Updated 15 January 2015

Help your teen get better grades

The New Year brings new academic challenges for high-school kids. Give your teens the support they need.


With the social, emotional and educational pressures young teenagers face in high school, getting good results can be tough.

Here’s how to help your young teen cope better with homework and studying as they navigate their way through this stressful and challenging period.

Get a handle on homework

As your teen enters high school, they’ll have to adjust to a higher workload with more subjects and homework. This can become an issue for children and parents – especially if your child isn’t motivated to do their homework and complete tasks on time.

A major reason why homework becomes neglected, according to child behavioural therapist James Lehman, is that it’s sometimes difficult for kids to focus at home.

He explains that, when a child is in the classroom, they’re in a structured and organised learning environment with everyone focusing on the same thing. But once your teen comes home, they switch to a free-time mindset. In their mind, home is a place to relax, have a snack, listen to music, and maybe watch TV and play video games, not a place to do school work.

Read: Fast food may lead to lower school results

In his view, the key rules to end power struggles over homework are to establish structure that incorporates consequences and rewards. In this way, your child will learn that school work is a regular part of home life.

While most kids need some transitional time in between school and assignments to relax a while, homework is too easy to put off without a routine, says Dr Jeanne Shay Schumm, author of How to Help Your Child with Homework.

She suggests considering factors like your child’s temperament and the family schedule when working out an optimal homework time.

Find out from your child’s teacher how much time should be spent on homework each night. As a rough estimation, your teen might need to spend one to two hours on homework if they’re at a public school.

However, if your child attends the more structured environment of a private school, they could be expected to do three or four hours’ homework every night.

Also remember that homework is your child’s responsibility, not yours. You’re not doing your kids any favours by doing the work for them, as being “spoon fed” will certainly not help them when they leave school or start tertiary education. It’s fine to give advice if your child is struggling with some aspects of homework, but ideally the bulk of the effort should be their responsibility.

Here are some tips to help you and your child cope better with homework:

1. Make a dedicated homework space: Ensure your teen has a suitable place to do homework. That doesn’t mean lying on the couch or sitting on the floor with the TV blaring. Ideally, your child should sit at a desk with a proper chair.

2. Cut out distractions:
Don’t be fooled by your teen insisting they can multi-task perfectly by watching TV, browsing on their cell phone or playing a video game while doing homework. While some kids are able to work while listening to music or background TV, many find it difficult to concentrate on two tasks simultaneously.

3. Group effort:
Consider using homework time as an opportunity for the entire family to get some work done. This could include older siblings doing their academic work at the same time, with you sitting nearby, doing some of your own administrative chores.

4. Be flexible, yet firm: We all sometimes experience an exhausting day that drains all our energy. Teens are no different. However, try to sense if it’s just a cop-out or whether your child is genuinely tired when they say they’ll do their homework later.  

5. Gentle encouragement: Don’t hover around. Encourage your child’s homework efforts, but give them some space to finish on their own.

6. Allow for some down-time:
Whether it’s listening to music, having a quick dip in the pool or just chilling with a cool drink, a break reduces stress and might be just what your teen needs to refocus their energy to finish their homework.

7. Teach time management:
Teaching your teen how to manage their time more effectively is an invaluable skill that will help them throughout their life.

8. Incentives help the process:
Think of simple rewards to encourage your child to finish their homework. Make sure it’s something your teen really would enjoy, e.g. staying out 30 minutes later than their normal weekend curfew.

Teaching confidence

Parents constantly monitoring their work and performance is an exhausting cycle that makes children feel less confident and competent, says Elizabeth Kolbert, in her book Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost? 

Writing in the New Yorker, she says that, when parents are overprotective, children don’t gain confidence from learning to handle things themselves.  

Read: 10 back-to-school checks

A few tips:

- Start coaching instead of controlling. Support your child and do things with them, not for them.
- Don’t be tempted to constantly intervene and focus on perfection. This will undermine your child’s confidence.
- Assist them with tackling manageable challenges, so they know your help is available if they need it.
- Help your teen organise ideas and work, but let them complete their homework or studying without interfering.
- Praise your teen’s effort, not results. Comment that they have persevered or that you’ve seen how much effort they’ve put into studying or doing homework.

Successful studying

Studying is easily a topic on its own, but here are some tips from the experts on how to encourage more effective studying methods:

- Use a written work/study schedule. Help your child to draw up a simple table where they list everything that needs to be done to study for tests and exams on each day of the week. Make a copy of the schedule and paste it on the fridge or another public area in the house.
- Allocate activities according to the hours in the day on the schedule. This will help your teen to organise their study time better, be more clear on what needs to be done by when and also foster a sense of responsibility and work commitment.
- Encourage your child to master scheduling in high school because, as they get into the senior classes, the pressure and workload will definitely increase. It also helps your child to know there’s a time to eat, study/do homework and relax.
- Consider helping your child to divide up study time into more manageable chunks to avoid feeling overwhelmed by all the work. Revision should ideally not start months before an important exam, but taking notes in class will help when they need to start preparing for studying.

Read: Call to vaccinate kids before school starts

Does your child need help

If your child’s performance at school deteriorates suddenly, it may be a sign of a more serious issue like bullying or substance abuse, says child behavioural therapist James Lehman.

A few pointers:

1. Kids sometimes fall through the cracks because they’re not coping academically, have a learning disability or are finding the work too challenging. One sign could be if your teen is spending much longer than the time recommended by the teacher to do homework.

2. Have your child assessed by a professional if their grades suddenly go from “A” to “D”, as this usually doesn’t happen in isolation. Sliding grades will mean you’ll have to put more effort into helping them manage their homework. This entails supervision and structure to hold your child accountable and keep them on track, especially in subjects they’re struggling with.

3. If your teen is struggling academically to study or do homework, don’t let them be in their room alone with the music blaring and the door closed. Encourage them to sit in a communal part of the house where you can keep an eye on them.

4. If your child is having problems in a specific subject or academic area, make a point of scheduling a time to meet the relevant teacher to discuss the issue and find out what extra help is available.

Read More:
Got homework overload?
Nag, nag, nag – but are your parents right?
Homework and the child with ADHD

Image: A mother helping her daughter with homework from Shutterstock

Sources:;;; Schooldays;; Educationinaustralia


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