Four Ways to Help Your Teenager with Homework

We’ve all seen the memes about homework and teenagers. While they’re great for a giggle, or to forward to your partner or friend, they aren’t really all that helpful for lowering the pressure around said homework. Four Ways to Help Your Teenager with Homework

I’ve taught middle, high school, and college mathematics courses for the last 18 years. Now, I have two middle and high school-aged students of my own. As we gear up for another school year, I have a few nuggets of homework wisdom that have made assignments more manageable as a mom and teacher. Maybe you’ll find them helpful too!

Tips For Managing Homework with Teenagers

But, before we start with what to actually say to your teen about homework, here are three important reminders for family members.

It’s Their Homework

First, remember, it’s their homework. You don’t have to help—there’s no reason for you to sit down with them and Google answers, comb through the textbook, or read the notes they did (or didn’t) take during class. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take an interest in what they are doing, but it does mean you shouldn’t let the responsibility shift from your kid to you. If you find yourself keeping track of assignment and project deadlines instead of your child, your blood pressure rising around a topic or assignment, or you find yourself wanting to say something like, “Why do you even have to learn this anyway?!?”, try to use that as a cue to step back.

Homework is Not a Reflection on You

Also, remember your child’s homework is not a reflection on you or your quality of parenting. As kids get older and want more independence, homework completion (or non-completion) is a great way for them to begin to experience the consequences of their actions. Every single kid I’ve ever collected homework from (and my own kids) has made a low-stakes bad decision around homework. Trust the process. Of course, if your kid turns into a serial homework avoider and school consequences don’t really seem to be doing the trick (or if school consequences seem to be disproportionate to the behavior), you might choose to intervene. In my experience, 95 percent of the hundreds of middle and high school students I’ve collected homework from over the years tend to course correct on their own. 

Don’t Constantly Check the Live Grade Book

Step away from the “live grade book.” Download the app if you must (in Iowa City that’s Infinite Campus), but I strongly recommend you turn off the notifications. Pick one day of the week (or less) to look at the grade book for your middle schooler or high schooler and then ask questions. Remember those low-stakes mistakes kids make around homework? A lot of times that shows up in the grade book as a missing (M) or incomplete (I) assignment. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had students cheat or lie about homework because they know that if an M, I, or 0 goes in the grade book, they will immediately get a text or phone call from a frantic parent threatening to take away their phone, videogame, or something else they care about. Trust your kid and teacher enough to let them work through the dilemma together. If the M, I, or 0 is there from one week to the next, ask your kid what’s going on—but please give them the time and space to work through whatever happened first.

Now — here’s some advice for helping them in the moment.

Four Ways to Actually Help Your Teenager with Homework

With those things in mind, here are four ways to help your middle or high school kid with their homework:

1.) Ask Them About Their Homework

  • Do they have homework?
  • Can you see it?
  • What part of the homework seemed really easy?
  • What part was tricky? What made it easy or tricky?

2.) Make A List of Resources

Make a list of resources your child can use when they are “stuck.” I make my students and my own teenagers make a list of resources available to them. In my opinion, you do not need to be part of that resource list. Some ideas are:

  • Google
  • YouTube
  • Class webpage
  • Notes
  • Textbook
  • Phone a friend
  • Email the teacher

Then, when you’re asking your kid questions about their homework (see suggestion 1) you can encourage them to use the resource list they’ve made for the parts they identify as tricky. (Pro-tip: “this is dumb” loosely translates to “this is hard.”)

3. If You Notice a Mistake, Ask a Question

Do not correct the mistake. Ask a question instead. 

4.) Encourage Your Child to Talk to Their Teachers

Encourage your child to contact their teacher with questions or concerns, instead of you sending an email on their behalf. It’s really, really great for building your kid’s ability to advocate for themselves!

What’s your best homework advice? 

Kate is the mom to Jack (2006), Liz (2007), and Alice (2011) and an avid Cubs fan through marriage. She's an assistant professor of mathematics and STEM education at St. Ambrose University and also moonlights as a mathematics teacher at South East Junior High in Iowa City. Between soccer, running club, tumbling, and piano lessons she likes to cook, run, and do yoga. She's also a sucker for 5Ks with cool swag and awesome medals.


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