Community//

Get Your Distracted Hostile Teenager to Do Their Homework and Study Harder

Something to try with your teenager who doesn't respond with, "Gee, thank you mom/dad for staying on me to do my homework!" (Yeah, right!)

Disclaimer: Before you try the following, think it through and in your mind’s eye, think of whether it will make your current situation with your teen better or worse. It would also be a good idea to run it by your husband/wife (other parent) to see what they think.Disclaimer: Before you try the following, think it through and in your mind’s eye, think of whether it will make your current situation with your teen better or worse. It would also be a good idea to run it by your husband/wife (other parent) to see what they think.

It’s not too far from final exams and when hope – that your teenage will enthusiastically jump into his/her homework – springs eternal, but for many of you it signifies the beginning of a end of school year struggle.

This is for parents who think their teenagers are not focusing enough on their homework and exams and keep becoming distracted by social media, video games, sports, new movies, etc. And it’s for the parents who have discovered the more you get on your teen’s case to study, the more counterproductive it is.

What follows is an example of a method I have developed to break through such potentially incendiary conflicts and confrontations, no matter how much you try to bribe your teenager. (and if it intrigues you, check out my book, Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Impossible and Irrational People in Your Life, whose entire focus is on these kinds of situations).

It is built upon the concept of “mediated catharsis,” where if you give your negative teenager hostile, insulting, belligerent language to say to you that they would normally not (because of the huge explosion it would cause), you essentially help them get things off their chest safely after which they may settle down, feel relieved of their resentment (some will start smiling from it), actually feel grateful to you for helping and facilitating making that happen and in many cases will return the favor by studying.

Actually one of the reasons that causes your teenager to become distracted is not just their own test anxiety, and feeling stupid, but their resentment towards you as a parent who keeps nagging them (because of your own anxieties that they’ll mess up their finals) which may infuriate them.

The following can be done by either parent, but is best done by a mother. That is because when fathers confront teenagers, and teenagers either push back, swear or shut down, the verbal exchange stops because it starts to be too scary that it will cross over into corporal physical punishment which can become quite dicey.

  1. Look him/her squarely in the left eye (which is connected to his/her right emotional brain and gives you a place to focus).
  2. Say: “Hey! I think I’ve got a way to get us through this studying thing before it becomes really ugly. Just play along with me. And if it blows up, we can just go back to the awful way we usually handle it (this is called the “assumptive close” in business where instead of asking a question you assume the other person will go along with you).”
  3. Then looking into his/her left eye say: “Repeat after me. ‘Mom/dad, you’re actually making studying much, more f—king worse. I hate exams! I hate school! I hate you and dad/mom (the other parent) even more! Your nagging me is just making me want to study even less. So, will you just get off my back and leave me the f—k alone?’”
  4. They will be completely caught off guard, confused and disarmed, but persist: “I really mean it. Look In my eyes and say, ‘Repeat after me. Mom/dad, you’re actually making studying much, more f—king worse. I hate exams! I hate school! I hate you and dad/mom (the other parent) even more! Your nagging me is just making me want to study even less. So, will you just get off my back and leave me the f—k alone?’”
  5. If they’re reluctant say, “Okay, then use your own words and don’t hold back!”
  6. As they begin to speak it back to you, prod them with, “C’mon, you can do better than that. Lean into it and let me have it! Tell me everything you’ve been sitting on. I won’t punish you for whatever you say. C’mon, just get it out.”
  7. You should be able to do this without becoming defensive or punitive, because you will be in charge of the conversation, i.e. facilitating it and mediating their getting stuff off their chests that have been inside simmering for a long time.
  8. As they keep venting, say to them, “Okay, you’re on a roll. Keep going. Tell me about other stuff that I or dad/mom (other parent) that drive you frickin’ crazy. Like I told you, I won’t punish you. You’ve got complete freedom to tell me anything.”
  9. If you keep looking into their eyes with a firm, not offended and not outraged look, you will begin to notice that after they vent they will start to lighten up. In many cases you will even notice their starting to cry and possibly sob because of all the tension that will be release. Or they’ll just start laughing almost as if you’re tickling them (which you are by giving them some tantalizing words they’ve thought but been too afraid to say).
  10. After they finish, and they look tired out, look firmly into their eyes and say, “Now, look at me! You just told me how awful school and finals can me and how I just make it worse on you. And as your parent I can’t allow you to be alone in how awful that feels. But going forward I’d like your help, so I don’t screw up again. Interrupt me whatever I’m doing, because as I said, I can’t allow you to get to such a bad place by yourself. And by the way, in case you’re worrying, you’re not a burden to me or mom/dad (other parent). A worry sometimes? Yes. A pain pis the a– sometimes? Yes. But you’re not a burden. This is what parents do. You’ll see for yourself when you have kids and read the parenting guidebook yourself.”

If you find the above technique effective and would like to learn more about the trainings I talks, workshops and one on one coaching I do, visit MarkGoulston.com and click on the link you will see to receive a sample chapter from my international best selling book, “Just Listen.”

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