12 answers

My 13 Year Old Isn't Doing His Homework and Is Misbehaving in School

My 13 year old isn't doing his homework and is misbehaving in school. This is his second attempt at the 6th grade and I am worried he won't make it. He doesn't bring his school books home to do homework, he misplaces papers, his locker is variable filing cabinet without the organization, and just doesn't care at all about school. He got in trouble for not keeping his hands to himself in class the other day, now that is something you learn in Elementary school. The only thing that I can think of is that my oldest daugther is going to be having surgery next week and he may be acting out of because of lack of attention. I don't know what do to, I have taken all of his privleges away and still he won't make any attempt to change.


Well, I first want to thank you for all of the responses and for the great ideas. I know that I am very busy, I know that I need to spend more one on one time with my son and we are working on that.
In June of 2009, my father passed away, and I got very depressed, but I tried to hide it from my husband and children. After getting sick on and off, which I know that is a result of being depressed, I got so ill that I was put in the hospital with phenomia. While I was there I basically reevaluated my life and realized that my family needs me and that my father would want me to pull myself out of this. So, once I got out of the hospital, I decided to reprioritize my life issues. I am now working on spending more time with my family and each child one on one.
I am only 2 1/2 months from graduating from college, and this will give me even more time with the family. I hope that this helps with my sons behavior and shows him that I can be his friend as well as his mother.
I have also decided to go to school with my son for a day or two just to see exactly what is going on. I am going to surprise him one morning, by simply walking with him to school and heading on in. I am going to check out his locker and see what is in there. I need to find why he is not brining his planner home, maybe I should make him wear it around his neck?
I know that this is an on going thing and that it is going to take a few weeks before things turn completely around. But I would to have suggestions from more people and I really appreciate all of the ones that I have gotten already. Thanks so much.

A. U.

What can I do next?

More Answers

My first thought is that you have 3 full time jobs? That mmight be a part of the issue. You have 4 kids and I dont know how you can do all that. He might just need some one on one for a while. But he is definately due for an intervention. My daughter started out 6th grade the same way. I had to literally babysit her every move to train her how things were going to work now in 6th grade. She got off easy in 5th grade w/ little to no homework or responsibility.
I would visit school w/ him, clean out his locker and make sure you speak to each of his teachers so that HE and THEY know you are involved and trying to help. Since you have taken everything away from him and its not working how about offering rewards now instead. I let my daughter go skating every other Thursday night if she has kept her room picked up for the week. That really works for her.
You can also have him speak to a counselor to see if they can figure out if anything is bothering him that he wont share w/ you.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi A.,
I know this can be frustrating for everyone. First, now that you have taken everything away from him, there is no motivation to be responsible. You might want to approach him to try and add things back in. Such as...if you can get Cs or above in all your tests this week, you can play video games for an hour a day. This will, hopefully, give him the motivation to do well. You can add more things back in and then take them away again, depending on how he is acting. Also, as for his performance in school, the disorganization seems to be the biggest problem. Does he have a daily planner to write assignments in? Also, not to sound the alarms, but a lot of learning disabilities have a disorganization component. I am not sure if your son is in public or private, but you may want to see if his school has a learning specialist that might be able to help diagnose if this is just behavioral or if there is an underlying learning issue. Then again, he might just be a 13 year old boy. As I mentioned earlier with the planner, sometimes we put kids on daily homework checks where they get a special sheeet and all the teachers have to sign it at the end of classes and write down the homework. That way at the end of the day he has one sheet where he can look to get all of the folders and books he needs. If the book thing is a real problem, you might be able to speak with his teachers about issuing him an additional set so that he can have a "home" set and a "school" set. I am not sure what your contact is with his teachers but most are usually receptive to helping out when they know there is someone at home pushing too. Sorry this is so long. Maybe one thing will help a little. Good luck, this age is tough. That's why I'm a high school teacher, not a middle school one :)

1 mom found this helpful

I have to agree with Emily about contacting his teachers. My 13 yo is dragging doing his homework, I have gotten together with all of his teachers and they are supposed to be checking his agenda before he leaves school to be sure that homework is listed. Also, find out if your school has, or participates in, a website where homework is listed, our school does, and it has helped alot! These are the hardest years, I think, because they are trying to establish some independence and not sure how things are supposed to work so that it comes out right; they don't want help from mom(eewwwww yuck), so try enlisting Dad's help. Just try to take deep breaths, I can't wait for teenager to end and a functional adultcomes out on the other side. Have fun and remember you're not alone.

