Homework sucks


Most teens hate doing homework. Most parents try to cajole or threaten them into it on a daily basis. It’s normal. But just because it’s normal doesn’t make it right. The human mind is a wondrous instrument, designed for learning new things. The question we have to ask is why it’s so difficult to make our children want to do school work at home. (Personally, I’d love to know how teachers manage to get teenagers to do school work at school, and not get grunted at, but I digress.)

“What do you think about homework?” I ask my teenager. It’s a safe question, I think. She’s an overachiever. She loves learning.

“Homework sucks, mum. Why do we even need it?”

If that’s the way she feels, no wonder we have a worldwide homework crisis.

She has a point, though. What’s the benefit of doing something at home that you’ve just done in class? After a long day of school, soccer practice and guitar lessons, sometimes all you want is to spend time together as a family, or chill out with friends.

So, why is homework necessary?

  • Homework is important to reinforce skills that have been taught at school.
  • It also gives teachers a chance to monitor students’ progress.
  • If your teens are positive about homework, it can be a great way to learn how to work independently.

That last point is key – this idea of feeling positive about homework. But how can we possibly achieve it? One way is by working with it, not against it. We are all unique. We have our own way of doing things. And that includes doing homework.

Research confirms that every person has his or her learning style: that is, the way in which they best learn and memorise new things. There are many elements to consider when setting up the homework area: the lighting, the temperature, the correct furniture (that is, furniture that is correct for that specific child’s style, not furniture that looks cool), the absence or presence of music, and so on.

Now you can begin to appreciate why homework may become such a battlefield. In my day, a great deal was made of the right environment in which to do homework: a desk, a quiet spot, bright light. And yet, this classical image of a “good learning place” may be some people’s worst nightmare. Some people find bright light too aggressive, and they need dim rooms in which to do homework; others might feel sleepy in dim light and need bright light to feel energised.

Another myth is that homework has to be done at a desk. Some students prefer a more informal setting with soft cushions – they may want to lie on the floor or stretch out on their bed. Others yet prefer to move around for better concentration and not sit anywhere for very long.

Bad news for your teen, though, when it comes to having their device tuned to Spotify while doing homework. Sarah Ransdell, a psychologist at Florida Atlantic University, conducted a study that showed we don’t cope well with the task of writing while listening to music. Furthermore, Ransdell found that different types of music (instrumental as well as pop) all had the same disruptive effect. In the end, though, it’s all about the final result. If music helps your teen plough through homework, or if it makes the job bearable, keep it on. If it is distracting, turn it off or down.

Some teens may feel more secure when doing homework under parental supervision. Make sure you are nearby and accessible, willing to participate in their learning, but do not act as an instructor and never do the work for them.

One of my teens likes doing her homework with music on, a water bottle or snacks at hand, and parents, brother or friends nearby – not because she needs help, but because she craves the company. Her brother prefers silence to music, doesn’t care for company or snacks, and needs the lights bright.

When you find out your teen’s learning preferences, you will know how to set up an optimal homework environment for them. This may be a quiet corner for some, or the family room for others (with the music on, with nibbles and water available, papers strewn everywhere, and their pets around). This might seem like a lot of distractions to us, but for many teens this may just be the environment they need.

How vigilant should you be about checking that the homework is done? Provided your teen is getting test results consistent with their potential, you can probably ease up on the monitoring and leave it to the teacher.

Your teen’s greatest asset is their sense of self-worth. It comes from “being good at” schoolwork, sports and extramural activities. We as parents should provide constant encouragement and support in the journey to achieving these goals. As long as we’re achieving that, we’re doing all right.

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