23 answers

Appropriate Punishment for Teen Son

I've just been notified that my 13 year old is missing assignments at school again! This has been a struggle ever since middle school started. I'm trying to determine what an appropriate and EFFECTIVE punishment might be. As he gets older, it's difficult to determine what punishment will have a true effect and help him learn his lesson.

Some of my thoughts include taking the cellphone away for a month (or more), extra homework from home, grounding, taking away xbox 360, etc. The problem is I've tried all of these in the past (except the cell phone as it's fairly new), and the behavior continues. I'd be interested in hearing what other moms have tried and what worked or what didn't work.


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Thank you all for your ideas! I agree that encouragement usually works better than punishment. However, I think that sometimes parents need to find a way to incorporate both. So, I decided to take his cellphone away for a couple of weeks, but we also started an incentive plan for no homework misses and good grades. I have to say that he seemed to be very affected by the loss of the phone. We continue to help him with study plans and time management. As with many things in life, it's trial and error.

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It is hard to tell from you post, but you seem to say that he has had this problem before, and that you have tried to punnish it away. I am just thinking, if that were going to work, it probably already would have. You should go to the school and request an evaluation to see what will work. Maybe this is not a "bad kid" because the good ones also can have underlying issues that will respond the the appropriate help.
It sounds like he has a lot of stuff that could be a distraction, so you will have plenty of things to reward him with when he can show you that he has followed through on the plan that the school puts into action.


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If this is an ongoing problem, I would get him a dayplanner or someplace where he writes down what is due for each class each day. Once you let him pick one out insist he has EACH teacher sign it each day for a week or two weeks confirming he has the assignment correct. This gives him a tool to change behavior and remember his assignment and the mild hassle of having to go up to each teacher at the end of each class(which will help build the habit) I'd tell him, this isn't a punishment this is a solution to a problem.

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Hi, C., Long story short--2 divorced parents, 5 teenagers, problems. Family counseling led to a list house rules---jobs, curfews, allowances, whatever your list needs. Then you all sit down as a family and agree on exactly what the consequence will be for breaking each rule. (Surprisingly, our teens were suggesting stronger punishments than we would've. This gave us room to negotiate on other things.) What you end up with is a list for every child, with his or her personal agenda. Then, when a rule is broken, there is no yelling, no anger, no wondering what to do, no one parent overriding the other,just-- well, that was your choice. If you see willingness to break one rule repeatedly, you need to renegotiate the punishment. It's surprisingly simple, and it truly works wonders for the whole family. The stress levels go down for everyone, (and the kids monitor each other, too-- a bonus).Good luck on whatever you do. This a tough age for everyone.

2 moms found this helpful


It is hard to tell from you post, but you seem to say that he has had this problem before, and that you have tried to punnish it away. I am just thinking, if that were going to work, it probably already would have. You should go to the school and request an evaluation to see what will work. Maybe this is not a "bad kid" because the good ones also can have underlying issues that will respond the the appropriate help.
It sounds like he has a lot of stuff that could be a distraction, so you will have plenty of things to reward him with when he can show you that he has followed through on the plan that the school puts into action.


1 mom found this helpful

I think punishing your son for this behavior is heading in the wrong direction! The only thing you're going to teach him through punishment is to hide his behavior better (and believe me, he can). 13 is the perfect age to develop the organizational skills that will get him through college, so try teaching instead of punishing (and if you're worried about it, don't worry - some of these steps will feel like punishment to him, anyway). He may just be lazy, instead of disorganized, but the steps you need to take will be the same.

Both my brother and I had serious problems turning in our homework. Organization was not a skill we had effectively developed, and my brother was eventually diagnosed with ADD, in the middle of high school. Looking back, my mother suspects I may have had ADD as well (it often shows itself differently in girls), but in any case, we both had to learn to be organized to cope with it.

Step one: make sure your son has a docket or assignment calendar to keep track of all his assignments. Have him help to pick it out, because I can only use calendars organized in a certain way or they don't organize the same way my mind does. Buy him two folders (of different colors) - one for assignments he hasn't completed, and one for things ready to turn in. Losing assignments was another problem my brother and I faced frequently.

