My Child Refuses to Do School Work. - Colorado Springs,CO

Updated on March 10, 2011
T.W. asks from Littleton, CO
17 answers

My son is 14 and he won't do anything related to school work. He loves school. He is very social. But he fails every class. I have taken everything away from him and he doesn't care. I've tried every punishment I can think of. I've offered him everything I can think of to get his grades up. I have offered money, time with friends, freedom, a ferret... all things he is constantly begging for but he won't do anything to get them. Talking to him is a waste of breath. I have talked to him his teachers and counselors have talked to him and I've had other family members try to get something through to him. He won't do anything and he just tells you he wants to be nothing. Does anyone have any suggestions?

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answers from Raleigh on

It sounds like there is something going on emotionally or mentally. I think you need to get him to a therapist pronto. It could be nothing, but it could be depression. The fact that "he wants to be nothing" is scary and startling to me. I hope you can get this resolved quickly and good luck!

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answers from Minneapolis on

Things you could try. 1.) Let him fail. INSIST that the school have him repeat the grade he fails. If he enjoys school for the social aspect, it will get old real fast when he is sitting in a classroom of kids 1-2 years or more younger than him. as his friends go off to high school. He stays with younger kids. He may at least be motivated to keep the company of his own peers, or not want to fall 2 or more grade levels behind. That's embarrassing, it would probably not make school so much "fun" 2.) Take away everything, and I mean everything. Strip his room down to a mattress and pillow and just enough basic clothes of the week. He has to earn it all back, tv and video games, and time with friends. And start having him do CHORES, nothing fun, just chores until he puts forth effort into school. 3). Have him volunteer at a homeless shelter. Have him see first hand how people live who want to be "nothing." I'll bet he is really a smart kid, maybe right now just thinks he can outsmart the adults and authority in his life. Hopefully, this is just a phase, and he will decide it isn't worth it to not work at school. It sounds like, though, it will have to be HIS decision. So I'd stop nagging, and calmly demonstrate what actually happens on the path he seems to be going down. No free rides. Good luck!

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answers from Washington DC on

short of homeschooling, i would quit punishing and start treating him like the adult he clearly thinks he is. if he doesn't do homework and fails, he has to repeat a grade. and while i wouldn't punish, i would also make sure not to reward. no cell phone, no Xbox, no fun trips with friends, no new shoes.
being nothing will get old pretty fast if he's as smart as he seems to be.
but underlying all this seems to be a lack of excitement, and a need to be intellectually stimulated and challenged. traditional school requires a lot of conformity and rote learning, which just bores a lot of bright kids to tears. i'd be looking for a different educational venue for this kid.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Redding on

Is he a freshman in high school?
That can be a really, really tough year for kids.
He may be finding it difficult and doesn't really know what to do other than throw his hands up. Talk to the guidance counselor at school.

If he's in the 8th grade, he may be afraid of starting high school. It can be pretty intimidating. Maybe subconsciously, he'd like to stay behind and not go to high school. Again, I would talk to someone at school about it.

My daughter was very social and super intelligent. But, unfortunately, I guess she got it in her head that she could get by on her looks or something because she went through a phase where if she didn't feel like doing her homework or assignments, she just didn't do it. If it was something that interested her, she'd get an A plus extra credit. But, if she wasn't interested in the subject, forget it. She too, didn't care what I did to punish her. She didn't care that her grades tanked.
However, she wanted to be a cheerleader and brought all the stuff home for me to give permission. I told her no way. It cost about $250 if I remember correctly and I wasn't going to pay it for someone who wouldn't do her homework. Well, she went to try outs anyway. To her horror, right in front of all the other girls, she was asked to leave and that her grades didn't warrant her being there. She was humiliated and devastated blah, blah, blah.
But, guess who jumped on the homework bandwagon after that?
Nothing I had said got through to her. But that worked! She kicked butt and went back to getting good grades when it cost her something she really wanted. Plus there was no more hiding it or getting by. She was called out in front of all the other girls.

I don't know what you can really do other than truly let him face the consequences of his actions and get him in to talk to someone.
He may not care now about his future, but he'll regret it if the only job he can get is mopping floors or cleaning up unhappy messes at a hospital or something.

I wish you the best, I really do.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

Well does he have any learning problems/dyslexia/needs glasses etc.?
Any behavioral issues that have been suspected or diagnosed formally in him?
If so, then ask the Doctor.... for possible solutions.

