Q: My seventh-grade daughter has gotten off to a rocky start with distance learning this fall. I’ve got to work from home and cannot be there over her shoulder making sure she does her assignments. How can I help her be more accountable for her own schoolwork? 

A: Distance learning compounds the already intense challenge of organization for middle schoolers! It’s a learning curve for adults, add in the developing prefrontal cortex of an adolescent and … suffice it to say, your kid is not alone with this. Different things work for different kids, but some sort of system is a good idea. I recommend going over some different options when you’re both rested and in a good place and letting her have some input as to what will work for her. Some kids prefer to use a digital calendar, like Google, or the one integrated into Canvas. Some kids need a paper planner, and some like whiteboards. Whatever she wants — as long as she has a written list of work she needs to do somewhere that you can check. At this age, it’s still appropriate to follow up with her about assignments and contact teachers as needed.

Accountability is a good goal, but seventh grade is still in that age where guardians often need to help. Developing prefrontal cortex, remember? Normally, I would suggest you come up with a daily plan; something like from 4 pm to 5 pm is homework time, show your work is done and then you get free time … that sort of thing.

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The thing is, though, we’re in the middle of a seemingly endless global pandemic. Social distancing is taking a toll on kids unlike anything I’ve seen in 20 years. So while I think school is important and systems and plans are great, right now making sure the kids are all right is my priority. I’ll let you in on a secret — I’m not making sure my son does every bit of work assigned to him. It’s enough that he is engaging with his teachers and classes and doing as much of the work as he can. If he misses a few assignments, that’s OK with me. Your daughter doing her best — and you doing your best — is enough. Everyone deserves some grace right now.


Sahjo Brown is a 20-year veteran of school counseling, mostly at the middle-school level. She has one kid, a dog, a cat, five chickens and some fish. (And secretly wishes she could add in some rabbits.) Her favorite part of working with middle schoolers is their desire to connect and build relationships; plus, their pop culture references keep her on her toes. 

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