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Think back to your favorite teachers. What did you like about them? What made them such great teachers? Chances are, they were supportive, cared about you, and were positive. You are your children’s first and primary teacher, and that doesn’t end when they go to school. Just like those teachers you loved, you can be positive and encourage your teens too. Getting involved in the homework routine can help them develop discipline and problem-solving skills. Your support can help ensure success in school and beyond.

What Is the Right Amount of Homework?

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The right amount of homework depends on your teen’s age and skills. The U.S. Department of Education suggests that teens study and work on homework for at least an hour each day, while the National Education Association (NEA) and the National PTA (NPTA) recommend 10 minutes of homework per grade level. Some parents even advocate for no homework, citing the increased rates of obesity and anxiety as reasons to help youth better balance home and school. You know your child better than anyone. If you are concerned that your teen has either too much or too little homework, talk with your teen’s teachers.

How Can I Help with Homework?

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For many reasons, parents often do not envision themselves as helpers when it comes to high school homework. New math, online learning, and Common Core changes can be confusing, and many parents say helping causes tension or stress. Other parents say they believe the responsibility belongs to the teen and thus put the onus on the young person to do the work. Regardless of your feelings about homework, you can take steps to help your teen, even if you are unfamiliar with the subject matter.

Include your teen when making decisions.

Teens are naturally working toward independence. This is the time for them to take responsibility for their work. With guidance, they can develop habits that can serve them for a lifetime. Gone are the days when we tell our children what to do and plan their every activity; they are teens now and need to be part of the planning. The most effective approach to homework is coming to an agreement, working together to create a plan for success.

Focus on the positive.

Congratulate and praise your teen regularly, focusing on effort rather than product. We all do better when we feel better, so praise the effort on that amazing science project or share how much you enjoyed reading an essay. Sometimes you may want to celebrate with ice cream or do something special to mark achievements. It also helps to ask your teen to identify the positive short-term and long-term results of being diligent with assignments and workload. When you enable them to vocalize these positives, they may internalize them easier and develop more intrinsic motivation.

Your teen might get frustrated sometimes, and that’s normal. At those moments, suggest taking a break, and let your teen know you will help when the time is right. Validating feelings and showing empathy are key to repairing a relationship and helping the teen move forward.

Talk to your teen about homework.

Communication is key. Ask questions and find out what they are working on in each class. Find out what they love about each class and what they find difficult. Take time to listen, not criticize or offer solutions. Their responses can help you show empathy and understanding in times of stress. Here are some suggested questions for starting a conversation.

  • What topic are you covering in class right now?
  • Tell me about your teacher’s style of teaching.
  • What are you supposed to do tonight?
  • Do you need any help figuring things out?
  • Do you need anything to finish the assignment?
  • How can I help you?

Make homework a routine.

As a team, find a regular time to work on assignments, perhaps right after school or dinner. No matter what time you choose, be consistent. Your teen may need some guidance, such as a required amount of time to devote to homework or studies. Setting time requirements can help your teen avoid rushing through homework to watch a TV show or go out with friends.

Find a place without distractions.

Help your teen find a comfortable place to concentrate. Working at the family computer or at the kitchen table allows parents to be available if needed. Limit distractions, such as TV and cell phones. If other family members in the house are noisy, encourage them to take part in a quiet activity that won’t distract. Don’t forget that many communities have public libraries with computers and other resources that can be great study tools for teens.

Set a good example.

Show your teen how the things that he or she is learning will help later in life. Let your teen see you reading books, writing reports and emails, balancing your family budget, doing your taxes, saving for a big purchase, and learning about new technology and science. You can also engage family and friends to offer support and have them set a good example as well. Grandparents and extended family members and friends can reinforce your contribution and can show teens skills you might lack. Sharing real world activities provides young people examples of how what they learn at school really matters and is applicable in real life. Communicate that it takes hard work to master these activities, and let your teen know that you also struggle with some tasks. Be excited about learning and discovery—it’s infectious.

Limit media.

Research shows that students do better in school if you limit the time they spend watching TV, playing video games, and surfing the internet. You may want to discuss this with your teen as you figure out a good homework routine and life balance. These activities are a normal part of most teens’ lives but should not be allowed to dominate their time at home.

Support lifelong learning.

Keep learning going over the summer and on long breaks. We all enjoy and often need a break. However, engaging in summer activities through clubs or groups like 4-H can help with information retention and promote lifelong learning. The key is making learning fun and offering more flexibility and choice in lifelong learning. Breaks can be a great time for exploring lessons learned and skills developed. Ask teens to reflect on past experiences, both positive and negative, and use the break to develop skills and prepare for success. What went well this year? What would have made the year better? These reflective questions can help teens identify struggles and successes of the past year and help them explore ways to improve future experiences.

Encourage good sleep habits and healthy eating.

Healthy habits help teens be successful at school and in life. Good sleep is hard to come by for teens who are up late and up early. Helping them identify the benefits of good sleep and healthy eating is part of the solution. Encouraging a consistent sleep routine and offering healthy meals are critical. Share a piece of fruit during homework time or start studying after a nice, healthy dinner.

Relax.

Relax! School is already stressful for many students, and adding to the stress at home only makes the situation worse. Mental health is key, and creating unnecessary stress around homework is not the goal. It is good to relax and not put undue pressure on students to complete their homework to perfection. Supporting teens is key; nagging and setting unrealistic expectations create stress and deter from the goal. Their brains work best when youth are connected and supported by those they love. That means a happy, positive learning environment is the only kind in which people can really learn. If you focus on the positives and relax about homework, it can make all the difference.

Some Homework Tips

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  • Make a schedule and a plan to help your teen avoid cramming for tests and waiting until the last minute to complete projects.
  • Help your teen get started on research reports or other big assignments early. A little support can go a long way.
  • Help your student find resources such as books, internet resources, and tutors. Don’t do the work for your teen. Instead, be there to guide him or her in the right direction.
  • Make learning fun. Everyone does better when there is joy, so remove the stress and focus on the positives.

Acknowledgments

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This is a revision of a publication originally written by Andrew Behnke, Associate Professor & Human Development Specialist, Agricultural and Human Sciences.

Author

Extension Specialist and Associate Professor
Agricultural & Human Sciences

Find more information at the following NC State Extension websites:

Publication date: July 17, 2020
FCS-521-02

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