Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Parenting worry: Am I playing favorites?

May 3, 2017

What if I don’t love them equally?

Conventional parenting wisdom dictates: Parents should (must) love their children equally. “Equal” implies “exactly the same.” Not buying that in theory or in practice. We all savor different qualities in the people we love. We cherish the time we spend together for very different reasons. Why compare? It’s pointless.

I have a daughter and a son. I would drop everything in a hot minute if they asked for my help because I love them both deeply, but not equally.

Got an email from a mom who seems uneasy with how differently she feels toward her 14-year-old son and his twin sister.

Mom: He always had good grades in middle school, even if he missed some homework. Now in high school he realizes that not doing homework actually affects his grade so he is doing all of it, except math.

He doesn’t do his pre-calculous homework since the teacher doesn’t check it everyday. He can’t keep up with the material during the class. He frantically studies the night before each test and he got B+ last semester. At least he studies before the test, but If he did his homework regularly he could have received an A easily without studying like that the previous night.  I know B+ is okay but I’m more worried about his habit of procrastination as well as his grade.

Even though I’m suffering inside watching him putting off his work we have a good relationship. He has friends and does sports, but no other club – he has no interest in putting his effort into anything other than sports.

His twin sister is doing great in every way – she has good friends, doing a lot of club/sports, as well as she gets perfect grade (because she DOES her homework in time even though she is super busy). The problem with me is that I know what homework they have because of her. If I didn’t know what homework he should be doing I would be less anxious.

I try not to say too much about it but it’s really hard (HARD) for me to watch him just spending time looking at his iphone even though there is homework to do. Should I just watch him and hope he will realize or should I have a some sort of conversation about it? I just tell him something like “Why don’t you do your homework before it’s too late?” He says, “OK,” but it never has any effect on him.

Annie: I think it would be helpful if you tried to step back a bit. Your son is doing so much that is “right.” He really is. In your own words:
“He got a B+ last semester in pre-calculus.” (A strong grade)
“He studies before the test.”
“We have a good relationship.”
“He has friends.”
“He does sports.”

Your worrying seems misplaced. He is young and time management is a challenging skill to master.

I understand it’s hard not to compare your son to his twin sister, but please remind yourself that he is not his sister. He is also not you. He is developing at his own pace with his own strengths and challenges. He will figure this out. He already has “realized that not doing homework actually affects his grades…” At this point, his good relationship with you is much more important than how he is progressing in pre-calculus.

Please try to relax about his math studies. At this point you should not be involving yourself in his school work to this degree. The “contract” is between your son and his teacher. When you step back and let him work it out on his own, he is more likely to realize the connection between attentiveness in math class, homework, studying, etc. and grades a lot faster than if you make this your project.

I hope this helps.

In friendship,


“How can I get my kids to turn off the TV, phone, etc.??”

February 24, 2016

Coincidence that I got this email and tonight I’m speaking at Pleasanton Library about Connecting for Family Time in the Digital Age? Maybe not so much. Parents feel frustrated by the amount of time their kids spend on their devices. The more kids connect to their friends on one device or another, the less they connect with their school work and their parents. So what can we parents do to help them succeed in school and bring the family closer?

by Jason Love

by Jason Love

Read what this mom is dealing with:

Dear Annie,

How can I get my teenagers to shut off the TV, social media, their phones, etc. and get their homework done? There are too many mornings when they are not prepared for school because they didn’t finish an assignment or they’re not ready for a test. Yet, they spent a lot to time the previous day(s) on their screens!
—Frustrated Mom

Annie: What have you tried, aside from yelling?

Mom: Telling them to set a timer for 10-15 minutes and do nothing else but schoolwork. They don’t comply.

Annie: Think about the addictive nature of screens and you’ll get a better idea of how hard it can be to drag yourself away. I’m not just talking about teens. Ever said to yourself or a family member, “I’m just checking my email. I’ll be there in a minute.”? Next thing you know, you’ve been swallowed and chewed up by the Space-Time Continuum. Yeah, it’s an actual thing.

Call a family meeting to discuss the problem as it relates to school performance. Your job is to open the conversation, not to lay down the law. Come on too strong and they will fight you. Simply tell them their job is to be good students. (Don’t even mention the TV and tech stuff.) Instead, ask them how they feel about how their school progress. Got evidence of grades? Bring it to the meeting.

Your long-term goal is to help your kids become fully responsible for their own school work and their lives. If your kids admit they could be doing better in school, simply say, “I agree. So what do you think is in the way of better grades?” Let them do most of the talking. Help them to connect the dots between their school progress and their screen time.

