How to get a teenager to do their homework

If you’ve come here looking for answers, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place. I am firmly of the view that you CAN’T get your teenager to do their homework. Not if they are a certain type of personality. No doubt there are a few very strict families out there who rule their kids by fear – and have done from very small – who can’t get their teenagers to do their homework.

But we are not that family.

I know there’s sensible advice – give them their own space (desk in their room etc), keep the house nice and quiet, make sure they’re getting enough sleep, make sure they’re not doing extracurricular activities every minute of the day blah blah blah. We do all of that stuff.

But you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make it drink.

I started thinking about this the other day while on Instagram. A fellow parent, of one teenager, asked how other parents get their teenagers to do homework. As the mum of three teenagers, if any other parent of teenagers asks for advice – I AM STRAIGHT IN THERE! But my advice may not be what they want to hear.

Academically, and in fact in every possible way, my three teenagers are very different. I learned very early on that if your kids have different personalities, they have to be parented in slightly different ways. In the scheme of things, they are all treated equally, but that’s not the same as saying they are all treated the same.

Homework, Teenager, School, How to get a teenager to do their homework

Ladies and gentleman, I present to you my three teenagers…

  • Number one teenager – bright, but neither academic nor motivated. Didn’t do any homework at all in years 7-9. Didn’t even tell me he had internal exams in those years. Did the smallest amounts of work in years 10-12.
  • Number two teenager – highly academic and highly intelligent, but not highly motivated (except by sport). Does homework to minimal standard (which if you’re as bright as he is, is a high standard, but doesn’t involve any effort).
  • Number three teenager – bright, hardworking and highly motivated. Works hard for every subject, despite only being in year 9 and despite the fact that many of those subjects she won’t be doing for GCSE.

The simple fact of the matter is, I couldn’t make my eldest work. He knew the consequences of not working – from detention through to doing badly in his GCSEs – and that was his decision.

If anyone else can make a teenage boy do things against their will, I take my hat off to you. I couldn’t do it. My boys are stubborn when they want to be. None of us needed the unhappiness that would have been caused by me trying to force a reluctant 15 or 16 year old to do his homework against his will.

On the flip side, I am bothered by how much homework my daughter gets and how hard she works at it. It’s TEXTILES for goodness sake! What a waste of time! (OK, some kids may wish to do textiles GCSE and that’s fine – my daughter doesn’t, yet she’s still working her arse off at it.) I fear that at some point I actually have to tell her to do less before she burns herself out.

So you can see my issue with teenagers and homework – I’m dealing with the two extremes. I can’t treat them all the same. If you are reading this and you can motivate your teenager to do homework, you are clearly a better parent than I am and I would be interested to hear what it is you are doing. But personality plays a huge part in this and I suspect your teenager is a different personality from my boys…

At this point, I should point out that if my kids ask for my help in any way, they get it. They know I’m there to support them. But they don’t actually ask.

The story for us is still ongoing. My younger son is in year 11 and I know for a fact he hasn’t read Jekyll and Hyde, even though he had several weeks to do it in. He has no excuse, other than that he didn’t want to do it. At some point, he will have to read it, because it may come up in his GCSE.

My eldest did his GCSEs and was disappointed by them (although he didn’t fail or come anywhere close to it), but he didn’t admit it at the time. He knows that he could have worked harder and come out with better results. But could I have made him work harder? No, I couldn’t. Only he could do that.

He coasted through year 12 and half of year 13 at a new school, enjoying being popular and the class clown (neither of which he was at his old school). Then, in the last three months, he decided to work. I didn’t make him do it and nor did his teachers. He kew what he wanted and he knew what he had to do to make that happen.

He smashed his A Levels. He came out with better results than some kids at his grammar school who had been working their arses off since year 7.

And all that without me ever making him do his homework. Did I get it right as I parent? Was I lucky? Should I have nagged him more?

We will never know. That’s just my story. Every other parent’s story and every other teenager’s story will be different.

Thanks to Sally at Who’s the Mummy for the inspiration…


Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. I have stopped nagging my 12 year old to do her homework. She’s old enough now to make the choice to do it or get a detention at school. She has been getting a stupid amount of homework. Some even for PE. She has to do online quizzes all about the rules of netball and hockey. Ugh! It’s a complete waste of her time.
    I think when they get to teenage years we can ask them to do their homework but there is no way we can make them do it. It’s their choice. x

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  2. This is really interesting, it hasn’t really crossed my mind how I’ll deal with homework when they’re teenagers. Mine usually do their homework now but sometimes we forget or don’t get around to it and I think that’s fine. I’m not convinced homework at primary school is worthwhile. I’m certain I won’t be able to make my two do it when they’re at high school though, I’m not sure I’ll even try.

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  3. Mine is likely to be like your boys. My brother was like yours – just coasted in lessons and homework, didn’t turn up for half of his A level classes, but somehow managed to get acceptable grades. He wouldn’t listen to my mum and the teachers weren’t telling him to buck his ideas up. N is conscientious at the moment, but he’ll do the minimum. I’m hoping he’ll get some inspirational teachers that he wants to please, or he has a strong goal himself. But I’m not holding my breat.

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    • It sounds like N is like my younger son, so that’s not too bad! My younger son is conscientious, he just doesn’t do more than the minimum. He has a strong goal in mind and I hope he does start to work a bit harder for the last few months before his GCSEs because he doesn’t want to miss out on it.

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  4. I definitely think not nagging is the key. We are definitely of the attitude of reminding them it is their life and how working hard now can affect life choices so much further into the future. With everything in our parenting we work on rewards – both intrinsically and externally. We for example increased the amount of time our teen could go on the computer during his GCSE mocks in return for revision – promising if they were to the expected standard he could do the same for the real thing. He really wanted a school for A-level and so motivated himself to get there. For English Lit I bought him study guides because I knew he wasn’t interested.

    I am lucky that none of my children are like your daughter when it comes to homework and I see it with my friend’s son, I have no idea how you approach that and hope you find some answers.

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    • Not nagging does seem like the sensible option for everyone involved. Nagging won’t make them do what they don’t want to do, it will just make them resentful. It’s good that your screen time reward worked. Sadly that’s not an option for us as we lost control of screen time several years ago! I don’t have any worries about my daughter currently, but I will be keeping an eye on her because I think she could get to the point where she is doing too much.

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  5. My son sounds exactly like yours and so does my daughter – either doing no work or doing way too much and both are stressful! It’s a relief to know that they are not the only ones and that I haven’t failed in someway in my parenting just because my kids aren’t perfect in their homework approach!!

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    • I talk mainly to parents of boys and it seems like a lot of boys are like this. Interestingly, my younger son has just started working harder in the last two or three weeks. It’s six weeks until his mocks and he has just started revising, which I’m really pleased about.

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