1 mom found this helpful

You sound like your hands are really full! First of all, acting out at age 13 is very common, as I am sure you know. It can be so frustrating dealing with a middle schooler, but you have to stay on them. They are testing the limits and you have to set them. What came to my mind is a story from my husband. When he was in 7th grade he brought home a bad report card. His dad told him he was taking time off of work and would go to school with him until he figured out what was going on. He sat next to him in class, at lunch; his dad was with him everywhere for a week. At the end of the week, he asked my husband, "How did you like that? Because I can do that anytime. You are my first priority." Amazingly, my husband started doing a lot better in school!
Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

Thirteen can be an age of make or break, and trouble lurks right around the corner. If you are a full time employee, and a full time student, this may make for a precarious mix. You being a full time mom makes for three hundred percent. It is proven that the adolescent years are even more important to have parental attention and accessibility, especially when the children come home from school, if this is not the case. He may be bored, or the academics may be too difficult and he is overwhelmed, and feeling defeated. Is there some tutoring you can get for him? This is a GREAT time to find something he can do really well in. Perhaps an art or photography course at the local center, Boy Scouts, a church youth group, music, or volunteering at the local library or where he gains good self esteem. Good Luck!

1 mom found this helpful

OK you have lots of good advise so I will just tell you how we got over the "forgot my books to do my homeowrk" and not doing homework. I told my son he was responsible for bringing home his books everyday (and I would not go pick them up at school like some of his friends moms). If his school does not provide a planner, get him one and have him practice writting his assingments in it as if he was in each class. Them practice going to his locker at the end of the day and getting all his books based on what is in his planner. Then if he forgets a book, first time have him write 100 times "I will make sure I bring home all my books.". Next time 200 times, and so on. For my son this was much WORSE than actually doing his homework, and after 3 times of forgetting books, he always has the right ones!!
Same thing if he forgets to write in his planner and uses that as an excuse. Make him responsible for doing it by showing him how and holding him accountable.
We also saw big changes when everything moved from his desk in his bedroom to the kitchen table. Snack first at the table and then right into homework where I could see what he was up to and that he was not goofing off, not helping him, just oversight.
Best of luck!

1 mom found this helpful

Hi A.,

How active is your hubby in your son's life. If not so, consider dad & son outings. Something your son wants to do. He maybe in need of attention. At thst point he may open up to what is really going on.

Check out theses books by Kevin Lehman: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw?url=search-alias%3Da...

If he gets diagnosed with anything please no drugs. Change his diet first.

Also consider getting him involved in sports, especially martial arts because it's one on one or in a small group, and he'll learn to be more disciplined.

I hope this helps.

1 mom found this helpful

You need to find something that he does really well and highlight that strength in him and find a way for to use that strength in a meaningful way. Here is a part of a newsletter I recieve from this wonderful person named Kirk Martin. He helps parents and teachers deal with these types of issues. It's long but it gives you step by step tools to help you. I hope this helps you, please keep us posted!!

Which battles should you choose?
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This is one of the most important newsletters we have written. It is long, but that's because I just don't want to share some glib answer--I want you to have the relationship you've always wanted with your child. And that takes time.

Please forward this to friends, family, co-workers and others who may find it helpful. Feel free to post this in blogs, online forums, chat rooms and support groups--just be sure to provide attribution and our website: www.CelebrateCalm.com.

