Homework Tips for Your Teen

Illustration by Anna Shipside

Between school, homework, jobs and chores, teens may have more on their plates than we realize. In fact, most are putting in a 50-hour workweek according to a Statistics Canada study. And that doesn’t include team practices, club meetings and a social life.

But the older kids get, the harder it is to monitor their homework load. “Most of the time, he had no homework,” says St. Anthony, N.L.-based mom Carol Roberts of her son Adrian, now 17. “I was really surprised; I expected far more. But his grades were good.” Adrian says when he did have homework (he’d complete some assignments on breaks in the school day) it was only about 15 or 20 minutes on average, mostly for chemistry. “I would say I had just enough homework. Enough for understanding and review of topics, then we’d move on.”

Adrian’s amount of homework may have been less than the 45 to 90 minutes each night reported by students surveyed for Homework Realities, a 2008 Canadian study, but that is not unusual, says Wendy MacPhee, a high school resource teacher in Ottawa. “Homework amounts depend on several factors,” she says. “Some learning pathways the student has chosen involve more hands-on learning that’s done in class. Or one semester could involve a heavier homework load than the next.”

What is expected?
Homework policies vary across school boards, but board policies will outline expectations regarding out-of-classroom learning. For example, the Toronto District School Board policy states that assignments for students in Grades 9–12 “shall be clearly articulated and carefully planned with an estimated completion time of two hours or less.”

So what is your role as a parent? “Teens need guidance,” says MacPhee. “Knowing what they can handle and then handling it requires a skill set. Parents can guide their teen in planning, setting goals and getting to know their strengths and needs,” she says. Be supportive, adds MacPhee, but remember, “homework is not your responsibility.”

Add it to the schedule
Whether it’s a lot or a little, homework still takes time—and it is time teenagers may struggle to find. “Time management is the biggest challenge for this age,” says MacPhee. “Soccer games will get on the calendar but homework won’t.” While it is important for teens to plan for all aspects of their day, they need to put homework on a calendar in plain sight with all their other responsibilities and activities, says MacPhee. That includes longer-term projects such as essays. “Chop them up into smaller steps and put those steps on the calendar,” she says.

Review and plan
Even when there’s no homework, teens will benefit from reviewing or studying. Parents can help by being interested in and supportive of what’s happening at school. “Students tell me,” says MacPhee, “that their parents ask fewer questions about their day once high school starts.” Talk to your kids, whether it’s at the dinner table or in the car. “Tell me about the book you’re reading in English class,” can elicit a 15-minute plot summary that’s just as effective as your teen reviewing class notes.

MacPhee is also a fan of setting aside daily study time. “In our house, we called it Think Tank,” she says. “Even if they’re just reading a book, sitting for an hour makes homework part of the daily routine.”

Robin Ouellette, mom of Raven, 15, of Windsor, Ont., agrees. “When she doesn’t have homework I’ll suggest she review.” Raven is also on her school’s swim team, which requires multiple practices a week for several months of the year, so she plans ahead, says her mom. “That way, if she gets ill or she’s tired after practice, it’s already off her plate.”

Study guide
Smart tips for homework success
Have a homework area free from as many distractions as possible. That may not necessarily be a teen’s bedroom.
Keep supplies on hand—pens, paper, printer ink refills—so “we don’t have any” isn’t a valid excuse.
Offer yourself up as an audience for oral reports or as an assistant for mock quizzes. Let your teen teach you what she has learned.

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