Then, when he comes home, he gets a half hour to hour break from school, and then it's homework time. This is where that punishment-like feeling kicks in! Homework should be done in a public place without distractions (the kitchen table only works if the TV isn't on, for example) so that you can keep a close eye on him, and so that you are there to answer questions or help him through the tough parts. The first couple of times, you are going to have to be over-involved so that he knows he can come to you if he's really just stuck. Check his docket for him, and watch him work (make sure he's making progress). Ask him to show you his assignments. Let his teachers know you are doing this so that, if assignments still go missing, you'll know he is not using the docket, folders, or lying to you. Once he has the tools to be organized, lying is something you can punish.

If his behavior continues, you may want to meet personally with his teachers to talk to them. They may give you some mumbo-jumbo about either letting him do it on his own (organization) or them not having the time to personally monitor your son. But you need to have this sort of thing under control by high school or your son will become seriously overwhelmed, so engage everyone who will work with you. Yes, eventually, you will have to let him do it on his own, but apparently he's not ready for that yet.

I haven't had to use these techniques with my own children yet, and I'll confess, my parents started a little late with my brother and me. We were already in high school, and though we were both able to pull it together by the end, it would have been better for all involved if we had learned to be organized earlier (it's also a lot harder to keep a 16-year-old in line!) Good luck!

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Dear C.,
Maybe he needs to be isolated if he is a social teen. I know that my son would learn that way. It could also mean he is ovrewhelmed by the work and needs some one to help him get organized. L. J.

When this problem occurs with my son, I take him to the public library after school, and he gets to sit in a cubicle with nothing but a desk until his homework is done. Since there is no talking or cell phones allowed there, he has to work quietly. And since he would rather be anywhere else - he tends to focus and get it done. There are times now that he will actually ask me to take him there if he has a ton of work to get done.

He's 13 & trying to spread his wings! This is normal for boys more so than girls. Taking him to task just won't do for him now. It's time for some "hard love", C.. Talk to the school counselor & see if there is a program to get your boy into that will keep him occupied & out of trouble; but will require him to do his homework. He is probably running with a group of boys that really don't have much to do; no responsibilities. Remember in some cultures, your boy would be considered a man! So it's time to start treating him as such. You & your husband need to set down with the boy & tell him what he is responsible for & that if he doesn't not meet those responsibilities; then he forfeits say pocket money for awhile. There are camps that he could go to during the summer months as well or for a whole school year if you feel that is warranted. He will learn how to take care of himself & animals plus how to garden as some of these places. At others, he will learn responsibility for his future. And just so you know, yes, he will always be your baby boy & tell him so; but that you realize that he is wanting to be an adult now, not five years from now. Good luck C..

My friend had this problem with her teenage son. She made him clean out his closet and his shoes - he then had to wear kahki pants and white button down shirt (tucked in) and dress shoes everyday to school until the next report card came out and the grades were up and teachers were reporting that assignments had been turned in. She also stopped by class (as well as her husband) on occasions to make sure his shirt was tucked in! It worked! We as parents have to get creative. If we take away the 360 they find something else, we take away the cell, they'll find another way to communicate. But it won't work if you don't stick to your guns and let the screaming, crying, and I hate you's blow off your back.
Good luck!

Hi C.,

I totally feel your frustration! We have one like this, too, and it has been a lot of trial and error figuring out what worked for us. It was a combination of things. It required a lot of consistency and more than a few confrontations with our sun, but this is the most successful either of our teenage boys have been, yet.

A lot of kids (according to the school counselor) have a hard time with the organization and self discipline they need when they enter middle school. So, we instituted the universal binder. It is a binder that goes to every class with them. We found one that even had an accordion folder in it so that there was a section for each class. You could use tabbed dividers with pockets, instead. In that binder went every note, every piece of homework, every handout. All of it. It came home with him every night. That way he always had the stuff he needed to study or do his work at home, and he always had his homework to turn in at school. That way we didn't hear,"I forgot it, I left it in my locker, I grabbed the wrong binder, I grabbed the wrong book" and so on. On Thursday, before binder check on Friday, he brought all of his binders home and trasferred everything into the appropriate binder. We made weeknights study nights. He gets no more than two hours of free time, and that doesn't include games, going to friends. He can get on the computer, talk on the phone, watch tv, but that's about it. All the other stuff is saved for the nights when he doesn't have school the next day.

