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Ask The Expert: My Middle School Son Won’t Study

Dear Your Teen:

How much should I help with middle school homework? Should I ask him to show me his homework? Should I help him study for tests? Currently, I ask him what his homework is and whether he’s done it, but that’s it. For tests, I quiz him the night before—he begrudgingly participates.

Need more middle school advice? Try this article:

He does seem to get his homework done, but he does the bare minimum. And when left alone, my son won’t study. The quizzing before tests is more to placate me than to be prepared.

Should I leave it all alone and let him figure this out? I’m not sure of my role now that he’s in middle school. He does well in school but he is extremely sensitive about being told what to do.

EXPERT | Neil McNerney

I can reassure you that you are not alone in wondering how much helping with homework in middle school is too much.

I call it The Goldilocks Issue. We don’t want to be too involved. We also don’t want to be too hands-off.

The biggest clue you gave me was that he is doing well in school. This tells me that it would be okay to back off a bit, but just a bit. If you back off too much, he might not study at all. So don’t back off too much. For example, it seems that he still needs you to remind him about studying, but maybe he needs less time being quizzed by you.

Here’s an example: Tell him, “Since you don’t like me quizzing you for tests, let’s try an experiment. You can study on your own for the next two quizzes or tests. If they go well, we can keep it up. If they don’t go well, you must agree to let me quiz you for the next few tests. After that, you can try it again on your own.”

Remember that our goal is to work ourselves out of the job of helping our teens and tweens, so this dilemma is a great one! Keep backing off until you find the right level of involvement.

Neil McNerney is a faculty member of the Virginia Tech Graduate School of Marriage & Family Therapy and the author of Homework: A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out!. As a father of two school-age children, Neil knows today’s academic challenges and uses his techniques on a daily basis.

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