The best outcome is acknowledging how hard it is (for all of us) to get away from the screen… even when the timer goes off and we know we should stop now. By the way, if anyone in the family uses technology during family meals, that needs to stop. Tonight.

Part of the solution here is an open conversation where everyone has an opportunity to talk about the pluses and minuses of technology. Part of the solution is modeling and reclaiming unplugged time, for focused work and for play, as a family. And part of the solution is accessibility. If the technology isn’t at hand, then it’s easier to resist the urge to pick it up. (Of course this works best when the homework does not require technology!)

Mom: I will have the family meeting and discuss this with them. I was thinking they just didn’t want to do their homework and they were putting it off — which I totally understand.

Annie: Who likes homework?! So, sure, they’d rather do something more “engaging.” But it’s also very true that they don’t have the brain development to resist the lure of screen time. That’s where you can help, and having their buy-in makes you more of a coach and less of a prison warden. Good luck!

Watch my three minute video on Vidoyen about How to Reclaim Family Time in the Digital Age.


Calling a truce in the Homework Wars

December 31, 2012

I originally wrote this article for where I write a weekly education post. Check out the rest of my articles there.

Homework doesn't make kids smarter, it mostly just keeps them busy and stresses them out

The long holiday break is almost over. I hope you and your kids made the most of the delights of the season. And that includes time to relax together as a family, kids and parents, savoring the freedom from school assignments. Yes, I’m an educator, but  I am no fan of homework. Especially not obligatory daily assignments that drill students on information and skills they’ve already mastered. Practice makes perfect. But over-practice makes for soul-crushing boredom and it turns kids off of education.

From my way of thinking, homework, if given at all, ought to be assigned sparingly. After all, kids have had a long day in class. They’re not machines. They need a break. And, yes, they need to play. Coming home from school every day to face a mountain of homework is dispiriting.

If a teacher assigns homework, students and parents ought to be confident that there’s a very good reason for the assignment, and a high likelihood that it will yield tangible benefits for the student. What kind of assignments are those? The ones that include:

  • a creative challenge
  • the opportunity to reinforce a new concept presented during class
  • practice using the concept for problem-solving

The result? S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G the student’s mind and transforming a new idea into an Ah-ha! learning experience. When homework offers these opportunities kids respond eagerly because, as learners, they win. This makes them eager to learn more. (And if that isn’t the ultimate goal of education, I don’t know what is.)

The alphabet coloring homework sheets my son received for 26 weeks during his kindergarten year were busy work. There was no mind stretching during those coloring sessions. Though, as I recall, there was some healthy resistance and a pointed challenge: “Mom, why do I have to do this?”

Why indeed? Teachers aren’t sadists. They must believe homework benefits their students. But is that really the case? According to Alfie Kohn, educator, educational critic, and author of The Homework Myth, “…there is no evidence that… kids who have better grades and test scores have them because they’ve had to do more academic assignments after a full day in school. (Also) there isn’t a shred of evidence to demonstrate that homework has any nonacademic advantages, such as teaching self-discipline and responsibility or teaching kids good work habits.”

And yet the homework continues piling up and the stress it causes in kids, and in families, is heartbreaking. If it feels like your child is spending inordinate amounts of time on homework, here are some steps you might take:

1.    Find out what your district’s homework policy is. The student handbook usually includes guidelines that describe how many minutes of homework per evening per grade level. Compare the guidelines to reality.

2.    Talk with other parents whose kids have the same teacher as your child. Sometimes the issue is “too much homework.” When that’s the case, parents have the right and responsibility to talk with teachers and let them know the impact all those assignments are having at home.

3.    Talk with your child’s teacher. Sometimes, the issue isn’t the amount of homework. Sometimes it’s your child’s ability to complete the assignment in a timely fashion. Ask your child’s teacher, “How much time did you expect that assignment to take?” If what you hear is: “10-15 minutes” and your child spent 45+ minutes, then you and the teacher may have a new topic of conversation. For example: “How can we work together to help this student (my child) be more successful and efficient in his/her work? Is an evaluation for learning differences an option we should consider?”

4.    Down with busy work! If teachers are assigning homework that clearly falls into the Busy Work category, speak up to the teacher (calmly and respectfully, of course), to other parents, and at PTA meetings.

A child’s mind is a terrible thing to waste. So is a child’s time to relax, dream, and be a kid without the ever-present dark cloud of “homework” hanging over their heads.

Here’s wishing you and your family all the best in 2013, More laughter. More opportunities to help others. More creative inspiration. And less homework.