If not, just have him go to school without his schoolwork.
He will fail, his grade level.
DOES he want to.... be a 'flunkie' and have to repeat his grade level.... when all his other friends go on to the next grade?

How are his friends? Good or bad influences?

Is he capable of doing the work?
If not, then maybe get him a Tutor...

Apparently all of the educators/school Counselors cannot get through to him.
I doubt, that punishments will work either.

Does he have emotional problems? Depression? Peer problems? Self-confidence issues? Anxiety? Stress?
Some kids, ignore responsibilities, when they have these... because they cannot 'cope' with daily life.....

What does HE think the problem is? Has anyone asked him???
Then, if he knows... what would be HIS solution to it???

all the best,

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answers from New York on

He needs some counseling of some sort. He sounds depressed. Is there
something going on that no one knows about. Get him some help asap.

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answers from Denver on

Let him choose his path.... let him fail.
BUT let him know that since he won't be working towards his future, you won't be helping him either! Nothing besides meals....
No money what so ever!!! That means on all levels, clothes, games, anything fun, I would also take away TV, computers, cell phones EVERYTHING.
Because if you don't do this now, it WILL be his life later with no education. He will have nothing!
Better for him to see what nothing is now, while you can be there to watch.
But also let him know you are more than willing to help him out with all those things again, once he tries again...

On a side note make sure he doesn't have a learning disability such as dyslexia or something along those lines. Issues like that can be easily treated!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kalamazoo on

Maybe it's too hard for him and he would rather act like he doens't care than risk looking "stupid". It's kind of a normal attitude for a teen to gravitate towards if they are having problems.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Salt Lake City on

Are you in a position to home school? If he won't do his job (at school his job is his school work), then maybe he should lose the privilege of being there. My daughter was so distracted at school that she was ignoring her school work. I've pulled her out and we are doing online school now. I think Colorado has a set-up similar to ours here - a public charter in partnership with K12. I'm impressed with the quality of the curriculum (no experience with upper grades yet, though - we're still elementary), and since it is part of a public online school, it is free. You could make returning to a brick-and-mortar school contingent on his academic performance in the online one.

My daughter likes the online school so much that when I gave her the option of returning to regular school, she wasn't interested. She is excelling academically, and because her schoolwork now gets done, she has time for extracurricular activities and a social life.

Also, based on our experience, you might want to check out whether there is a bullying or harassment problem. In my daughter's case, there was, but it was being done so surreptitiously that it wasn't obvious, and her attempts at getting help at school were unsuccessful because there was nothing happening in front of the eyes of the responsible adults there. The bully was too smart for that. It went on for several months before she told me. I knew that she was distracted at school and not getting anything done, but did not know why.



answers from Salt Lake City on

You've had a lot of good suggestions - so I won't repeat them. One that hasn't been mentioned quite in this way is to look up some jobs he might be able to do with no HS diploma (fast food, etc.) and how much he could make doing them. Then show your son a budget of how much living on his own would cost & what kind of place he could afford on that salary. Even take him to see an example of that kind of apartment. Have a conversation with him and tell him that if he thinks he knows better about how to live his life, then by all means, he should go live it - you just wanted to prepare him for what that life will be like. Remember to include transportation costs & get him a bus route map :o)



answers from Boston on

I would email him or leave him a letter with pros and cons of failing school: fun now, easy time, but low level job later and no money or free time and crappy little apartment to live and doing laundry at laundromat, etc. Then pros and cons of at least passing. Then options for both at the end: armed services to get further, learning a trade, or college and corporate career. I would also make sure he has no learning issues: my daughter is intelligent but has dyslexia and ADD and hates school (she is 10). Did he do well before his teen years?
I think a sober, straight forward, non-emotional, non-threatening laying out of options would be my approach. I would tell him that there is nothing wrong with any path in life as long as it is his choice, not by default. Sounds like he could be a great sales man, perhaps he can get in at the ground floor of a large company as an intern and get some on-the-job training. I bet Shawn White's mom told him to come in and do his homework and stop wasting his time on that darn skateboard!



answers from Denver on

Ha ha! Your name is the same as mine.

