How to Make Students, Not Parents, Responsible for Homework

Dear Kid Whisperer,

OK, maybe you can help. I’m dealing with middle school kids who refuse to do their homework. Aside from making 50 phone calls a day, do you know a way to make THEM accountable? Calling home isn’t working.



It has also been my experience that talking to parents about their children not doing their homework tends to be a complete waste of time. Doing this says to the child that doing homework is the teacher’s problem and the parent’s problem, but not the child’s problem. I don’t know about you, but I am more likely to solve my own problems than I am to solve someone else’s problems.

So the question is, how do you express to the kid the reality that doing homework is their problem? I have a great, simple, and easy Love and Logic® answer for that. There are no lectures, warnings, punishments, rewards, or threats involved. There are no calls home. I am going to suggest that you deal with homework for your middle school students the same way that I deal with it with my third graders. Here’s a conversation that I had at last year’s open house talking to kids and their parents about homework:

Kid Whisperer: I give credit for all homework that is turned in on time.

Parent: What is the scale for the amount of credit they get for late homework?

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. There is no scale. I give credit for homework that is turned in on time.

Parent: Why?

Kid Whisperer: I care far too much about your kid to trick them into thinking that the world is one way when it really is another. This is a theme that you will notice over and over in my classroom. I care too much about your child to trick them into thinking that, in life, deadlines aren’t really deadlines. I don’t want them to think that when someone in authority says to do something that it is optional. I’d rather they learn this life truth now when the relative cost is low, rather than later when the cost is failing a college class or losing a job. I don’t want that for your kid.

Parent: What if the homework is worth a huge part of their grade?

Kid Whisperer: All the more reason to turn it in on time. I give credit for homework that is turned in on time.

There is another reason for having this homework policy that is even more important than the kids learning a valuable lesson about responsibility. As teachers, we have enough difficulty solving our own problems. These problems, for you non-teachers out there, may include such concerns as how to find time to go the bathroom and figuring out what to pack for lunch that can be eaten while running down the hallway with 100 copies of standardized tests in the other hand. When in the world do we have time to make a call to all of the parents whose kids were unable to be responsible enough to turn in their homework? As teachers, it is an essential part of our job to only solve our own problems so that we are able to teach effectively and keep our sanity.