Homework: Why Bother?

Posted on September 30, 2011 by


How do I get my kids to do homework?

I've taken everything away. I've hoarded electronics and ranted. But a slacker does what a slacker wants to do.

I have a soft spot for slackers, they are individualists. But as a mother, I’m stumped.

I have one slacker and one perfectionist. (This summer my slacker was in a bike accident–he’s fine now–which I wrote about here and here.) My slacker was born a few weeks late, my perfectionist on time- the exact calculated time of arrival.

As a parent I’m supposed to guide them both and offer them learning opportunities and foster their talents. I’ve tried. We parents, that’s what we do. Try.

My slacker was a sleepy kindergartener. He spent the year yawning and missing his nap. He thought the class pet, a chinchilla, and the blocks were cool. But the letters and numbers weren’t so interesting….

In between kindergarten and eighth grade, I found my slacker-boy art camps, fishing camps, Audubon camps and Lego Leagues. He enjoyed some of the activities I crammed into his days. The problem with the activities was that they messed with is down time. (His wording. Not mine.) He liked to draw, snack, longboard and walk around with his friends more than any expensive camp or experience I cooked up. As for sports? He picked flowers during soccer in second grade.

My sludgy slacker is now a junior in high school. He works in the summers: The season I once tried to make into stimulating learning labs of adventures.

He’s been tested and diagnosed as super, super intelligent, creative and verbal. He doodles and spaces out. He’s got some executive functioning issues..but who doesn’t? Executive functioning is all about organization and scheduling.

He’s got selective executive functioning issues. The same guy who forgets to write down an english assignment remembers his social schedule to a T. He never ever forgets a date, a number or a friend’s gig. So, I’m not actually worried that he won’t ever be able to adhere to a schedule. I am worried he won’t be able to adhere to a schedule he doesn’t create. Which, by the way, I can relate to.

But as for school work and homework? We know he’s smart. We’ve hired tutors and they’ve taught him organizational skills. He’s color coded his notebooks, labeled his homework folders and carried an assignment notebook around. Alas, the assingment notebook is empty most days. Is he just lazy, does he really not care?  He says he doesn’t care.

I think he doesn’t want to fail. And the pressure of outside expectations? Too much to bear. Whether from a Lego club or an English teacher. I think academic slackers are low achievers to avoid anxiety. It’s quite adaptive when you turn it upside down and consider the idea from down here, in low achiever’s land.

My perfectionist is scheduled every minute of every day. From the outside she looks like a classic hurried child, the type David Elkind describes in his book, The Hurried Child.

Trust me, she hurries herself. I can barely keep up with her dance schedule, her photography classes, her camps, her future plans and her busy social life. She has a routine for each and every day, including Sundays.

What drives the kid whose work is always done two days early? Who never misses an assignment and always pulls an A? I think anxiety as well. I don’t see perfectionists enjoying school per se. But their homework? It’s done.

I am able to track my children’s grades online. I can see what they’ve scored on a quiz, if they have missing work and what their current, to the moment, grade point average is. I have encouraged my children to use this “tool” for themselves. There is little I can do when I look at the spread sheets. It is their preformance, their work. I gave them the password and told them to see for themselves.

For my slacker the fact that the “tool” exists is a violation of his civil liberties. He does not want his parents able to see his school work or the list of things he hasn’t done, has forgotten or didn’t think would be collected… To my perfectionist, it’s a way to make sure she’s up to speed and handed all her work in; it’s a little extra assurance. It’s also a way she collects kudos for her academic prowess.

I’ve been excited about school for my children. I’ve pored over the outlines for the year and clapped with excitement about colonial villages and poetry units alike.But my excitement, involvement, encouragement and volunteering did not make either of my children more inclined to do their work or enjoy their work.

And tutors, testing, medication and therapy — well, that’s an entire book. However, not a single one of those fixes made a bit of differnce in my slacker’s motivation.

Little kids, elementary school age, you can hang around while they do their homework. You can make sure they’ve gotten every last page done. With bigger kids you don’t always know what’s due and teachers don’t tell you, they tell their students. It is after all, the student’s responsibility.

How does one imprint the importance of punctilious behavior, of dedication to one’s studies and the desire to do well without stressing a kid out? Is there a way to say  “do your best and enjoy yourself”  that is guaranteed not to make any child feel pressured? I bet there is no magic solution.

I bet you must tailor your reaction to your child. One child needs prodding to move, another to slow down.

Are both extremes reactions to anxiety manifested differently in different people? Thoughts, ideas? Looking for stories and homework done, with delight in the process of learning.

(Image: BillieJane)

Posted in: Teens