Friday, October 29, 2010

The plight of the parent of the "Homework Avoider"

I was at the gym the other day talking to a bunch of parents while waiting for our spin class to begin, and I asked them what was the hot button issue they were having with their teen. With resounding unanimity and gusto, they said 'HOMEWORK". Some things never change, and teens avoiding homework has been an issue between parents and kids since homework was invented. Truly, doing something that isn't fun.......isn't fun!

 For parents, this homework avoidance may be something new for their kid. In elementary school, homework is fun. It makes a kid feel a little grown-up, it is usually very project oriented and gives them a chance to tap into some creativity, and finally and most importantly, it pleases their parents when they do it. Elementary school kids are developmentally wired  to want to please their parents. As a teenager, not so much.

Here is what is behind homework avoidance:
1. It is usually quite boring, no more building dioramas.
2. It is hard, maybe not just in one subject, but all subjects. School work gets harder and more challenging, and it is a rude awakening to not feel smart all the time.
3. Perhaps a few assignments have been missed, and now they are in the deep, dark hole of being behind and feel like they can never catch up.
4. They are tired. Days get really long with activities/jobs/sports after school, and then homework.
5. It feels daunting that there might be several hours of sitting down and concentrating.
6. And most importantly, drum roll please, they want to be "hanging" with their friends, even if it is virtually.

This is alot for parents to battle against, and most of it is not what you actually see when you walk into your teens room. What you do see is multiple screens on the computer, with facebook being the most prominent, the phone in their lap fingers tapping away in conversation, a downloaded TV show or movie playing away on their IPHONE, or ITOUCH, and yes there may be a textbook open somewhere in there. Those underlying feelings of frustration, anxiety and boredom are cloaked by all those copious amounts of avoidance behaviors

First of all, close your eyes and visualize yourself at this age. How many of you eagerly sat down to do homework? I have very visceral memories myself, of dragging the phone with its long cord (I'm old) into my room, and whispering away for what must have been hours to my 7 best friends. We had a lot of catching up to do since we had parted after school, and I had to speak to each and every one of them.  The first thing is to understand with them, rather than argue and criticize them for their lack of attention to what to you is the most important thing they should be doing.

Here is your "I Get it " moment. Rather then going into their room and in a raised, disgusted voice saying, "Get of that damn phone, and shut down that facebook or I am taking both away. Either you do your homework, and get your priorities straight or (fill in the blank her with your threat du jour)". You can go another way and say" I get how boring some of this stuff is, or I know this math, or this french, or this chemistry or biology is really tough stuff, or I know you have alot going on in your life these days, and it must be hard to focus on your homework. Or, (this is especially for the kids who may have ADD or ADHD) I  know how hard it is for you to have to sit and concentrate on all this stuff at one time. Let them know that you get that this is hard, frustrating, boring etc. AND that there is nothing wrong with them for feeling this way. Then you can get to the planning piece. You can say "lets figure this out so we don't have to be arguing about it every night. We can't change that you have homework, and that we expect you do it, but we can figure out a way that works for you." Parents maybe your kid can't sit for 2 hours at a time. Maybe work out a plan where they work in the kitchen for 30 minutes, without phone and computer, and then take  15 min breaks to "chat with friends". Many phone carriers and Internet companies  have parental control programs where you can program phones and computers like DVRs, scheduling when they are on or off. This is a great tool, because you and your kids can come up with a schedule together, and it takes away all the arguing of turn off your phone!, get off facebook! The bottom line is you want to avoid the power struggle of "Do your homework!" VS "You can't make me!"
Which by the way is actually true. If kids feel that you are trying to MAKE them do something, they will do everything in their power to show you just how powerless you are, by just not doing it.

Understanding with them and planning with them teaches them to look at what gets in their way to do what they need to do, and figure out strategies that can support them. This is a life skill they will need to take with them in the next phase of their lives. If you take control of how and when they do or don't their homework, they will never learn how to manage all the distractions of life that are coming their way.

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