We have a computer site called progress book that the school uses to help us keep track of his grades, upcoming assignments, missing assignments, and tardies. We check it every other day. If you don't have that, contact the teachers and tell them you would like an email every week of his grade and any missing work. Explain that if he has a grade lower that (what you deem acceptable) or any missing assignments he will be spending the weekend studying and making up the work. It doesn't matter if he will get credit for the late work or not. It is about the fact that a person in authority told him to do something and he is going to do as he's told and follow through with his responsibilities. Most teachers, when they know you are on board and are supporting their effort to teach your child, will go miles to work with you. If, in fact, he has an unacceptable grade or missing work, all of the stuff that you have saved for him to do on the weekend is GONE along with the normal stuff he would get to do. He will be studying and making up his work.

Lastly, we instituted a rewards system. For every month that they keep their grades up and have no missing assignments, they get a reward. Sometimes it is microsoft points for the x-box. Sometimes it is an itune giftcard for the ipod, or an application for their phone like a game or ringtones, or even a visa gift card for a shopping spree. Usually we keep it to $15 or $20.

I think it's important to stress that you are not doing this TO him, but FOR him. If he doesn't develop these habits now, what is he going to do when the work gets harder, the teachers step back more, or he is off to college and you are not there to check on him. You are preparing him for success.

Hope these ideas help in some way!

I'd take away everything at once and see if that works...including the new cell phone.

Personally I would take all privledges away until he makes up the assignments and gets a decent grade on them. If you continue to allow him to miss assignments he will believe they were not important in the first place.You need him to build a strong work ethic now as a young person so later in life he won't shrug off stuff he should really be doing.In Jr. high I had a teacher I couldn't stand to be around and I refused to do assignments for him.I loved Math, just not his class. My mom met with him and thought him to be a nice guy. She took all my privileges away until I caught up in class.I was over a month behind in my home work, I did catch up on it and passed his class, but it was really hard on me telling my friends I couldn't go any where or talk on the phone or go to parties etc.Once I was caught up, I was finally allowed to do things again with my friends. I was really angry with my Mom for a long time about this but now that I look back she only did it because it was important to teach me to do the right thing.She told me it was her job to earn the money for the household and it was my job to go to school and learn what was being taught so that some day I could earn a living and take care of my family.It worked and I think more parents need to take the time as you have to see that thier children are doing what they are suppose to be doing.Good luck, I know you will get him on the right track.

One of my daughters teachers was kind enough to suggest something that really worked for our family. Rather than the punishment of taking everything away, my daughter had to earn the priveledge of using her cell phone, watching TV and/or playing video games. The idea was to reward the appropriate behavior with things that she enjoyed doing. Instead of taking everything for granted she discovered that much of what she enjoyed was a priveledge and to do her favorite things she had to earn them. We talked with the teacher and she was willing to initial a journal that was my daughter's responsibility to carry with her. We in turn initialed that home work had been completed. Priviledges were earned by the hour. No problems-no limits. Small problems-small limits. Large problems -no priviledges at all for that day. It was a day by day venture but really worked for us.

How about signing a contract with him? Start out by asking him what something is that he REALLY wants to do or get. As long as it's reasonable, tell him that if he gets all A's and B's (or C's if it fits him better), then when he brings home his report card it will earn him what he wants. If money is an issue, give him a max. amount the item can cost. You can put back so much per week to help pay for it in the end so it's not a large amount all at once. I truly believe that when it comes to grades, positive reinforcement is the way to go. If you're taking things away, they're getting mad, and if they're getting mad, they're going to continue to rebel against you. But if they know that they can earn something by trying more and being more responsible, they're more apt to do so. Also, I would put something in the contract that will happen if he DOESN'T keep up on his end of the bargain too. If he continues to do bad and not try, then have something he has to do for YOU. Something like chop wood all day at a friend or family's house all day on a saturday. Or cleaning out the garage and cars all day on a saturday. It would work good if it went both ways.

