Motivating a Teen Homeschooler

Advice from a homeschooling expert on handling a 13-year-old who only wants to sleep, play on his computer, and play Nintendo.

I started homeschooling my 13-year-old son this year. The problem is that he only wants to sleep, play on his computer, and play Nintendo games. He complains that he has to do work and then he will not even finish all his assignments. He refuses to do any essay writing. He is well behind where he probably should be.

I also don't know what's going on with his sleeping habits. Within the past two months, he will not get up no matter what I do. He will sleep until 12:00, 1:00, or 2:00 in the afternoon. Maybe he is having a growth spurt?


As the mother of a 13-year-old, I can sympathize with you -- this is not an easy age! And yes, I occasionally struggle with my daughter's reluctance to accomplish what needs to be done.

If it's any comfort to you, recent studies suggest that as kids enter their teen years, their bodies require a lot more sleep than previously believed. One study indicated that their sleep requirements resemble that of a toddler. However, in my opinion, routinely sleeping until 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon is not acceptable.

It sounds like you and your son need to sit down and have a serious discussion about your homeschooling future. Pick a time and place where there will be no distractions and you are both calm and relaxed. Ask him what he hopes to accomplish the next year, what he sees himself doing in the future, and what he likes and dislikes about the current homeschooling arrangement. Be a good listener -- try to see things from his point of view.

Next, discuss your concerns and explain why certain issues are troubling you. Then negotiate a contract with your son, compromising on certain issues and setting boundaries for others. For instance, you understand his need for sleep, but now the rule is he must be up by 10:00 a.m. or he will forfeit his Nintendo privileges for that day. Don't be afraid to follow through -- a 13-year-old needs firm but loving guidance. On the other hand, if his work assignments are troubling for him, find another program or create your own. I have never followed a curriculum or given my daughters "assignments." For creative kids, following a full curriculum is just too boring. This may be what's happening with your son.

To help you set up a comprehensive program you both can live with, I suggest you read Homeschooling: The Teen Years by Cafi Cohen. As a single parent, homeschooling a teen can be very difficult. Try to connect with other parents of teens by contacting a local homeschool support or resource group. And lastly, don't be discouraged. As your son matures he should become a bit more cooperative and reasonable. Good luck!

Isabel Shaw is a freelance writer and homeschooling mom of 15 years. She and her husband Ray homeschool their two daughters, Jessica and Amanda. Besides being a contributor to, Shaw has written for Home Education Magazine, The Link, Homeschooling Horizons Magazine, The Homeschool Gazette, and other publications.

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