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Can we solve the nation's parenting problems?

(34 Posts)
GeraldineGransnet (GNHQ) Tue 14-Jun-11 18:18:58

The nice people over at Radio Times have asked for some advice on perennial parenting problems. And who better to answer than us? (although, that said, they're also going to be putting the same questions to Supernanny Jo Frost - so it will be interesting to see where we agree, or not.)

The question is, are we made of the right stuff? Can we be useful?

Here's the first query - more to follow:

My sports-mad 15-yr-old son says he’s not academic, and he refuses to do more than the minimum amount of homework to keep out of trouble at school. How can I encourage him to do more?

JessM Tue 14-Jun-11 18:29:42

I'm not sure that anyone has proved a link between time spent doing homework and academic success. What matters is how effectively someone is learning. So maybe he could do a bit of learning every night instead of written homework, which he obviously finds boring. People learn best by doing something active and enjoyable.
Two things he might enjoy are:
Using kinaesthetic learning. In order to remember things use physical movements. I did this with my 13 yr old nephew who is very sporty.We did Spanish prepositions - in front, behind and so on. We used a chair and told each other to stand in front, behind etc. And then we did arm movements. I suspect we will both now remember our Spanish prepositions.
Also computer based learning, for instance on BBC Learning website is a good place to start.

expatmaggie Tue 14-Jun-11 18:57:37

I would back off. In a quiet moment, in a quiet voice I would tell him that I am not responsible for his success at school anymore, and what's more am not going to spoil family life by constant nagging. If he is happy doing the absolute minimum then so be it. ( he could be right) From now on he is responsible for his own successes or his failures. It is his life.
If on the other hand if he decides he needs help then he can come to me any time and we can consider what extra work he could do.
Although trembling inside I would then leave the room cheerful and smiling.

baggythecrust! Tue 14-Jun-11 22:00:38

Agree with expat except I wouldn't be trembling. It's his life. Leave him alone.

harrigran Tue 14-Jun-11 23:12:25

Nor will he be academic if he is allowed to do just what he wants. Not everybody can be a famous footballer or whatever sportsman, sometimes you have to knuckle down and get qualifications just so you can afford to live.

absentgrana Wed 15-Jun-11 10:26:46

My mantra, which probably drove my daughter nuts, was you don't have to do things the way other people have always done them. She certainly took me at my word and blew her schooling completely in spite of being an extremely bright girl and despite every piece of help I could offer. Now married with four children and working full-time, she is studying to qualify for a degree course. Of course, she admits now that it would have been easier to do it the way other people do, but also admits that if you butter your bun, you must lie on it. You can't live your children's or grandchildren's lives for them even though it's painful to watch them making what seems like – and often is – a mistake. By the way, I have serious doubts about how useful homework is anyway.

lucid Wed 15-Jun-11 11:30:04

I believe that Einstein wasn't particularly brilliant at school either....and we all know what became of him. Not all children thrive in an academic atmosphere- I agree with expat, tell him you'll be there if help is required but then leave him to it.

em Wed 15-Jun-11 12:39:27

As an ex-teacher I found myself handing out homework a. because it was school policy and b. because parents demanded it. Often it was not particularly relevant and took up preparation and correction time whch I could have used more productively.Homework given out judiciously - because it was a topic needing some extra reinforcement work or because the children were particularly enthused about it was worthwhile.
I never found homework reliable because pushy parents 'checked' it before it was handed in. It was easy to spot huge discrepancies between the work a child managed in class (with structure, support and supervision) and the brilliant heights they could attain at home!
On the other hand it was unfair to expect a high standard of work from kids in difficult family siuations and no quiet space to work and no computer access.

