Our 15-year-old son just doesn’t do his schoolwork. The problem began when he entered his teens, and has become progressively worse. He is very bright, but totally uninterested in getting his work done. He should be getting A’s, but he barely scrapes through because he doesn’t hand in his assignments. We’ve tried making him sit down to do it, restricting his computer time, and grounding him, but nothing works.
Your problem, in a nutshell, is that your son is a teenager. At his age, kids need to feel that their schoolwork is their own and that they are solely responsible to get it done. Parents need to be out of the way.
At age eight or nine, when homework begins, it’s the parents’ responsibility to help the child organize his time, make a schedule of when homework and music practice are to be done, and help the child get his work completed before play begins. That way the child develops solid work habits. But at about age eleven, parents need to gradually hand responsibilities over to the child. This applies not only to schoolwork but to other responsibilities such as making lunches for school, getting to bed, cleaning his room, and doing his laundry.
After a child enters adolescence, anything that his parents take responsibility for is something that he will not take his own responsibility for. If you collect his laundry and wash it, he won’t bother to put his dirty clothes in the hamper or to wash them himself. If you tell him when to go to bed, he’ll stay up all night. If his school grades are really important to you and you nag him about getting his schoolwork done, he will slack off. This rebellion comes about because the child needs to become independently responsible for his own life. In a few years he will be living on his own and paying rent, and he needs to be ready by having full responsibility for lesser things. He needs to make his mistakes when they don’t yet count all that much.
Too many parents of teens take responsibility for things that should be their kids’ own issues. We nag and coerce them to do things, then rescue them from the consequences of not doing those things. We pick up their dirty laundry and clean their rooms and make them eat and do schoolwork. They engage us in power struggles to give us the message that their lives are their own, and they need to feel the consequences of their immature decisions. They need it now, before they are out in the world and get evicted from apartments or fired from jobs.
A teenager, particularly in his later teens, needs consequences that count. That means real-world consequences, not parent-imposed consequences. If he stays up late, he needs to experience the consequences of being tired out the next day. If he doesn’t prepare his laundry, he needs to find he has no clean socks and underwear. If he doesn’t do his homework, he needs a bad grade or even a failure. If he spends all his earnings or allowance, he needs to run out of money and be unable to go to a movie with his friends. All these things tell him that what he does counts in the real world.
So back off. Tell your son his homework is his own business and that if he has to repeat courses because he fails, he will just have to repeat courses. You are no longer going to get involved. Look for areas where you can hand his own life decisions over to him, then let him make his mistakes. It will pay off in the long run.