Have you sat down and just had an honest talk about why he's not getting the work done? Middle school is a whole new time managment thing and there could be other issues. My brothers had a very hard time getting the assignments written into his book before having to get packed up, out the door and off to the next class before he was late. He would get in trouble for being late if he took the time to write down his assignments. He also had horrible handwriting and couldn't read what he had written at school. My sister always thought she could just remember what the assignment was instead of writing it down.
I'm not saying punishment isn't warrented, but just would make sure there's not an unterlying problem. As for the punishment finding something that effects the child would be the key. Maybe sitting down with him each night to do homework like in elementary school would help. Ask his teachers to intial each homework assignment written in his agenda, so they know he got it written down. And then you sign each page saying you have seen the list, assisted where needed to complete it and they are complete. Does he have a school locker? Maybe it's time to check out his organizational skills. If he is unorganized, it could be difficult to find his homework/books/folders for each class in time to make it to class in time. Again, not there in time your in trouble for being late. It's more obvious to other kids your in trouble if your late than your school work.
Just some thoughts. You may have tried these already!

We took our son's cell phone away for being disrespectful. It definitely worked! It is there lifeline to their friends at all times.....

My son is involved in sports and we also told him we would go to the coach next if anything else continued and he would be sitting and not playing. He could practice, but not play. He did not want that, so he improved his grades and his attitude.

Sometimes, they just need to know who is in charge.

Good Luck!

C., i just finished reading 'parenting with love and logic' and basically that book discourages punishments and encourages allowing natural consequences to occur. it's not something i'll give justice too, so you may want to either see if you can get it from the library, buy it or just flip through it at your local bookstore (you could probably easily find the chapter/area on this very subject).

the love and logic approach basically goes against what seems to come/feels natural to parents, but i think there is some, well, logic to it. another point they make about grades, etc, that i totally agree with is: they're not your grades, not your homework, not your tests, not your projects, etc, therefore not your problem. you have to leave that responsibility on your kids' shoulders, otherwise you'll drive yourself crazy and they'll never learn to take responsibility for their own lives.

now one thing the book says is if it means your kid fails or gets held back or any of that jazz, so be it. not easy for most parents to do. like i say, check out the book for an alternate idea. couldn't hurt as it sounds like most people don't have a lot of luck w/punishments.

though props to holli's friend - i had to LOL and i bet that little stunt got results.

anyway, best of luck. not sure if you'll find anything on the love and logic site, but here's a link for you just in case: http://www.loveandlogic.com/articles.html#teens

I just wanted to throw this out there... My parents would hold stuff over my head because, you know, they had the 'power'. It would be anything that I valued. If they were upset with me they would say "Well you can't drive to that meeting you have because it's our car" (after my gma passed they gave me her car, just failed to ever transfer it into my name, and I was 17, 18, and 19 when they were still using this one on me) or "You can't do that because you didn't do this". This continued after I had my first child, and by the time I had my second and third children I was to the point that I tried to make it to where they didn't have any control or 'say' in my life at all. I've cut off most ties to them. I still see them a couple of times a week, but really don't ever want them to have any power in my life at all because I know they'll use it against me if I decide to do something they're against. It's a shame, but my kids don't see them and spend time with them like they could (or should) because I don't want people manipulating my children the way I was. Now if you were to ask my mother whether she 'manipulated' me she'll tell you flat out 'no'. She isn't able to see it that way. She thinks that everything she did was perfectly logical. Well, it's her relationship with her daughter that was indefinitely altered and stunted by this behavior, and that stinks.
I suggest you sit down with him and let him know how you feel or that you're worried about him, but I think that trying to control him is really the wrong way to go about it since this is a time in his life where he wants nothing to do with anyone controlling him. Good luck!

