In our house, the announcement that homework needs to be done is greeted with groans and grimaces. Worse still, my husband and I sometimes display our less-than-enthusiastic attitudes in front of the kids! After putting in an eight-hour day at the office, we don’t look forward to spending most of the evening helping our teen boys work through their homework assignments.

Like many parents, we believe it would be unfair to expect our kids to do well in school if we abdicate our responsibility to oversee their assignments. But our eldest son, who was diagnosed with a learning disability in grade two, has tested our commitment to this ideal. With David now entering grade 10, we’ve already clocked countless hours sitting at his shoulder to scribe for him and help keep him focused.

So whenever our kids announce that their homework is "under control," we want to believe them, desperately, for our own benefit as much as theirs. But experience has taught us that our boys’ interpretation of "under control" usually differs from ours – often significantly!

In particular, we’ve learned to be suspicious of some common phrases that we call "homework hijackers." Our boys use these phrases to divert us from being involved in their assignments, or to cut short the homework session. If you have children in school, you’ll likely recognize a few in the list below. Next time you hear a homework hijacker, you may want to jump in and disable it by adopting one of the following strategies.

"I can’t do my homework; I forgot my textbook."

We’ve heard this one often! And believe me, there is a limit to the number of times you can borrow a textbook from a friend. Last year, in desperation, I asked David’s grade nine math teacher for a second textbook to keep at home. Though tattered and coverless, that back-up textbook proved invaluable. It was a perfect stand-in for a forgotten text, and allowed me to prepare, ahead of time, to tackle math concepts I’d long forgotten. If an additional textbook isn’t available, I suggest that you regularly jot down a few sample exercises to have on hand just before an end-of-unit math test. You may also want to find out if your child’s textbooks are available online, and ask his teacher for access.

"It’s ready to hand in."

At home, we have a rule that a school project is not completed until it’s completed to the parent’s satisfaction, not the child’s. The battle to establish this rule was grisly, but my husband and I believed it was one we had to win. Why? Because left to themselves, our boys would prefer to hand in work that they consider "good enough," rather than "good." In high school, no one else will ensure your teen is handing in their best effort. An assignment is accepted "as is," and graded accordingly. By grade 10, those marks matter.

"I know when it’s due."

On the surface, this hijacker is very reassuring. And I’m grateful that nowadays, our boys really do know when their assignments are due. (In earlier years, the question, "When is this due?" was often met with a blank stare, as if the question had been asked in a foreign language.) However, they still rely on a do-it-the-night-before-it’s-due approach that doesn’t take into account other assignments due the same day. It’s worth reviewing your child’s assignment calendar regularly – they may be unaware of other family commitments that need to be factored into their schedule, and you’ll be ready to extend them extra grace when they’re facing a heavy workload.

"I don’t need to study."

Be especially cautious of this one, because it can lead to false conclusions. Until last spring, I had interpreted this statement to mean, I don’t need to study . . . because I know it all already. Then, just before Social Studies finals, I responded to this hijacker by opening David’s binder, intending to give him a quick pop quiz. To my dismay, I discovered that a more correct interpretation was I don’t need to study . . . because I don’t have anything to study from. According to David’s notes, the French Revolution had never happened! Fortunately, we were able to find David’s sister’s notes from an earlier year that he could study from. That said, I recommend that you always investigate this hijacker a little further. And if you have doubts about the quality of your child’s note-taking, it may be wise to borrow notes from a classmate or a student who took the same class the previous year. To keep your child from thinking he can get away without taking notes at all, though, have him read through and discuss the notes with you, then re-write them himself. Not only is this a useful study tool, it helps him learn how thorough notes should be taken.

"I don’t need your help."

Although your child may not need your help now, they will almost certainly need your help at some time in the future. For subjects like math and languages, helping out with a few homework exercises on a regular basis can help you keep up to speed and ready to assist when they do need your help. Allowing my husband to take sole responsibility for tutoring my daughter in math once seemed like a good plan. But soon, the math became too advanced for me, and I was unable to assist her whenever he was away on business. I’m resolved not to let that happen with the boys. And my husband would prefer not to have to tutor another child through advanced algebra by phone from another time zone!

There are other important reasons why you shouldn’t ignore this homework hijacker. As my teens mature and spend more time with friends, or immersed in the digital world, homework assignments offer me an increasingly precious opportunity to interact with my kids – one they can’t avoid. It’s surprising how much you can learn about your child’s day while dividing fractions together! Even if you feel completely unprepared to offer your child support with an assignment, a few minutes spent reviewing their work and offering a compliment conveys three important messages: that you value your child’s education, you want to be their cheerleader in all things . . . and no homework hijacker is going to stop you!

Catherine Wilson is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2009 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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