A Letter to Duct Tape Parents about the Damn Homework

Dearest Duct Tape Parents,

Some parenting issues are like festering wounds. I think we have them addressed… you tell me – Yup, I’ve got this nipped in the bud – and then like the staph infection that simply doesn’t go away, the issue comes back to us again. Homework, blessed homework, is the area where the duct tape just doesn’t stay securely fastened!

Let’s review the history:

8 years ago:

You and your child were humming along until your little 1st grader came home with their first piece of math homework and she resisted getting it done. You were supposed to sign the piece of paper and thought “isn’t this my daughter’s homework, not mine?” but you signed because that’s what you figured good moms do.

7 years ago:
After some power struggles, you met with her teacher and talked about expectations and said you’d be supporting from the sidelines because you knew it wasn’t your job to be the co-teacher or the homework police officer at home. Your child’s teacher was thrilled.

3 years ago:

Over the years, she’s mostly done her homework, although you’ve struggled when teachers don’t provide consequences at school (why should your daughter care when the teacher doesn’t!).

Now, you’ve got a 9th grader and you’re noticing them spending more time with friends, on screens and you’re feeling the time pressure as friends are talking about PSAT dates, AP courses and the global competition for youth seeking employment post-college. (Cue the bit of sweat on the brow…)

You’re beginning to ask questions like, “are you giving your best?”, “let’s talk about the grades”, “are you making good use of your time?” and “do you think you’ll compete with the kids in South Korea who apparently go to school for 12 hours a day?” And your child responds, “YES”.

But for some reason, you’re having a hard time believing since she’s been up to midnight doing who-knows-what but certainly not the chemistry project you read about on the teacher’s blog last week that’s due in 3 days. So, some nagging, reminding and perhaps guilting comes into play. (You might ask yourself, where’d I put that duct tape?)

You’re starting to stress so you start in with the consequences. If you can’t spend more time studying, we’re going to take away the phone. But then your child happily reminds you that she’s been meeting the agreements of your phone contract AND she requires her phone for getting texts from her teacher. (WHAT? WTF, your teacher texts you assignments?!)

And you’re frightened. Despite all your best intentions, you’re battling your 14-year old and it feels terrible. So you call me. (Thank you!)

You say:

She has more potential
She’s not working hard enough
She doesn’t care enough
I need to teach her a better work ethic

Please, Duct Tape Parent, I need you to remember a couple things:

1. Your smart, capable, talented kid is not squandering opportunities by ‘wasting time’, ‘being lazy’ or ‘lacking drive’. There’s a very good chance your child is doing the best she can – and if she’s not – it’s not your job to kick her in the pants. Let the teachers, coaches, grades, and life outside your home, work their magic.

2. Every parent who calls me about their child blowing off their education shares one mistaken belief: kids who twiddle their thumbs for hours (or listen to music, watch shows, chat with friends, play legos) instead of doing homework will flunk out of college, not land their dream job and live on their couch forever. Forever! (‘cue the chill-the-f-out music)

3. Reality check: Are they working at home and offering help to your family? If yes, then you should sign some relief – they are capable. And if not, and you’re serious about teaching a work ethic, there’s no place like home.

FEAR of the kids not being smart, successful and safe is the primary reason parents continue to police their kids’ homework and grades. Take a few minutes to talk yourself off the cliff and look at the evidence. Do you have faith in your kids? Have they shown themselves capable of hard work (when they were motivated to do it)? Do they help around the house (even if they don’t ‘enjoy’ it)? Do they share with you their struggles, challenges, and fears? What about their successes?

If you answer ‘no’ to any of the questions, then I suggest it’s time to review some Duct Tape Parenting basics. Your relationship strategies will pull through with much more success than your reminders, guilt-trips and freak-outs.

Remember what Rick Ackerly, a 45-year veteran and thought leader in the field of education says:

“You put your kids at risk as soon as you try to engineer their success.”

The kids will live their lives the way they want whether you approve or not. They’ll do their homework as teenagers, or they won’t. The question becomes – do you want to be invited into their lives for support, or do you want to be pushed away because your kids know you don’t trust them to do their best?

More Reminders to Butt out of Homework:

The Genius in Every Child

Overparenting – Why do Grown-ups Have to Take Over?

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