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

Updated on March 30, 2009
A.U. asks from Martinsburg, WV
12 answers

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.

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answers from Norfolk on

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


answers from Norfolk on

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!

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answers from Washington DC on

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 :)

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answers from Norfolk on

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!

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answers from Washington DC on

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.

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answers from Dover on

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


answers from Washington DC on

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:

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


answers from Washington DC on

Hopefully, you've gotten lots of helpful advice. My oldest has many of the same challenges you describe. Some kids need a lot of attention. Much of what you describe could be attention deficit disorder, not a great name, for a way of being that can be very frustrating as a kid expected to be organized and attentive in a classroom setting. It can also be a gift, as it may be (and I'm completely guessing) for a "hilariously funny husband." I recommend checking out Dr. Hallowell's web site and also Dr. Sears.

My son gave me great parenting advice when he was in the first grade. I was getting daily phone calls from the teacher (food throwing, won't sit still, pushing - all kinds of stuff). The teacher said my son had a "flat affect" or showed no emotion or remorse. When he got off the bus, he would burst into tears and hug me. He said that only the custodian smiled at him all day. To support the teacher, I was putting him on time out or taking away privileges when I'd received a bad phone call. My son said he couldn't stand it anymore - that everyone was mad at school and then he came home and I was mad too. So I started trying to make home a safe place for him to be himself - the funny, creative parts. We made time for exercise and healthful, natural food. He was happy at home again.

As he got older, I tried to get more help from the school by asking them to take responsibility for undone work, not just with bad grades which upset him but also seemed to be a real surprise even though it seemed impossible that he didn't know that things were going poorly. The principal gave us an extra set of books, so the forgotten book excuse was not valid. Many assignments are put on the internet in our county. At that time, we had a homework buddy set up by the teacher who we could call to get assignments. Between the two boys, they generally could figure out the work and it helped me to know that another mom was in the same situation.

Kids often misbehave when they are bored or have a learning disability. My son has an auditory processing disability which makes learning from a teacher's lectures very unlikely so he either withdraws or tells jokes or gets into trouble. Once teachers felt compassion for him, they would work with him, keep him in at lunch to finish work (helpful because the less structured lunchroom was way too loud and wild to stay out of trouble), and even ask him to stay after school. Later on, we've used C2, a tutoring center, which agreed to help him use his planner, go through his backpack, and focus on his assignments. It's really expensive but also effective. Some kids, with an ADD or ADHD diagnosis, get this kind of help from the school with an IEP - Independent Education Plan. Some people hire an older teenager. To my surprise, my son enjoys this kind of support even though he hated it when I tried to help. He found activities that he enjoys (sports, theater) where he gets plenty of attention in a good way. He still misses plenty of homework assignments and turns things in late but he will finish high school soon and go on to college - not the one he wanted for there are real consequences to not doing homework. It really helps when the relationship between schoolwork and the child stays at the school and doesn't make homelife miserable.

Good luck with your daughter's surgery. I hope things get better.



answers from Washington DC on

hi A.,
it does sound as if *something* has happened to set off this behavior, as you seem to indicate this is not just his personality. i doubt it's sudden-onset ADD and would not suggest medicating a child for something that's probably got an external cause.
you've certainly got your hands full with your busy life and your daughter's upcoming surgery. i guess pulling him out of school and homeschooling him for a bit isn't an option? it sounds like he could use some time away from there. how about switching him to a charter school or somewhere he can get more individual attention?
i would have done exactly what you did, sharply curtail the priveleges and crack down on him, but if that's not having any effect at all, there's something else going on here. i feel for you with what you're already doing, but i think you have to put on your detective 'specs and figure out just what's behind this. could be a whole host of things, from bullying to drugs to who knows what, but punishment obviously isn't the answer here.
good luck!



answers from Washington DC on

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:

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!


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answers from Washington DC on

In your summary about yourself, it says you are a full time mom, full time student and full time worker....not everything can be full time...something has to suffer. It's great that you can multi-task, but with 4 kids, they should be your main priority, as I'm sure you are aware. It's very easy to slip into depression, but you have to take care of yourself to take care of your family - maybe go to counseling, make a date with yourself each week to get a pedicure or massage or something to refresh, and then focus on the kids and family. Try to delegate some of the workload to the kids, and give yourself a break to study - usually setting up a schedule helps A LOT. I could never get anything done with the kids nagging me constantly, so I started scheduling their days too - I would have them eat a snack after school, start homework, do chores, then they could play 30 minutes of video games and then play outside - all the while I can finish up work, cook dinner, do housework, etc. When dinner is finished, the kids come inside and we all eat together for family meal. And then they take showers, play, read, and go to bed. The extra hours in the evening will also help if he goes to bed at a decent time. Sleep helps a lot of will for you and him! So, once you have the schedule down, he may be able to be more organized because you have rules in place....and keep in constant contact with his involved. Right now his schooling should be one of your top priorities...this is affecting his future - he may not see it, but you as mom should see it and help him prevent ruining it. He is probably depressed as well and feels hopeless - but as soon as he sees you caring and making an effort to get him in line, he will rebel, but he will appreciate it in the long run and be grateful for the good grades and start having more confidence in his school work again. In order to make an effort on behalf of your son, I would have a mom/son meeting after school each day for 5 minutes - have him sit down with you and show you what he has been doing, have him show you his binder, etc...and if he forgets to bring it, punish him. I know you said you took away all of his privileges, but I am not sure what you consider 'privileges.' I would take away all his electronics - no tv, games, radio, etc...and no dessert/sweets, go to bed early, no friends, etc....if that doesn't work, make him stay in his room....with nothing in there to do except study....or you can go online and find his homework on the Internet and print it out...or have him write sentences...that is one of my favorites - he can write 100 times that he will not forget his binder. I would also help him organize...empty his backpack, tell him how to organize, then do the same at his locker...and have a P/T conference with him included and make a game plan with teacher. And even email his teacher to remind him to bring his stuff home. Also - volunteering to help out in class also goes a long way....then you can get to know his friends and stuff as well. I know you are busy, but I used to take my lunch hour to read to my DSD's classroom once a week. It is an easy thing to do and goes along way. GOOD LUCK!



answers from Washington DC on

First off, he's 13. Second off, he's 13. On a more serious side, does this lack of attention occur at home as well as school? If it does, then I would look into having him evaluated for either ADHD or some kind of learning disability. And pediatricians are not qualified to diagnose either of those, no matter how much they tell you they can. Only a psychologist who specializes in pediatrics or educational issues is appropriate. Make sure that this is not something he cannot control before you blame him for intentional behvior, as schools always do. If you think that your son usually wants to please, then investigate further.

If he is showing some oppositional behaviors, then the psychologist can also shed some light on how to best change the behaviors.

Next question: 13 Yr Old Frustrating the Heck Out of Us