Ask the Expert

Should I help my teenager with homework, and if so, how?

Erin Seaton, a lecturer in the Department of Education in the School of Arts and Sciences, offers some advice
March 16, 2012

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There are many constructive ways parents can help adolescents with homework. Parents can start by teaching their children basic study skills. Developing a consistent homework routine is an important first step.

Adolescents need a place to work that is free of distractions. Although we live in a world that demands constant multiprocessing, to work effectively an adolescent needs to concentrate on one task at a time. Turn off the television, close chat programs and put away the cell phone during homework time. Choose a location that is conductive to working attentively.

Likewise, learning how to structure their time is a critical skill adolescents need to develop, and homework is a place to practice this. Parents can help their teenagers plan ahead for large projects by asking their child what small goals she or he might set to meet deadlines for larger assignments.

Learning how to structure their time is a critical skill adolescents need to develop, and homework is a place to practice this. Photo: Larisa LofitskayaWhile a child is working on homework, parents can make themselves available to answer clarifying questions or listen as their child talks through possible problem-solving  strategies. Alternately, if a parent is unavailable during the time a child is working on homework, parents and children might set a regular time each day for a homework check-in.

While some larger projects may require adult supervision and attention, parents should not complete homework assignments for an adolescent. Homework should offer opportunities for students to work on projects they may not be able to finish during the school day, reinforce developing skills, foster critical thinking and develop original ideas.

When parents complete their child’s homework, they are not helping their adolescent to develop the study skills necessary for continued education. Completing a child’s homework does not teach an adolescent how to ask for support or master strategies for coping with difficult material.

Instead, parents can offer suggestions for breaking down difficult tasks into smaller parts, or help a child write down specific questions to ask a teacher about homework assignments.

Staying in communication with a child’s teacher will help parents to know when their child is struggling with material and how their child can access support at school. If homework seems to be taking an unreasonable amount of time, parents can encourage their adolescent to speak with a teacher and can offer support or follow-up after this initial conversation.

Learning to complete homework independently—or knowing when and how to ask for help when necessary—is critical in establishing an adolescent’s sense of autonomy and building a strong foundation for lifelong learning habits.

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