these negative feelings, they don't achieve or work to reach their potential. They realize that although reaching perfection is impossible, doing less than what's perfect is intolerable. Does she see herself as helpless? Children who try and try but continue to fail, or children who have parents consistently jumping in and managing situations for them, take on a syndrome referred to as "learned helplessness." An internal voice says, "I never get anything right, so why try?"
Tied to both perfectionism and learned helplessness is low self-esteem. To combat low self-esteem, your daughter needs to know that you love her and value her even when she doesn't hand in assignments. Additionally, encourage her to get involved in experiences separate from the rigors of academics and homework. By doing so, she'll have the opportunity to see herself anew as competent and capable; improved homework performance might then follow.


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