How Do I Help My 12 Year Old Son Keep up with His Academics?

Updated on September 29, 2017
S.C. asks from New York, NY
14 answers

This is his first year in middle school and he is one of the "cool kids". He only cares about his social life and his friends. He refuses to complete his homework and has excuses for not finishing and curses vehemently and name calls if we question him on anything from his school assignments to his friends. He has always been quiet and respectful at school and continues to be but is not turning in all of his assignments. I have a scheduled meeting with the school. He is very mean to his 9 year old brother who used to worship him but now avoids him.

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answers from Philadelphia on

This shouldn’t be too hard. You already know what’s important to him, his friends and social life.

His fun time just won’t happen until all homework is complete. His choice.

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answers from New York on

Not sure how cool you can be if you can't hang out after school, have no phone, no sleep overs, can't play sports or any extra curricular activities? We had a kiddo that just didn't turn stuff in. He sat at our dining room table every day after school for 2 hrs for "homework time". If he didn't want to do it during that time, fine, but he still had to sit there. No phone, no TV, no nothing (including the fact that we pulled him out of sports). Also, we never yelled, we just shrugged our shoulders and was like "well, you decide how long you want to do this for - turn them in and this all stops, don't turn them in, then you will keep going on this way." The natural consequences of him sitting and not doing the homework would be failing the class and not advancing with his grade.

You can totally shut this down.

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answers from Dallas on

I think you've got way bigger issues here than his grades. He's cursing at you? I cannot even IMAGINE the ways in which my boys(11 and 14) worlds would end if that happened in our home. I think you need to get with your sons pediatrician for a referral to some type of mental health professional. Good luck.

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answers from Chicago on

"curses vehemently and name calls".....he is out of control. My 27 yr old has never once swore in front of me. Take away all electronics, absolutely no cell phone, no friends, no sports or clubs, etc. Every evening and weekend is spent making up missed work. I just had to do this with my 12 yr old girl. Wasn't pretty or fun but just this evening she got it all done. Just because she got all missing work done doesn't mean she gets her life and belongings back, they still must be earned. And if it ever happens again, it will take twice as long to get her life and stuff back.


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answers from Portland on

This happened to one of mine when he started middle school. He was in a class with a cool kid, and not his usual buds, and what happened was he changed to suit the cool kid and to become friends with him. Peer pressure and all that. After a couple of months, he was struggling - just super stressed out. It was really getting to him, and he didn't like the situation. He couldn't keep the 'act' up essentially. We did a few sessions with a counsellor for him. He actually asked to - after we'd talked to his teachers.

I tightened the reins quite a bit during that time because I think kids who are testing boundaries need limits - they want them. So before he did anything else, work got done, etc.

It was a phase, thankfully, and he learned from it. The meanness to younger brother could be the stress your son is under trying to please, fit in, etc. It has to go somewhere unfortunately - so maybe get him active in other things, etc. There has to be consequences.

I used to just listen - that's what the counsellor advised, because he eventually opened up.

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answers from Boston on

Ugh. Sound like my middle son, who is now 13 and in 8th grade. His first year of middle school, 6th grade, was really rough. Lots of fighting, defiance, excuses, attitude, anger, raging hormones, poor impulse control, etc. His grades were all over the place that year, and he came close to failing math one semester, which he was normally strong in. Needless to say, he didn't get recommended for any honors classes for the following year.

We were overdue for really figuring out what was up with him. He had always been quirky and volatile but not enough to justify intervention or get a diagnosis of anything. The trainwreck of school and behavior changes was enough for us to get him a full evaluation. He was bright enough that his aptitude had masked the symptoms of ADHD but once he got into a setting that really required executive functioning and impulse control to succeed, his deficits in those areas became obvious. Towards the end of 6th grade, we started him on medication, he saw a counselor once a week and was on a 504 plan at school. It took some tweaking the meds, counseling and a change in after-school sitters in 7th grade to really start to see the difference. Maturity helps too.

He's now in 8th grade and while he still fights me on certain things (mornings are really hard) it's like night and day from where we were two years ago. He still isn't as on top of homework as his conscientious younger brother, but it's much better. He was able to jump ahead into an honors-level math class this year and so far is competing with a friend for the highest average in that class.

So...does every defiant middle schooler need an evaluation and a diagnosis? Of course not. If this is totally new behavior, then it's probably just hormones and maturity and getting used to having a less structure and a new social hierarchy at school. He may just be testing his limits, as adolescents do. You must set up on consequences that you can live with and you must reinforce them constantly. It's a lot of work but pays off. Talking to his school is a great start - they can give you feedback on whether or not this is "normal" or if they think there is something else going on.

Another help might be for you to see a counselor together. I know I throw out the counseling card a lot, but having someone who knows my son and knows a lot of kids like him is super helpful for me to bounce questions and ideas off of. For example with the homework battle, he was able to coach me into taking a more neutral approach where I just checked for missing work weekly and if things weren't complete and turned in, then no (friends, PlayStation, phone, whatever) that weekend until the work was done. When my son throws a tantrum, then it's a simple "that's too bad, I hope you do better next week" and I move on and ignore his protests. Another thing that worked well for us was that with the counselors help, we put together some behavioral goals at home and at hockey that he had to meet to go to an out-of-town tournament last year. That really helped him change his behavior long enough to see the natural rewards and like those natural rewards enough to not revert back to his old ways.