Which Battles Should You Choose?
One of the most commonly held parenting axioms is, "You just have to pick your battles." I vehemently disagree with the assumption behind this statement because it has disastrous consequences.

Let me be emphatic. NO, you do not have to pick your battles! The assumption is that there are some good battles and some bad battles; that you and your child are fighting or battling against each other. There are no good battles and I refuse to be drawn into a fight with someone I love.

Let's use a very common question as a beginning point and learn a different way to approach children and students.

Q: "What is your advice on getting my son to [wear his pants around his waist as opposed to below his butt] [substitute here: get my child to do anything]? I know we have to pick our battles, but this one we are both on him for."

I want to use this as a launching point to teach a completely different way to motivate children. Please substitute in the brackets above any non life-threatening/non-safety issue such as getting your child to clean their room, cut their hair, do their homework, etc. (We can deal with safety issues separately).

(1) What is your goal? Do you want your child to change his behavior, or do you want to teach him to make good choices?
Please think about this because it's a critically different approach. We can change the behavior easily if that's the only goal. For some kids, just give them a consequence so onerous they make the right decision (although most of our kids aren't moved by external consequences). But then we haven't really changed their hearts-we have just coerced them to make the decision we wanted them to make.

In the short term, the child does what you want. But it begins a pattern of resentment, defensiveness and opposition. He will pull up his pants, but then will choose to defy you in another way. Because you haven't changed his heart-you've just changed an outward behavior.

(2) Who do you want to be responsible for your child's behavior? You? Or your child? If you consistently "make" your child do things, then YOU are being responsible for their behavior. That's against everything we want for our kids-to learn to take responsibility for themselves. You are making them weak and ineffectual because you need to achieve an immediate, expedient objective.

Of course we need to set clear rules, boundaries and expectations. Of course we have to make sure our kids are safe. But in the case of cleaning their room, cutting their hair, taking a bath, doing homework, pulling up their pants and myriad other non life-threatening instances, there is a better way.

(3) Stop reacting and giving your child power over your emotions and actions. If you are constantly "getting on" your child or harrumphing each time you walk past their messy bedroom, you are giving your child complete power over your emotions and actions. You are most likely lecturing and reacting every time your child doesn't do what you say. You have become your child's puppet. You are setting up a power struggle and your child will always win that.

(4) What kind of relationship do YOU want with your child? I can guarantee you that if you are "getting on" your child consistently, you are building a defensive, oppositional relationship.

I am going to be stern here because I care about you and want you to have a different kind of relationship. Parents routinely say, "But my child..." before explaining why the relationship is so strained. Here's the truth. We are the adults. We need to grow up and act like it. How I treat my child has NOTHING to do with what he does and everything to do with how I CHOOSE to deal with him.

Listen to the perspective of my 15-year-old son, Casey, on this:
When I heard that you were "on him," my first thought was that it's now "us against him" and that never works. That always made me feel trapped and like my parents were against me. It made me fight them more. That's why I only liked being with one parent at a time because it felt like they were teaming up on me, which caused me to push back and be defensive. Once my Dad calmed down, we were able to have a good relationship.

(5) What if your child won't take responsibility for himself?
Then we have an internal motivation issue. We will deal with that in the solutions phase in a moment. I do, however, love natural consequences. If we jump in and make our kids make the "right choice," they will never learn how life works. We need to let our child experience the natural consequences of their actions.

But has its limits. Some kids will NEVER respond to consequences because they are external, not internal. I have a teenager like that and I very much prefer his approach. Yes, it's more difficult. But it is more meaningful and when your child is internally motivated, then he will own his decisions. And that's what we want.

So let's transition here and follow this plan to change relationships, motivation, hearts and, ultimately, behavior. But notice the sequence. This is powerful.

(6) Rebuild your relationship. This is a very important principle: you can't have rules without a relationship. In this case, it seems clear that trust has been broken and replaced with a battle mentality. So the first order of business is NOT to lay down the law, but rebuild the relationship.