Needless to say, how about he go get a job and support himself because you will not provide food anymore. Charge him rent, lock the cabinets, etc. Being 14, getting a job is pretty rough, but he can go around the neighborhood and ask to shovel, do household chores, etc. and charge $5 per hour.

In short, if he is not willing to do his job as a 14 year old, which is to go to school and get decent grades then he needs to choose another job and as far as you are concerned, he is cut off. No phone, no food, no clothes, no tv, no video games, no social events, nothing, unless he can pay for it himself. He will get the message pretty quick if you do not waver.

My brother did this when he was 13 or 14, and my mother pulled him from the school he was in. He was not allowed to accept a phone call from ANYONE for an entire year. He had to earn money doing things for the neighbors and was not allowed to do anything social. This was all for an entire year! She ended up putting him in Machbuff (my parents could not afford private school whatsoever but they took out a loan and he went for the 4 years of high school). In short, his new school would not put up with any of his negligence. They made him sit there monitored until he did his school work, they pretty much followed him in the halls to make sure he went to class, etc. and they made him choose an after school program to participate in. Ultimately, he graduated with a 3.2 gpa, was the quarterback for the football team and even went to college. It was an unbelievable transformation. My mother chose the school for the sole purpose that they were all about making him succeed, not just letting it go. They had no problems treating him like a 5 year old until he decided to be responsible.

Once you choose a path that is super strict and painful (I suggest giving him a couple of months to see if he pulls around) if he doesn't, then you really need to get him some sort of professional help. There may be bigger things going that could be VERY serious. This is his life you are responsible for, you need to take some seriously tough action and pay attention to everything! Something is going on and you need to get to the bottom of it.

Good luck!


answers from Provo on

Maybe try homeschooling? Perhaps telling him if he doesn't start picking up and doing well, you will homeschool him for a year, until he takes it serious. Because he is liking the social part of school more then the academic, this might work. This is actually the best time in a child's life to "Act" He cant drive, he cant have a real job, he cant really do anything with out you. I suggest reading or listening to or going to a seminar on "love and Logic". You are the mom you are in charge and he needs to EARN his privileges until he can be responsible on his own. You need a plan and to follow through.

As parents, the things we want to "save" our kids from, are the things they need most to experience.
Good luck!



answers from Denver on

At age 14 many diverse issues are going on with most kids. Their hormones are raging, their personal idenity is evolving, their bodies are changing, etc.

Thus he has much going on. However, where school work, home work, projects are concerned, I see you mentioned many things that you have tried to do, except for 1, sitting down and actually helping him complete his school work. The subject may not interest him, bores him, or he may not excel at it, thus avoids it. It may also be an unconscious effort to get attention from you, negative or positive it's attention.

Therefore, as a former teacher, know that he may just need some consistent 1 on 1 attention and help with his school work, and it is up to you to not just offer it, but to actually sit him down, help him, keep him focused until homework or a project is completed. Even if this means sitting down with him, in a quiet spot each and every night, rather than a spot where the Tv is on, where a baby or other child may interfere. Praise him when he does Ok-well, and do so often as praise helps build self-confidence, punishment just confirms lack of confidence.
Also when he feels worthless, stupid, unable, and you tell him otherwise, he won't hear it, it must be shown and proven otherwise. So help him, as talking about it won't get anywhere.

Getting him a tutor may help, but A. he may not accept one, and B. you as his parent have to reinforce the lessons at home, praise mom, not talking and punishment!
No one ever said being a parent is easy, for it is not. Our kids need us and our positive attention. Just because they are bigger, and seem so grown up, they are still kids and need us whether they know and accept this or not.



answers from Denver on

Have you taken him to the doctor? It sounds like it could be depression. I see others have offered that idea so I won't expound.
Good luck!



answers from Washington DC on

I have had this problem with my son since the second grade (he is now 18). He has been to counselors and they have given me two different diagnoses, one is he has a auditory processing disability and the other is ODD and perfectionist. He was medicated as a last resort and his behaviors got worse. Taking things away did nothing, he would find other things do even if it was just staring at the ceiling. He is only a junior as we did let him fail, no response. I wish I had better answers for you but I found this post because I am still looking for answers for my son. Good luck with yours and I pray you get the answers you seek.



answers from Dallas on

If you have tried everything and that includes 'out of the box' options than it sounds like he has already made the choice for you - to fail. Maybe summer school will keep him motivated next year.

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