Helping Middle and High School Students with Homework

by Maureen Bouey
August 2003

This age period is considered by many to be the most challenging time (and not just in school either!). Well, it is challenging. It’s challenging for the parent, it’s challenging for the teacher and…it’s challenging for the student.

If you are a parent, take a moment right now and think back, to your own high school years. For many of us, it was a pretty darned bumpy road! It’s helpful to keep that in mind when dealing with your own adolescents (compassion is a key element here).

“Patience is the companion of wisdom.”
Saint Augustine (354 AD - 430 AD)

Reading and Writing

Keep them reading and writing on their own. If you have a son who is writing fantasy stories because he loves to do it for heaven’s sake, don’t discourage him. Basically this just means acceptance on your part; you don’t have to praise, offer helpful criticism, or even provide compliments (unless you really do love what they’ve produced). The important thing, as it has been all along, is to let your sons and daughters retain ownership of their own productions and accomplishments. Your role is to be friendly and responsive, but to keep some distance.

Learning Styles

  • Remember that learning styles continue to play a major role in how your kids learn. For example, a kinesthetic teenager whose clothes are too tight, or whose shoes don’t fit properly may not be able to study. And remember, kinesthetic kids often need to squirm, jiggle or move their bodies somehow.
  • It doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t focussed; frequently it’s HOW they focus. An auditory learner can be very disturbed by sounds around her - or the opposite may be the case – she may need to have music, the TV in the background, or other background “noise”. The visual student can become very distracted by a messy room, by too much “viewable” stimulation or – by not enough stimulation.
  • Becoming aware of what your son or daughter focuses on naturally, can provide you with a clue to what their inherent learning style is. This is key because, as Faith and Cecil Clark say, “Distractions to one child are fuel for concentration to another”(1). It really helps to take your own child’s particular style into consideration. They often know themselves what works for them – and what doesn’t. Do your best to help them work with their learning style – they couldn’t change this, even if they wanted to.
  • Model a balanced work schedule. Studying or working on something for hours on end with no pause is an unhealthy formula for both physical and mental health. When you are working on something, be aware of your own rhythms and take regular “restorative” breaks. Encourage your kids to do the same. Peter Russell says that interrupting yourself “can lead to higher recall of the material…” (2) Fresh air, shooting a few hoops, a walk, listening to music, or eating a healthy snack are all things which can provide a beneficial respite. Incidentally, I would definitely discourage TV, computers or video games being used for a homework break. These are not restorative.

Changing Worlds

  • Although you may be challenged, it is important to acknowledge your child’s changing world, aspects of which you might not like or understand. This is the stage of life where many kids begin to differentiate themselves from their families and to seek recognition and acceptance from their peers. Their music, style of dressing, speech, etc., are all important aspects of their “culture”. While you don’t have to allow anything that goes against your own moral or ethical value system, just understanding and acknowledging his attempts to find his way will pay off in spades.

“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.”
Rabbinical Saying

  • Let your child have more freedom than in elementary school around deciding the logistics of where, when and how they do their homework. Remember, the goal here is to work towards encouraging your child’s ownership of the study process. This can only come about with his being allowed to make some of his own decisions.
  • Let your child know that you are supportive, but that their work is their responsibiliy. Do not harangue them about assignments and homework. Do your best to remain calm no matter the situation with your child’s homework. If they come to you for help, you will want to offer your best suggestions and support of course. As your child ages the subject matter of their homework may be difficult even for you. In this situation, you can use your resources to direct your child toward help (from a text or another knowledgeable person perhaps).
  • Continue to avoid putting pressure on them about grades, especially at the middle and junior high school levels. This is harder for most parents than at the elementary school level. But, if they are doing their best, enjoying themselves, and have an overall good attitude towards school, then pressuring them about grades will probably just be counterproductive.

(1) Authors of Hassle Free Homework
(2) The Brain Book