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Homework and Friendships: How to Help Your Kids When Friends Get in the Way

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Do Friendships Distract Your Teen from Homework?

When friends are more important to your kids than schoolwork, how can you get them to do their homework? Neil McNerney, a school counselor, is here to help. Today he'll tell you 3 things not to say and why you should avoid the word, "but." He'll give you some solutions too.

Mr. McNerney is a father, a parenting expert, and author of the popular book, Homework: A Parents Guide. Let's listen as he shares an excerpt from his book.

Their Friendships Are More Important Than Their Schoolwork

It doesn't matter how many times we tell our kids that schoolwork should come first. They won't agree. For many kids, especially teenagers, friendships are much more important than schoolwork.

The Story of Andrea

"Andrea," 14, was in a constant struggle with her mother about the importance of friends vs. school. Andrea's grades would fluctuate with the ups and downs of her social life. The problem was that, whenever the friendships were going well--or really bad-- her grades would drop.

When she was feeling really good about her friendships, she would spend too much time with them, whether personally or online. Whenever things were going bad, she would be "too depressed to do homework." The only time when friendships weren't getting in the way was when things were "just OK" with her friends. Andrea could then focus on schoolwork.

A School Counselors Perspective

As a counselor, I see this issue quite a bit. The focus on friendships can be very important for many students. It's also necessary, in some respects. We are social beings. We are drawn to make connections with others and emotionally bond with them.

What Should We Do?

1. Don't say, "Schoolwork is more important than friendships." It won't work. Your kid won't believe you, and just saying these types of statements only creates more of a rift between you and your child. Ditto for these similar parent comments:

  • "Your friendship won't help you get into college. Studying will."
  • "I understand she hurt your feelings. But you'll feel better in a few days."
  • "Why don't you take your mind off it by studying?

2. Try being supportive and interested, without adding the "but" at the end of the sentence. For example: "I'm sorry it's going so bad with Julie. You must feel really bad."

Stop there. Do not add anything else. You will be tempted to say something like "But you know that your test is tomorrow." Any influence you gained by being empathic will be lost if you quickly add the "but."

3. Delay the advice until long after the empathy. After you have let her know you understand how bad she feels, wait a while until you remind her of homework. By waiting, you will have a much better chance of being influential. (From pages 98-99)


I like Neil McNerney's advice to go to your child's feelings first. If you don't show empathy for her feelings, she won't listen to you. She will be even more upset because you "never" understand. I also appreciate knowing the word "BUT" is a troublemaker. To your child it leaves a bad taste like a slug sandwich.


Pick up Homework: A Parents Guide to Helping Out without Freaking Out

Cover Homework

Available at

Let's HONOR Neil McNerney for sharing his expert advice about kids and homework. As a school counselor he's helped numerous parents help their kids achieve in school.

Neil McNerney
Neil McNerney, M.Ed., LPC


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With warm wishes,

Jean Tracy, MSS

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