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What is the best way to get your teen to do their homework?


By Lisa Salmon

We all know teenagers should do their homework if they want to succeed at secondary school - but that doesn't mean they will do it willingly, on time or even at all.

Which is why parents often use a variety of tactics, ranging from helpful, to annoying to downright counterproductive, in an attempt to to persuade adolescents to just get it done.

So what's the best approach? Dr Kate Jenkins, psychology consultant at online platform MyTutor (, says: "Homework helps teachers track progress and crucially helps students to fully understand what they're learning in class. But getting teens to do their homework - that's not so clear cut. Every night, parents across the country deploy a bunch of different tactics to try and help their kids to knuckle down.

"Of course, different teens respond well to different approaches and there's no one-size-fits-all method. There's lots of different ways you can support their schoolwork - and some make for more positive family relationships than others."

Here, Jenkins outlines five common homework supervision styles - and suggests how to make them truly effective.

1. The Nagger
No matter how many times you remind them to do something, it can still seem to go in one ear and out the other. Nagging inevitably produces resistance, especially in adolescents. So while you're just desperate to see your teen get some work done before bedtime, often the more you ask, the less likely they might be to do it.

Try framing the benefits of getting the work done - and do it once, saying something like: 'By getting this chemistry homework done, you'll know what the teacher's talking about tomorrow so you'll feel more confident.'

2. The Negotiator
For kids incentivised not by the joy of learning, but by treats, you might find yourself striking deals as if you're Lord Alan Sugar and they're a contestant on The Apprentice. This can work for a bit, but for teens to really learn the study skills they need in adulthood, they'll eventually need to learn how to motivate themselves.

By bribing your teen to do work, it removes the positive reinforcement of just feeling good that you've done your best. So while offering a tenner for completing their English essay this evening might feel as if the problem's sorted for now, unfortunately, it's more of a plaster than a cure.

Try to connect completing homework with emotional value or their aspirations, saying things like 'You'll be able to relax once your homework's done', or ' This homework will give you some good notes when revision comes around'.

3. The Helper
You know your teen's struggling with one of their subjects, so you see if you can help. If you use one of their subjects in your day-to-day work, you think, how hard can a GCSE be? Sometimes a parent helping out can be a way for parent and teen to bond over a shared activity. Most of the time, though, questions don't look like they did when you were at school. Your stress can rub off on them.

This can be very confusing for your child, who's trying to reconcile one method taught at school with your method. If your child needs help, get them to identify the areas they don't understand and make a list of questions to take to a teacher for extra help.

4. The Timekeeper
Parenting can often feel like a full-time military operation, and no army is complete without a strict schedule. So that's home by 4pm, snack till 4.15pm, chemistry till 5.15pm and a 45-minute break for dinner. It's how Britain won the war, and how you'll win the homework battle, right?

Structure can really help a teen become more organised, but the flipside of enforcing a timetable is that if they feel too pressured, they're more likely to push against your clock-watching.

Homework has to be a collaborative approach. The child needs to know you're there for support if they need you, but in their teens they can start to adopt a more mature attitude towards homework. So if they feel you trust and support them, they'll feel empowered to take the initiative themselves, and feel more proud once they've completed something.

5. The Cheerleader
Encouraging and praising your child can be a really effective way to get them to apply themselves. Lots of teens struggle with confidence, and anxiety around schoolwork is one of the biggest blockers to doing their best. Especially as they approach exams, a fear they're not good enough or clever enough can stop them from getting their heads down to work at all. It's of course really distressing as a parent to see your child struggle like this, and it's easy to feel helpless too.

Try talking about what their anxiety centres around. Do they feel unprepared? Is it the quantity, or the nature of the work? By pinpointing the cause of their worry, then together you can work out how to overcome it. If they can tell their teacher they're finding things tricky, their school might also help them find the resources they need to move forward.

In any case, reminding your child what they're good at, what makes them special, and that you support them no matter how they do in exams is a powerful way to give them the confidence they need to face the music (or rather, the homework).

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