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Your teenager’s homework & free time

As summer ends, the management of your teenagers’ time and the completion of your teenager’s homework once school resumes often becomes a battleground of disagreement as to how their time is managed. A common belief teenagers hold is: “In order for me to have power, I must be in charge.” Wrong! Parents (and teachers) are in charge. Our teenagers’ power comes from keeping their agreements with their parents (and teachers) and themselves.

Now, there are many agreements between parents and their offspring that are not voluntary (e.g., completing homework), but I label such as an agreement. As I’m sure you recall (and if you don’t, see Template to improved family & self care), one of the two primary sources of power towards having things the way you want is “Keeping agreements with ourselves and with others.” And, I believe “Doing my best” is the over-arching agreement we have with ourselves, our parents (our loved ones), our teachers and coaches (supervisors). All other agreements stem from that one. I can’t do better than my best. As don Miguel Ruiz shares in his book, The Four Agreements, “Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.” Another way of putting it (or, more accurately, how I understand it, stuck with the simple mind I have): “You can’t do better than your best.”

The principle guiding a teenager’s time management is a simple (few moving parts) one I refer to as “Vegetables First” [think of (I do/always did) a teenager’s homework as these vegetables on her/his “plate.”]. When I was a kid I did not like to eat vegetables and a rule in my household was: We (I have an older brother and a younger sister) could not be excused from the dinner table until we ate everything on our plates. Many (no, most) nights I would be left sitting alone at the kitchen table because my plate still had vegetables on it. My brother and sister finished their dinner, asked to be excused, and left the kitchen. My father finished his dinner, excused himself, and went to lie on the couch and fall asleep reading the newspaper. I would be left sitting there, crying into my vegetables while my mother cleaned up the kitchen. “I don’t want to eat these. I hate vegetables!!” I exclaimed. [And the only thing worse than vegetables was cold vegetables. You know, when they get crusty and nasty! My mother reminded me (sometimes she yelled) of the (in my view – awful, unfair, disrespectful, mean) house rule and continued cleaning up.

Well, one day (we ate dinner at 5:30 every night) when I was 8 or 9 years old my mother served me my dinner (a plate with meat, potatoes, and a vegetable), the first thing I did was scarf down my vegetables, then suck down a glass of iced tea. That allowed me to go on and enjoy the rest of my meal. Then when I asked, “Mom, may I have some more meat, please” (no seconds until plate empty), she responded with, “Sure, I’ll get it for you.” It was a miracle!

Your kids think of their homework in the same way I thought of my vegetables. Apply the “cannot be excused from the dinner table until plate is empty” to completion of homework as a prerequisite to your child’s access to her/his free time. Another way to understand this is to remember the “Go to jail” card in the game, Monopoly. Until homework is complete, “You do not pass go. You do not collect $200.”

Though the principle described above is a simple one (a/k/a the Premack Principle), the implementation of it is not easy. You must always say what you mean and mean what you say. The key to effective implementation of all expectations/rules, limits, and consequences is what I refer to as The Four Cs: Clear, Concise, Concrete, and CONSISTENT (!!!!).


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One Response so far.

  1. Craig says:

    And now, you eat mostly vegetables.

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