What to Do When Your Teen Refuses to do Homework

Young University Student
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Even teens who are usually quite motivated will occasionally refuse to do their homework. For some teens, however, refusing to do homework becomes a chronic problem. When your teen refuses to do homework, it’s important to respond in a firm but supportive manner to address the issue.

Talk to Your Teen

Whether you discover that your teen hasn’t been doing homework because you’ve received notice of failing grades, or your teen has outright refused to do any work, it’s important to get to the bottom of it.

Don’t make any accusations or go into the conversation yelling. Instead, enter into the conversation with a sense of curiosity to see if he can help you uncover the possible reasons why his work isn’t getting done.

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Rule Out Underlying Problems

If your teen refuses to do homework, don’t start by assuming it’s simply an act of defiance. Make sure there aren’t any underlying problems contributing to the issue. Stress, bullying issues at school and a host of other problems can contribute to behavior changes.

Sometimes learning disabilities or other mental health issues can be a factor. Depression often causes irritability and decreased motivation in teens. Anxiety disorders can cause teens to avoid doing their work, especially if they aren’t sure how to do it or are worried they won’t be able to do it right. It's important to rule out possible mental health issues before viewing your teen's refusal to do his work as an act of defiance.

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Look for Creative Solutions

Sometimes homework battles require some creative yet simple solutions. I’ve worked with teens who just refuse to do homework at home for one reason or another. However, many of them are willing to stay after school to complete their work.

As long as they don’t have to do it at home, they’re happy and it works for them.

Other teens need some control over when they are going to do their work. They’re tired when they come home from school and they want an hour to unwind before they sit down and do their work. If that’s the case, agree to try your teen’s ideas and suggestions.

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Things to Avoid

Try to remain calm and talk to your teen with an open-mind. Avoid these tempting behaviors that can actually make the problem worse:

  • Nagging - Telling your teen to do his homework over and over again will likely backfire and isn’t likely to motivate him to start doing his work. Instead, follow through with a consequence.
  • Lecturing – A long lecture about the importance of homework won’t get the work done any faster.
  • Bribing – Rewards are acceptable but bribes aren’t a good idea. A reward is given after your teen does his work. A bribe would involve giving him an incentive first, and then telling him to do his work.
  • Making Idle Threats – Avoid saying things like, “If you don’t do your work you can’t go to your friend’s house,” if you won’t actually follow through with the consequence. Your words will lose effectiveness quickly if you make idle threats.

Establish Expectations and Rules

Establish rules and expectations about homework. Base your expectations on your child’s abilities and goals. If you have a teen who struggles academically and who has no desire to go to college, don’t try to force him to do several hours of homework each night.

Instead, create small measurable goals. For example, tell your child, “Do five math problems and then I’ll check your work.” If he gets all five done and puts in a lot of effort, be willing to give him a 10 minute break.

There may also be times that you need to follow through with at-home consequences if your teen doesn’t follow the rules. For example, tell your teen he can have his electronics as soon as he completes his homework. If he chooses not to do his work, he won’t earn his privilege.

Many teens don’t require nearly as much guidance or structure with their work. If you have a teen who is fairly responsible with his homework most of the time, it may be appropriate to allow him to face natural consequences when he doesn’t do his work. This may include receiving a bad grade or having to stay after school the following day to complete an assignment.

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