Back-To-School Part 1– How Do I Get My Teenager To Do Their Homework?

Teenager doing homework in Los Angeles

One of the best things you can do when your teenager is going back to school is to help them get organized. Lack of organization can quickly lead to being overwhelmed, and feeling frozen and unable to cope.

When I was working in various high schools in Los Angeles, I often worked with teens who did many of the homework assignments, but were so disorganized they didn’t know when to bring them to school, when to turn them in, or even where to find them in their locker or backpack!

You can help your teenager set up systems to make it a lot easier for them to succeed in school, but it can be tricky. Teens don’t want to feel like you are trying to control them or bugging them about their homework.

The way to approach this is to tell them that you learned a way to organize their work and you could show them how it works. They can decide for themselves if it would be helpful or not. If they don’t like the system, they can show you their plan for keeping things organized.

Here is my two-part system for how you and your teenager can get organized for the new school year:

1. Make a Calendar for Homework and Tests

Many schools have calendars and school assignments on-line. I have found that, more frequently than you might imagine, students forget to check the on-line system, or even lose their login information. Here’s how you can help with this:

– Make sure they know how to access the online system. Have them put the login information in their phone.

– Have them print out a blank calendar for the month that they can quickly look at without going on-line. They will be able to update this in class, without pulling out their phones (which might get them in trouble).

– Each day when they get home from school, they should pull out their calendar, and update it from the online calendar. This means they have to make a conscious effort to see what the assignments are, and when they are due.

– Whenever there is a quiz, test, or project on the calendar, they should mark out the days beforehand where they are going to study or work on the project. You can help them at first, so they learn how to break down their projects into smaller tasks.

– Next, they should pull out their homework folder (see hint #2) and make a list of the work they need to do that day, including items from the folder and the calendar. Next to each item they should note how much time it will take them to complete that item.

–Finally, they can make a timeline for the afternoon/evening showing when they are going to do each homework task. They can set alarms on their phone to remind them.

You can decide together how it is that your teenager will show you that they are on task. One way is for them to use the system above, and once they have determined the time they are going to spend on each assignment, they can show you their list. At the end of the evening they can show you that they have completed the tasks.

Once they have shown you their plan, let them work on it without asking them how it’s going.

If you ask them even an innocuous question, they will see it as “bugging” them. They will get angry at you, and this will obscure their own feelings about the process.

Too much homework

If they don’t finish their work, they need to feel the frustration and use it to readjust their expectations for the next time. If they are angry at you, they won’t do this.

If they finish their homework as planned– excellent! Remind them how happy they will feel tomorrow when they have their homework ready, or when they are prepared for a test or quiz.

If they haven’t completed the tasks at the end of the evening, first acknowledge their frustration. Acknowledge that it must feel bad to know that they won’t have the assignment to turn in the next day, or be prepared for the test.

Next, brainstorm solutions for next time! Did they have trouble estimating the amount of time they needed for each task? Would they do better if they started earlier, when they were fresh? Would they do better if they took a short break every half hour? Do they need to eat something before they begin their work? Offer up ideas, but let them decide what the solution is.

Show them that this is not a failure, rather an opportunity to practice problem-solving.

You can remind them of this the next day if they are reluctant to do their work. “I know it sucks to have to study this subject for the test. How do you think it would feel to arrive in class tomorrow feeling prepared?” Focus on the feelings they will have if they do the homework, not on the feelings they will have if they don’t!

2. Use Folders to Keep Homework Organized

This part of the system is so simple, but I have seen it make all the difference in keeping students organized.

Get them 2 folders. I use red and green, but obviously any 2 colors will do. The good thing about using color is that the right folder will be easy to find in a crowded backpack.

Red folder- Red means, “”STOP! Check this folder!

The minute a teacher hands out a homework assignment, from any class, it goes in the red folder. At the end of the day, they come home and open the red folder to see what they need to do. Assignments stay in this folder until they are finished.

Green folder- Green means “Good to GO!”

Whenever a homework assignment is finished, it goes in this folder. When a teacher asks the students to turn in their homework, your teenager will know right where it is.

Students often leave books and notebooks in their lockers, and just bring home the ones they need for the evening. The red and green folders need to go back and forth with them every day.

forgot their homework for school in Los Angeles

Have More Questions About Your Teenager?

 Doesn’t everyone?

If you would like to discuss your teen and the resources available to help you understand, communicate with, and help them, please don’t hesitate to call me at 323-999-1537, or email me at I will be happy to help, or to point you to resources in your area if you are not here in Los Angeles.

This post is Part 1 of a 4-Part Back-To-School Series. Click here for Part 2 – How Do I Get My Teenager Up In The Morning? Click here for Part 3 – How Do I Get My Teenager To Talk To Me? Click here for Part 4 – Is Instagram Bad For My Teenager?