In the first interaction each morning and evening, are you saying hello/establishing a relationship or are you just getting on your child about things? When was the last time you relaxed and laughed together as a family? If you cannot enjoy time together, then rules and threats will only produce more defiance.

Plan some agenda-free time together when there are no lectures, no deep talks, no agenda. Just enjoy your child and appreciate his good qualities. Take time to be interested in what your child is interested in.

(7) Show you trust your child. Many of you will bristle at this notion, but it is critical. IF you have continually hounded your child and are always "on him," I believe you should apologize. Apologize for trying to control him, apologize for not showing you trust her, apologize for not staying calm.

I'd go out for pizza or have a relaxing time together, then have a casual conversation. "Jacob, I just want you to know that I've been on you all the time because I want the best for you. Unfortunately, I've been sending the message that I don't trust you. I've been taking responsibility for YOUR life and that's wrong. For that, I apologize.

"Because you know what? You're a smart kid and you have a good future ahead of you. And the fact is, it's your life. Your decisions affect your life, not mine. You have a good head on your shoulders and you know right from wrong. So I'm leaving the decision to you because it's time that we allowed you to own your choices. We trust you to make good decisions. If you need help, we're here to help. But YOU make your decisions."

Try that and you will begin earning trust and respect. And you will put the choice where it belongs-squarely in your child's court.

(8) Give your child tools. Our kids don't want to fail. Whenever I see a child failing or reaping consequences that don't change behavior, I ask, "Does the child need some tools to be successful?"

In the case of pulling up pants, this isn't an issue. But many times, kids need tools in order to do homework, clean their room, etc. because it can often be overwhelming. Our entire curriculum is packed with very practical tools, so take advantage of that.

(9) Build internal motivation. Change your child's heart, not just his behavior. This is the crux of the newsletter.

Ultimately, don't you want YOUR CHILD to make the decision so he or she can own it, rather than being coerced to do so? Do you want your son to pull up his pants because he has self-respect and cares how he looks, or because you made him do it?

Here is my hunch. In most of these cases when a child is being resistant, it is because the child is simply not motivated. External motivation will not work with these kids-it must come from within.

We cover internal motivation on Parenting CD #5, Brain Boosters CD #2 and on the Defiance & Disrespect CDs so please listen for more ideas. The guaranteed way to ignite a child's internal motivation is to use his gifts, talents and passions to help others. When using your passion to help others, you begin to develop a vision for the future; you become accountable to other adults (not just your parents); you have purpose and begin to care about how you present yourself.

So find ways for your son to use his gifts and passions at school, in church, in the community. You will notice them begin to care about their homework, appearance and attitude. It always, always works.

Here is one success story:
"I approached you because my son didn't care about anything except Civil War guns and fighting. It concerned me because he was so apathetic. We were on him about everything and took away all his Civil War videos, thinking that would motivate him to do homework, his chores, etc. But you challenged us to use his passion for the Civil War. So I did what you said even though it seemed opposite of what everyone else was telling us to do. One morning, I told Alex we were skipping school. Instead, we went to a Civil War battlefield and talked for a long time to various National Park Rangers about their jobs. It turns out they all had similar backgrounds and interests, and ended up going to college to get history degrees. Do you know what Jake told us? He said, 'Now that I can see how I can use school, I'm good with college.' He noticed how proper the Park Rangers were; he's taking care of himself and seems to have a new outlook. This works! Now we're working on a business idea doing battlefield tours and getting an internship."

(10) Enjoy your child and praise. My last piece of advice is to enjoy your child and replace your verbal weapons with praise. Look for ways to compliment your child. Here's a challenge. I want you to find something, anything to praise your child for first thing in the morning, in the afternoon or evening, and at bedtime. Just try it for a week and watch these battles begin to disappear.

Your kids and students need to understand how to harness these leadership traits and use their energy in positive ways. So by all means, listen to the CD's with your kids so they can be empowered to make changes. Pop them into your spouse's car CD player.

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Keep enjoying your kids and students!


Kirk Martin
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