baggythecrust! Wed 15-Jun-11 16:48:17

absentgrana, my hubby (who never did any homework) and I (who did lots and didn't dislike it particularly) also have serious doubts about the usefulness of homework. When our DD's school complained about her not doing homework at the age of six (!!!!) we wrote to the headteacher and asked her politely to back off. We said that DD does do homework and that she is self-motivated. We said that what she doesn't do is school work at home. We pointed out that it is none of a school's business what a child does when the child is not at school. When the HT argued that it was school policy to give homework even to children in infant classes, we pointed out that policies can be changed. The school backed off. DD has done extremely well throughout her school career and we have maintained good relations with all the teachers, including the head. smile

optimist Thu 16-Jun-11 13:56:41

I agree with everything here

optimist Thu 16-Jun-11 13:59:17

Actually maybe not Harrigran

AmberGold Thu 16-Jun-11 14:10:49

There's some great advice here. I would just add that it may be worth talking to the school to find out just how important the homework is - or not. I think 15 is a bit young to "let him do what he likes". Unfortunately too many 15 year olds do just that and regret it later. He needs to realise that what he does now will certainly affect him for the next few years, so he needs to decide what he wants out of life. If he is really passionate about sports, but he's not going to be a sports star, he's probably still going to need qualifications to earn a living from it.

buzziebie Thu 16-Jun-11 14:23:12

I would praise the effort that he does make even if it is, as you say 'the minimum'. I would also provide some resources based around the things he really is interested in (sport), I would create worksheets to incorporate maths, speeds, weights, measurements etc (if you are not confident to do this find a willing volunteer, or check out what is available online) and I would encourage reading about his sporting hero's of the past and present. Doesnt have to cost anything, visit your local library. I once heard a quote although I have no idea who said it....."If they can't learn the way we teach, then we must teach, in a way that they can learn"

nanasam Thu 16-Jun-11 14:26:26

My son only ever did the absolute minimum to get by and no threats or coercion could get him to study hard. Fortunately for him (very fortunately, in fact) he decided once he had been at work for a year that to progress to the job he wanted he needed a degree and should have gone to uni. He was able to get into uni a couple of years later than normal and got his degree, albeit a 2:1 (he said he couldn't be bothered to work hard enough for a first!) and has now got a great career.

What I am trying to say is that the decision to study had to come from him - there was nothing we could do to make him work hard. In fact, I didn't even encourage him to go to uni as I thought he was just after an easy time partying!

steamyjack Thu 16-Jun-11 15:05:10

Yes, what a good idea to involved with this debate.
1. Be fair and firm in the way family behaviour takes place.
2. Most importantly then be CONSISTENT in the way this standard of behaviour is maintained
.3. Most difficult of al .......good parenting is HARD WORK . You need stamina. (is this why it often fails ?)

Sue61 Thu 16-Jun-11 15:07:46

I had the same experience with my son. He sailed through GCSEs and then spent 3 years not getting any A levels. After working for a year he realised he wanted to go to University. He did evening classes whilst working and went to a very good University and now has a very good job earning more than I was earning at the end of my career. He is motivated and hard working because he is interested and sees the relevance. School just did not do it for him at the time.
In contrast, my youngest daughter sailed through GCSEs and A levels scoring the highest A grades and went to a very good university and then things fell apart. She had been totally spoon-fed in her sixth form college and did what she was told and got the grades. At university she had no idea how to be independent in her learning and lecturers were not prepared to spoon-fed her any more. She dropped out 3 weeks before finals. She eventually transferred to a university near home and managed to complete her degree after 5 years. She has only been able to get low paid jobs and has been travelling for a year. She arrives home today - I'm hoping she'll now get the motivation she needs to find a job she wants to do and that's not going to be easy in a recession. She's now 26 and with no work track record to speak of earning enough to keep herself is not going to be easy.
My eldest daughter struggled at school with dyslexia and only got 6 GCSEs. DId a BTec in performing arts which she loved and was good at. She then drifted into waitressing and ended up managing in a prestigious chain of restaurants. By 24 she decided she wanted to study, came home and did an access to higher education course at the local FE college and went to one of the top Universities. She did really well, followed her degree with an MA and then got an ESRC funded PhD grant. Ten years and she is about to submit her thesis. So proud of what she has achieved. And she has a lovely baby too.
No amount of nagging (of which I did copious amounts) had any impact on any of them. You just have to support them and be there for them as they make their own choices and decisions. Homework? Largely a waste of time.

expatmaggie Thu 16-Jun-11 15:46:55

I still think a 15 year old teenager is not going to go along with his parents turning themselves inside out to find a way for him to do more than his necessary homework. He will just withdaw even more.

