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My 13 year-old son consistently neglects his homework and studying. He admits that he is aware of what is required but simply doesn't want to do the work. Over the course of several years, we have tried micro-managing, punishment and rewards but nothing seems to help. He is a very bright child (we have had a full battery of intelligence tests) and generally cooperative and happy. His class participation is great and his teachers say he is a pleasure to have in class. However, he will be lucky to hold a "C" average. I don't know how to help him break his pattern of underachievement.


Dr. Tom Greenspon Replied: I would generally agree that homework, in addition to its content-related teaching value, is an important opportunity for students to learn a sense of responsibility for their work. They are best left to deal with that on their own or with the teacher directly (with parental support of course), and fighting about homework potentially undermines all of this. There is a context issue, though, that may need to be addressed here. Your description of your son suggests that he may be a gifted student. If this is the case, he might be encountering a familiar problem that students have when they are not being adequately challenged in the classroom. Many such gifted kids are bored; some are angry and defiant. In either case, homework doesn't get done because it is considered (in many cases correctly) to be pointless, repetitive, or demeaning to someone who already grasps the concepts involved. I would want to know about this before I made any suggestions for your son.
You might talk with your son about what he thinks of the level of challenge in the work; it might also be useful to discuss this with his teachers, in view of the apparently strong intelligence test results, to see if modifications to his curriculum are desirable (or possible). If there are no options at school, it could be useful to have a conversation with him about the fact that his classes are not challenging enough, so you can understand why he isn't interested in the work, but that you would like him to consider ways to do the work anyway so as not to make too much of a mess of his record. Again, this is ultimately up to him since you can't make him do the work, but at least he will feel understood and he may be in a better emotional place to make the choice to do his homework. You will also move away from a battle that you don't need, and that is pointless under the circumstances!

Posted On 2009-10-13 14:58:43
Tina Nocera Replied: You've taken some terrific steps to make sure nothing is really wrong. But the problem is still unresolved and very frustrating. To children this age, the future isn't something they can really understand or relate to, and therefore how could these academic subjects be important? Believe it or not, this is a great opportunity for you not only to help your child with understanding the value of education, but also to build on your relationship with him. Take a side step and start to discuss things that he is interested in. Together explore those things and identify what it takes to be successful. If children get a glimpse of what their success looks like, you can then relate it back to how this moment in time will help them get there. It also shows them that you have in interest in them for something that appeals to them, and that you can learn something new as well. Most importantly, if they have future plans they are excited about and see themselves in a very positive light, it is far less likely they will be drawn to troublesome behaviors. Finally, we're going to send you a gift - our Parental Wisdom bumper sticker that says, "I'm the Proud Parent of a Good Person."
Posted On 2004-11-20 18:34:02
Mark Weiss Replied: Palker Palmer, who wrote the book called "The Courage to Teach," talks about a teaching posture that is neither "invasive nor evasive," a balance I've tried to achieve as both a teacher and a parent. Sounds like you're trying for that too. He's at the age where we're trying to transfer more responsibility for achievement to the child/young person. I found that asking how much and what kind of help they want gives them some control instead of imposing a regimen on them. Do you want me to help you set up a schedule? Do you want some help with the work? Is there someone else who would be helpful? How can we help you develop habits of work that might serve you well as you grow up? Gently reminding him that getting C's may not be what he might want to look back on as he moves on in school is o.k. Just not overdoing it. Checking in and being concerned is good, but allowing him to maintain control is also important. Also, maintaining his broader interest in learning with you is also, I believe, important. What are you reading? What do you talk about in terms of current events? What do you do on weekends? What good television might you watch together? How do you have fun together (assuming it's still possible with a 13 year old).
Posted On 2004-11-20 18:07:31
Mark Viator Replied: The word "Homework" can strke fear into almost every parent's heart. While it appears that your son is indeed very bright and cooperative, he is demonstrating a lack of responsibility. Homework is a responsiblity. It is HIS responsibility. Your attempts to micromanage, reward, and punish may not have been successful because your son feels that homework is not really that important, so he does not take ownership of it. Since you have had him tested, and no learning difficulities have been identified, I would recommend that you allow your son to experience the natural consequences for not taking responsibility to complete his homework, obtaining low a few low grades. I know that this may sound difficult or even harsh, but it is a lesson that needs to be learned, and the sooner the better. Remember, in our adult society, if we do not take responsiblity, then we suffer the consequences. If we do not do a good job at work, then we get fired. Homework is part of his job. He needs to understand that doing his homework is part of his school work job. If he experiences obtaining a few poor grades, he may begin to understand the importance of taking responsiblity to complete his homework.
Posted On 2004-11-20 09:47:24
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