Ask the Experts

Q: When Will My Son Take Responsibility for His Education?

You’ve held your child’s hand for a long time, guiding him through life’s challenges and the obstacles inherent in ADHD. But you can’t follow him around in high school. How do you inspire him to step up and assume ownership for his life? What does this boundary-setting process look like?

Q: “My son is in the 8th grade and struggles with writing down assignments and being self-motivated. I find myself constantly checking up on what he has to do for homework, asking him if he turned in his assignments, etc. He is headed to high school next year and I want him to take more responsibility for his own education without me constantly having to ask him questions about it. I want to instill responsibility in him without being a helicopter mom. What suggestions can you offer?”– NCMom


Hi NCMom:

Boy did this question resonate with me! It wasn’t too long ago I was sitting across the table from my own child trying to figure out how to negotiate boundaries. But before we dive in, let’s start with your son’s struggle to write down assignments.

Is writing down assignments a true struggle for him or is he refusing to write down anything because he feels he doesn’t need to? Does he insist that he can remember it all in his head?

[Free Handout: Smart Homework Strategies for Teachers & Parents]

As tempting as it may be to lay down the “write down your assignments” law, resist this idea. At least for now. Like all systems, this one will only be effective if your son is willing to do it. Instead, start small and build slowly. Maybe he would prefer to snap a photo of his assignments or check the teacher’s online website? Perhaps texting or emailing the homework to himself appeals to him?

I had a student once who carried a roll of paper towels and each day tore off a sheet and wrote his homework down that way. It was fun and anti-boring and tapped into his sense of humor and quest for novel approaches to mundane activities.  My point is to work with your son to find a system that will resonate with him. And remember that writing down homework is the system, not the goal. The goal is to find a way for him to capture what it is he needs to do.

How can you support your son without overstepping boundaries? I want you to go for the big questions. What do I mean? Instead of asking about specific assignments, try thought-provoking questions such as, “What are your priorities tonight?” or “What’s your plan to figure out tonight’s critical assignments?” or even “How are you going to remember to hand in your homework?” Starting conversations like this is a softer approach and also switches the problem solving over to your son.

Lastly, here’s a question: Are you giving your son opportunities to rise to the occasion? Though it felt super nerve-wracking at the time, when my son was your son’s age, I purposely allowed him to “try and fly” on his own. I set parameters – and made them clear, concise, and direct. I ensured that he knew he was accountable. And while he dropped the ball from time to time, he did appreciate that I trusted him to manage it all.

[Free Resource: Solve Your Child’s Homework Problems]


Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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Updated on May 17, 2019

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