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answers from Atlanta on

I agree with the other posters who have said that the logical consequence of getting poor grades (which will happen when he doesn't turn in assignments) is losing the privilege of going out with friends or doing after school activities. When his grades improve, he can earn back weekend time with friends, a bit at a time.

I would suggest you don't ask him about specific assignments. Sit down with him in a calm time and say that his disrespectful reaction when you asked him about his school work indicates that he does not wants your help, and at age 12, he is quite capable of keeping track of his own school work, so you will let him do it.

Mistreating you and his brother also requires some kind of consequence. He has to learn to control his mouth. Perhaps the return of his social life will have to be conditional on speaking kindly and respectfully to everyone in the household as well as the grades improving. My last thought is that I do think you want him to have some kind of small payoff for behaving well (turning in all assignments one week, behaving at home) so he sees that good behavior does bring a reward and he can hope that he really will have a nicer life when he does what he should. Good luck with it--such a hard age!

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answers from Springfield on

set clear boundaries that if the work is not done and turned in then he will not get to hang out with his friends. if he swears at you he gets to miss out on the hang outs. my parents called it grounded... and it worked. if i didn't make the grade? grounded till grades went back up, swearing? grounded a day for each swear, disrespectful and lying? grounded for a week.
sometimes i was grounded from hanging with friends, sometimes it was the tv, or computer(when i was older and the internet started) so you can ground him from certain things or if he is that disrespectful to you he can end up grounded from everything

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answers from Minneapolis on

First of all, I sympathize. This age, and middle school stinks. Some kids DO get angry, curse, and name call. Of course it's awful, and not acceptable, and some parents have kids haven't or would never dare do this, so it can be disheartening when you have to deal with it.

If he's not doing the school work, I agree you can put the squeeze on his social life, weekend plans, rides, phone, etc. You can make him earn those privileges.

One of my kids was notorious for procrastinating and not turning things in during middle school. We had some battles. She's a bright and capable kid, but she took some bad grades, deservedly so. One thing at least our school system drilled into her head is that her grades start to really count in high school, and we were lucky with her because once she started high school, she really did mature and start taking total responsibility. Now she's an honors student. Hopefully your son is just going through a bad middle school phase.

One thing I wish I did differently when my kids were in middle school was not to be "on" them every day for every assignment that was late/missing. It wasn't helpful and just made our relationship worse. The technology we have now to see all that as parents updated in real time, can be maddening. So much more pressure and anxiety that when we were kids. I think it's better to wait unit mid-quarter, conferences, or natural marking period ends to review with kids, and give them the responsibility to handle the day to day on their own in elementary/middle school.

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answers from Norfolk on

He's got to earn his perks.
Tv, phone, games, devices, recreational computer time - if he doesn't earn it he gets none.
He gets social time AFTER he puts an effort into his homework and completes chores.
The quickest way to fun is to get the work done.
Our kid swearing at me or dad would cause holy hell to break out.
Our son knows this and has never done it.
Yes, meet often with the school guidance counselor.
If your son flunks out - have him held back a grade.
The longer he drags his feet on school/classes/homework - the longer it will take him to graduate.
His friends will leave him behind.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Well, he isn't old enough to drive so he can't have a social life unless you help him, so you have the control here. I think I would tell him that you won't take him to do things with his friends until his homework is done.

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answers from Dallas on

I would say no social life. Take everything away. And if my kid cursed at me I would beat their butt. This is when the teen attitude starts. I would start taking stuff away starting with seeing friends.

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answers from Honolulu on

I suggest that you stop questioning, and simply start stating the expectations. There's a huge difference where results are concerned between "is your homework done and did you turn it in on time?" and "remember, your grades and school performance determine your privileges". Then inform him that you will be checking with the school (not with your son) about grades and missed work.

Many schools have electronic resources for parents to check grades, etc. Take advantage of that if it exists, and establish a good (but not too intrusive) relationship with his teachers. Politely ask that they email or call you if your son demonstrates a consistent lack of turning in assignments, or if his grades are dropping.

Make sure that you are clear with your son about what his expectations are, and what the consequences are. No cursing, no outbursts of anger and violence. School assignments are to be done to the best of his ability, and turned in on time. Make these expectations "statements", not questions. Don't give him the power to determine his own standards and punishments.

Remember, in a few short years he can get his learner's permit to drive. Remind him that more and more privileges are coming up soon (driving, going to movies with friends, school dances and activities), and he's not going to start earning that privilege a week before the 15th birthday or the school party. He will start NOW.

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answers from New York on

I guess I have a slightly different opinion than posters below, and I think you have two separate issues here: (1) schoolwork and (2) attitude. These two issues may be connected but are not necessarily.

As for schoolwork - I think you leave the consequences up to his teachers. School is his job. In the same way that you would not fire him if he did not do his job (you'd leave that up to his boss), I think it might help the family dynamic if you leave consequences for low performance on schoolwork up to his teachers.

As for attitude at home - THAT is definitely an issue you need to work on at home. I'm not sure of the details of "being mean to his brother", but that is something you should focus on.

(Also - a good education begins at home. Although I think consequences related to schoolwork should be left to the teachers, I think that you at home should definitely encourage reading and learning, take family trips to museums, etc. Work to instill a love of learning in your son...that might end up having a positive effect on his schoolwork. And, as Cheryl notes below, you should make sure your son is aware of "career options" - trade school, construction jobs, etc, will be something he should be exposed to if he is not going to pursue other types of school degrees.)

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