Hi C., I had a difficult time with my younger son, now 21 and in college, with completing homework, turning it in, applying himself in school. Does your son need help with organization? Does he use a dayplanner? Does he understand the assignment and can do the homework without help? If all of these are "yes", here are some suggestions: I was home when my son got home from school (maybe you could do this after work) We sat at the kitchen table and he showed me his homework assignments. We negotiated what he would complete before a "break", and wrote this down together. the breaks were important --and they were 15 min. he could do whatever he wanted on a break. He's a smart kid, but his attention span on uninteresting homework was pretty short. He struggled to use the dayplanner and write down assignments but we kept at it. He uses one now, and I'm very proud of him. I remember asking his teachers to let me know when he didn't turn in homework. Teachers like email for a quick message. I hope this helps, it was never easy.

If this is an ongoing problem, I would get him a dayplanner or someplace where he writes down what is due for each class each day. Once you let him pick one out insist he has EACH teacher sign it each day for a week or two weeks confirming he has the assignment correct. This gives him a tool to change behavior and remember his assignment and the mild hassle of having to go up to each teacher at the end of each class(which will help build the habit) I'd tell him, this isn't a punishment this is a solution to a problem.

I have 2 teenage girls and whaever punishment you give at the time will have an affect for a very short period of time. We have taken cell phones, grounded from every possible thing in the house besides your bed. While the punishment is in place the children seem to do better, when you give stuff back its good for a while then goes down hill again. What we have found is taking away every single thing and giving things back one by one. We always start with the item/thing that is least important to them and end with the most important. Depending on what it is that they are grounded for depends on how long we take to give things back. It is always for at least 2 weeks, everything. We have found this to be most effective.
Good Luck

Hi C.,

I raised 4 kids too. I feel your pain. I had one just like your son, but it was a girl. You have to find out what matters the most to him. If it is something that is important, he'll take notice. I had calls to the teachers everyday. I had conversations with her everyday. I finally found out if you can get them to tell you why they don't want to do this, it helps. Usually it's not a good excuse, but at least you are getting into their mindset. They are at a really strange age too.....they want to be babied, but want to be an adult. So I talked about life in some discussions, what to expect when she was out of school. I found talking to her more, getting more attention, seemed to work.

I hope this helps. Good luck.


Welcome to the teen years. With 4 kids I'm sure you have realized long ago that they are each different. Middle school is about trying to "fit-in" - to be like everyone else. Unfortunately, that is not always a good thing. The key to punishment is finding out what is important to him. (EX - If you take away TV but he's always on the computer - he can still watch TV on the computer or he just doesn't care about TV. For one kid taking piano lessons is torture - for another it's great fun.) If you take something away you really have to take it away - as in... take the computer and video games and TV and cell phone OUT of the bedroom and into a public place that can be monitored - like the kitchen or dining room. The teen years are often a war of wills so brace yourself. HOWEVER, the flip side is finding something that he's really good at and loves... something you can use as a reward. Positive reinforcement works really well with younger children. Teens are tricky... but when you're going through a tough place it feels really good to find something where you can genuinely praise them. Also, make sure he has good friends and a good place to hang-out and reinforce a good value system. Boy Scouts may seem "old school" but look into it.. or karate... or boxing... or a church youth group. One good thing... they do grow out of it...;-)...

I've raised 3 kids, youngest now a freshman in college. I told them it was up to them to do their homework and study and if they didn't do the work, but could still get a's and b's on the report card that was fine. However, if the report card came and c or below grade was due to not turning in work; they were grounded until the next report card. Yes, it is a long punishment, but very effective. Grounding consisted of: no friends at home or their house, no phone calls, no video games, no tv.
Make sure your child is helping with housework and take him to your work so he can see what you have to do to make a living.

I had the teachers send me personally a list of assignments that were due for the week on Monday. I sat him down at the dining table and made sure there was no radio, television, etc. and made sure I could check on him until all the assignments were completed. I made arrangements with my employer and the school, drove him to school every morning and walked him to each class room and turned in the homework with him before school started.
He was embarassed, we did this for several months.
He was not allowed any computer, game, telephone, TV etc., time until the assignments were all done and all back work was caught up and that included friends on the weekends.

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