Looking back to when our children were teenagers we never spoke about leaving school and getting jobs at 16. We didn't discuss it in their presence at all. School was there to be suffered until you were 18. We assumed the girls would stay on and they did.

Our eldest daughter drifted after school into an office and after a few exams she left and went abroad as an Au Pair. The she came back and started training as a midwife. She said all the girls on the course had done other jobs beforehand. Somehow at 22 she finally knew what she wanted to do it was almost a calling. She loved it- all of it.

NanaAnna Thu 16-Jun-11 15:48:20

It's probably too late to do anything about it now. If you wanted him to 'knuckle down' to his academis work then you should have sown the seeds a long time ago when he was still at primary school by insisting on a few minutes (initially) set aside, before he went out to play or watch TV, to do his reading, homework etc.

I don't agree with soem of the comments above who seem to think that even moderate amounts of homework is a waste of time and an imposition.

It is all about deferred gratification - the old marshmallow test!

absentgrana Thu 16-Jun-11 15:53:23

Sometimes it is the brightest people who seem not to care. They are the ones who do the least work because they can just get by with the minimum effort and are not inspired to try harder. It's only when their interest is really aroused that they will demonstrate their true abilities.

Myfanwy Thu 16-Jun-11 16:31:15

There are plenty of careers to be had in sport. All the great sporting organisations and teams employ staff with qualifications in everything from law to physiotherapy, from sports science to engineering. PE teachers, coaches, referees, ski instructors, kayak instructors etc and etc all need qualifications. If your son (and I'm assuming he isn't another Beckham or Murray) simply wants to participate in amateur sports he's still going to need a job to buy the gear, feed himself and pay rent.

If you've said all this and he still isn't biting, then say no more for a while. Remind him every so often that he might think about a way to combine his love of sport with the necessity to earn a crust. There are plenty of role model adult males involved in sport who might nudge him in the right direction.


gurugranny Thu 16-Jun-11 16:54:16

He's sports mad and keeps out of trouble at school? What more do you want from a fifteen year old boy?!! Good on him I say, for keeping fit and doing what's needed. He'll turn out alright.

davinator Thu 16-Jun-11 17:20:18

As an ex teacher who had to set homework every week (school rules) it used to drive me mad the ones who would not do it and got the backing of their parents. Homework was an indication to me that the pupil had understood the lesson and whether I had to go over it again, and a reinforcement of the knowledge. there are parts of everyones lives that we don't like but just have to get on with it. Who loves ironing but still has to be done. Saying all that making a 15 year old do something is not an easy task. I would partly agree with gurogranny is he in trouble at school and disruptive or a model pupil apart from a lack of homework, if he comes from a good supportive family he will turn out alright. I always found out that if you take something away from teenagers they wanted it more. My disruptive pupils would be sent out of the class with the comment you don't want to learn this lesson so that is ok with me sit outside and somehow they then wanted their rights to learn. Hard to do but if you say ok don't do your homework you are old enough to make that decision about the lack of choices you will have when you are older then it is your responsibility, the backing off may come as a shock and they may think they may be missing something. A difficult one for sure.

Gayle Thu 16-Jun-11 17:36:45

I agree entirely with this, help and encourage, but do not force, be there if they need you, but kids need to play, relax, and just be kids.

Lynette Thu 16-Jun-11 19:31:11

Sport - v good
No trouble - brilliant
You're doing well.

See what the teachers say about the exams.

Talk about what he wants to do in the sixth form and then prioritise the work accordingly.

Keep up the sport.

yearofthetiger Thu 16-Jun-11 20:02:22

I really agree with Gurugran and Lynette. The boy has a talent and this should be celebrated. My two both did only the minimum (if that!) and they had success at GCSE.