What to Do When Teens Refuse to Do Homework or Fail a Class
Some teens are naturally motivated and others are not. Some teens are able to succeed at school with ease, and others struggle. But, what is a parent to do when their teen simply refuses to do homework or is suddenly failing a class? Experts recommend parents work to discover the root cause and creatively problem solve with their teen.
Most of the time, parents feel a little shocked when they are confronted with a school problem. Maybe your teen has outright refused to do any work, or maybe you received a notice from the teacher, or maybe you got a disappointing surprise on their interim report. Whatever has brought the problem to your attention, it’s important to take a deep breath and work to understand the issue. The first step is to ask your teen what is going on. Notice the word ask. That means you don’t start the conversation with accusations, yelling, blame, or threats. Instead, enter into the conversation with a sense of curiosity to see if you can help uncover the possible reasons why he or she isn’t getting their homework done or passing the class.
Determine the Root Cause
If your teen refuses to do homework or is failing a class, don’t jump to the conclusion that he is simply acting out of defiance. More than likely, there is some underlying problem(s) contributing to the issue. For example, stress, bullying issues at school, classes that are too advanced, test-taking anxiety, too many absences, learning disabilities, and depression are all possible problems that can contribute to behavior changes. Remember that when high school students fall behind in their classes for any reason (absence, material too difficult, bad test-taking day), catching up can be quite difficult. When grades begin to plummet, many teens give up. Talk to them about their struggles. Ask them: “How is your current situation different from how you would like it to be?”
Separately, parents should talk to the teen’s teacher to obtain their thoughts and perspectives. Again, parents should enter such a conversation with an open mind and a willingness to listen to the teacher’s opinion.
Develop Solutions with Your Teen
Once parents feel like they understand the problem, they should sit down with their teenager and brainstorm a list of possible solutions to the given situation. They can ask their son or daughter what they have already tried before (whether it’s in this situation or in similar situations in the past), and what outcomes they experienced. Ask them to predict likely consequences, both positive and negative, for each possibility. Teens should be encouraged to not limit themselves, but to come up with as many options as possible, even if they seem unrealistic, because this creative process may help generate even better solutions. Once you have made a list of options together, help your teen narrow them down. For each option, consider how realistic it is, how likely the teen would be to implement it, and the potential obstacles.
Sometimes, homework or grade battles simply need a creative solution. For example, some teens are willing to stay after school to complete their homework, so long as they don’t have to do work at home. Other teens need some control over when they are going to do their work, so they may need to unwind for an hour after school and then do their work. Teens who are failing due to a learning disability or missed schoolwork, might be willing to work with a tutor. Parents should offer their own ideas, but MUST be willing to try their teen’s suggestions and ideas. The process of identifying the problem and developing the solution will empower your child, give them a sense of ownership in fixing the problem, and will ultimately give them confidence when they overcome the issue.
Additionally, parents should help their teen establish healthy study habits that will allow him/her to be successful. Some good study habits include: creating a designated homework time and space, removing distractions including electronics, being available to help your teen when they have a problem or get frustrated, teaching them time management skills, and helping them to get organized. You can learn more from our previous blog, Good Study Habits in Teens.
Establish Expectations and Rules
In general, parents should establish rules and expectations about homework based on their individual child. For example, if you have a teen who is fairly responsible with his homework most of the time, it may be appropriate to allow him/her to face the natural consequences of a bad grade or detention when he/she doesn’t do their work.
However, if you have a child who is refusing to do homework or is failing, and you’ve done the previous steps to try to find the problem and have discovered there is no underlying problem, then rules are warranted. Establish appropriate expectations, and more importantly, develop rewards for following them and consequences for not. Then you must follow through on your plan. For example, create small measurable goals. If your teen puts in a lot of effort for 30 minutes, then he gets a 10-minute break. Or consequently, confiscate his electronics each day until he completes his homework. Phones, tablets and other electronics are a privilege, and he cannot earn them if he chooses to not do his work.
Experts say that the best thing parents can do when faced with school problem is stay calm and open-minded. Nagging and lecturing – although tempting parenting techniques – are never effective and usually harm your relationship. Bribing your teen to get work done can sometimes work in the short run, but quickly loses its appeal to your child and can actually instill a “what’s in it for me” attitude. Additionally, threatening a consequence that you will never follow-through on will only reinforce the negative behavior. Instead, follow the tips above to discover the problem and creatively solve it with your teen. Not only will it truly address the problem, it will also teach your teen how to address future challenges.