Filed under: Education,Holidays,Parenting — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 10:52 am

Guest blogger: I hate homework

July 12, 2011

by Roberto Lebrón

Summer may seem like an odd time to discuss homework, but I can’t think of a better opportunity to appreciate the absence of it. Isn’t that part of the reason families cherish July and August? Because without homework we all have more time to hang out and be a family. Today’s guest blogger is Roberto Lebrón, teacher, artist, writer and  founder of the blog Raising Children on Planet Earth, where you can find “… values and behavior tips and information for brave, loving parents who are willing to do the hard work of raising their own children, instead of delegating their duties to others, including the government, or letting their children raise themselves. You’ll also find food for thought for peaceful, mindful, no-drama dadas and mamas.” AF

I hate homework!

I hate homework.

That may sound strange coming from a teacher. At work, I’ve often heard parents asking teachers for more homework for their children. I’ve also heard parents brag to each other about how good the schools their kids attend are, using the amount of homework their kids get as a measure.

Considering these parents hated homework as students about the same as their own children hate it now, one can wonder why they are so eager to foist upon their children the burdens they resented in their youth. Is this you? Why do you do it?

Perhaps it’s wisdom.

Perhaps parents have learned that what they resented as children was actually good for them — like vegetables. Is this true? Is homework the broccoli of the school world?

Alas, I think not.

The sad truth about homework is that it’s useless makework and, as far as I’m concerned, an unwelcome intrusion into family life. But let me define my terms.

What I Don’t Mean:

When I say, “homework,” this is what I don’t mean:

  • I don’t mean reading material that will be discussed in class, or material on which the students will be tested. That’s called studying.
  • I don’t mean projects to be developed using knowledge acquired in class and research done out of class.
  • I don’t mean the aforementioned research.

What I Do Mean:

  • I mean the other stuff parents love so much because it keeps children busy and out of their hair while they’re at home.
  • I mean that other stuff because when my children are at home, I’d prefer them to enjoy a little something I like to call home life.

If this homework is so important from an academic point of view, I’d just as soon have it done at school, even if that means longer school days. As a matter of fact, I’m all for longer school days, and a longer school year, with shorter vacations. I bet you’re not surprised to hear that coming from a teacher.

Yes, the fact is that, as educators know, and as the President of the United States has acknowledged, we need a longer school year, because we are falling behind other industrialized countries in terms of education. Many of those countries have longer school days and longer school years than we do.

Why Our Calendar Is The Way It Is.

Our school year was designed the way it is in part to allow young people time to work with their families when ours was an economy largely based on agriculture. That reason has gone with the wind. In the meantime, studies have shown that students forget too much of what they’ve learned during the school year during our excessively long summer vacations.

The summer camp industry knows this and many summer camps use this fact to encourage people to enroll their kids in programs that have academic components. This is a poor solution to our problem. Local school boards, not private camps, should determine what our students learn during the summer, and how they learn it. This is our responsibility as a society, and we are neglecting it.

In the end, it may not be necessary to have much less total vacation time during the year. Extending the school day and modifying the length and number of vacations during the year may do the trick. What is clear is that we need to modify our school calendar, and that most homework is a waste of everybody’s time.

Take Action!

1. Get Your Money’s Worth.

  • Your schools are yours. You’re paying for them, whether directly with checks to private schools or indirectly through your taxes. That gives you a voice. Use it.

2. Speak to Parents and Teachers.

  • Speak with other parents. Speak with your children’s teachers.
  • Let them know you value family time in your home, and you don’t appreciate losing this precious time to makework homework.
  • Make a clear distinction between learning to do research or studying for tests, on the one hand, and pointless busywork, on the other.
  • Discuss the need to change our school calendar to keep up with competition in the global marketplace.
  • Parents and teachers should work together as partners. Let your partners know you’re an active participant, and you expect your concerns to be taken seriously.

3. Contact Your School Board.

  • In most places, School Board members are elected officials. Reach out to them and let them know your concerns.
  • Let them know you have seen past the myth of homework. You know that overwhelming children with makework homework is not a sign of a good education.
  • Emphasize the need for family time at home free of useless busywork.
  • Call for a modification of our school calendar to catch up with other countries.
  • Don’t get discouraged when your first efforts are dismissed. Moving bureaucracies to change is difficult, but not impossible. Pace yourself, and don’t give up.
  • The above goes for your state’s Department of Education, too.

4. Use Your Tools.

  • Share this article on Facebook. Tweet it. Stumble it. Spread the word.

You are not alone in feeling that our children need to be unburdened from most if not all of their take-home busywork. They deserve more family time today and a better chance at success tomorrow. You can help make “Less Homework” a reality in schools everywhere. Do it.


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