Teenage Son Who Refuses to Do Homework

Updated on May 06, 2009
K.B. asks from Urbandale, IA
18 answers

I need some help with my 15 year old son... He has REFUSED to do his home work and is now getting F in three classes. We have tried everything, talking with teachers, tutors, going to school and sitting in the libruary after school till he finishes all homework for that day but nothing seems to work and he is now lying about doing it and whether he has turned it in. I have even found finished assigments in his back pack that he just doesnt turn in. We have taken away the ps3, cell phone, etc. and it hasnt helped... He is angry and has the poor me attitude. His teachers say he is well behaved in school and does some sports. Any suggestions would be great!

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So What Happened?

Thank you so much to all who replied. We took my son to see a counselor who told us that my son just gave up! He really wants to do well and just doesnt know how to keep up. He also said that because my son has vitiligo that has spread to his face he is feeling pressure from other kids and feeling of not fitting in. He referred us to a doctor and had him tested for adhd. He tested 7 out of the 9 critera for add and only one for the hyper part. We have decided to try meds on a low dose and see how it goes.
My son is actually happy to try this and says if it helps him to do better in class he is all for it. I will keep updating to let you know if this works.
I was very impressed with how my son handled going to the counselor and we will keep with that also for a while.
Again Thank you for all the great advice!!

Featured Answers


answers from Omaha on

There may be something deeper going on that has nothing to do with his homework. May be his way of dealing with something he doesn't know how to handle.



answers from Minneapolis on

I'm going out on a limb, but perhaps a tutor would help. If he's struggling, this may be causing some of his "attitude" problem.

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answers from Minneapolis on

You don't say whether this is a new thing or whether his schoolwork has always been a struggle. If it is a new thing, then I would be on the look out for possible connection with drugs, depression or other major change that could explain it. If he has always resisted then it is time to get help. You and he need to understand his strengths and how he can use those to his advantage. You also need to understand whether there are any underlying learning issues or whether he has missed so many concepts in the past that it is making learning the new material more difficult. Consider an assessment at a tutoring center as a starting point to uncover holes in his skills.

Then sit down and have some heart-to-heart conversations where you mostly listen and mirror back what he says. Ask about his feelings when he does turn in work vs. not turning in work. What frustrates him about school, what does he enjoy? Does he like project based learning, does he feel the homework is pointless? Does he enjoy success or is the fear of failure too overwhelming to enjoy when he is successful? What are his views of his teachers? What are his friends attitudes about school? Don't offer advice or solutions, just listen. Then ask him to think of possible ways that he can feel supported (rather than cornered or threatened). This does not have to be all in one sit down time. Work toward goal setting and a reward based system rather than a punishment based system since that isn't working. If these conversations aren't possible with your current relationship with him then seriously consider working with a relationship coach or family therapist who can help open up these types of conversations in a supportive way. They also can help clear away misunderstandings and keep people honest in their answers and responses.

Good luck and power to you as a caring parent.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Eau Claire on

My friend has a great solution to have her teen boys turn in their homework. They have to have a certain GPA for the semester before they turn 16 or they will not get their driver's license. One turns 16 in December, so if he doesn't do it in the Spring, he needs to wait until January to get his license. It has worked wonders for her.

My daughter wasn't turning in things also and we ended up taking her to counseling for depression. She has now started to care again and has started to turn things in. The other thing that worked for her was grounding her on a daily basis depending on what was not done the day before. Long term things didn't work.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Milwaukee on

It's time to schedule an appointment for some help with a professional if you can't get your child to talk to find out with is at the root of the problem. It sounds like something might have happened or he might be suffering from depression.

He needs to be inspired. What does he want to do with his life? What are his hobby's and interests? What is he into? Does he like to read? Play video games? Music? Find his hot button and feed it! Maybe he dreams of being a video game creator - help him start a blog and review games online to help him find and follow his passion. If you can find his passion you can show him how important graduating can be! Find books on successful teen entrepreneurs to show him how important following your dreams can be!

If that doesn't work maybe it's time to shake things up and call your local police department to see if you can make an appointment for a visit. Only go if your local police department will tell your son that there is a correlation between flunking out of school and ending up doing time. Seeing where the other half lives might make the point much better than saying it. The goal is to inspire him to graduation with good grades to follow his dreams.



answers from Rapid City on

I understand what you are going through. I went through the homework struggles with both of my boys. I like the drivers license idea but that will only work until he gets it then you will have to confiscate it whenever he lets his grades dropped. I wish I would have thought about it while my kids were in school.

While I don't have any advice other then what is on here... a sweet child who has great grades all the sudden lets everything go and is angry and has a attitude means something in his life changed. It most likely is drugs. Even Pot gives a attitude change in children. I seen it with my youngest who was great and then we saw a big change with anger and unhappy being at home. When I noticed one day that he seemed high when he came home from a friends, action was swift and while it was one of the hardest things to get through, we put a stop to a lot and when he was sneaking out we went as far as putting a child in needs of supervision order on him which straightened him up big time since he didn't want to be sent to a boys school. I do suggest that only as a last resort and with my son there was other things that made it nessessary to put that on him. Find whatever help you can and use it. You can go to any pharmacy and get a home drug test kit.

I always told my kids "if I make it through this I am going to make a T shirt that says 'I survived three teens!"



answers from Minneapolis on

I am a young mom. High school was not so long ago for me, although it seems like ages. I dropped out of my private Catholic high school about 2 months before I would have graduated because I knew that I would have gotten D's in two classes [I ended up getting my diploma from an alternative school instead]. Throughout high school, beginning at about age 14, I was very depressed and had severe anxiety. I would stay home a lot. I would also refuse to do homework, or do it and not turn it in. For me, it was the fear of failure. I am a perfectionist and also the pressure from my parents and high expectations was overwhelming. My parents constantly reminded me that "these couple of years will affect your whole life...if you don't do well in high school it will be hard to get into college...High school is easy, if you are having trouble now just wait until you start college" The thought of getting a C or lower on something would cause such great anxiety I tried to avoid it at all costs. I also stayed home "sick" on days where there was a test taking place to buy some more time before I had to deal with it. Generally I got A's when I did do my assignments.

It could be so many different things: Depression, Anxiety, Bullying [he might even be teased for being smart!], Drugs, A learning problem, being too far behind and unable to catch up, it could have something to do with a girl, or trying to keep up an image- maybe he is "too cool" for homework and his classmates give him attention when he shows up without an assignment, too much pressure...the list goes on.

I would definitely bring a professional in. Or anyone who he feels comfortable enough to really open up to. He is the only one who knows what is going on, and he probably will not tell you. Teens don't tell their parents anything. I would also try not to show any anger or frustration towards him. My guess is, he is probably beating himself up plenty already...or he is too depressed to care. I would try to be supportive and helpful, and if he is behind in his work, I would work out a plan with his school guidance counselor to help him catch up. Worst case scenario is he would have to go to summer school or take the grade over again...But that is not the end of the world



answers from Madison on

Hi K. -- If you're sure this isn't symptomatic of a learning disorder (does he read all right for his age level?) this is a great opportunity for him to learn that actions (or inactions) have consequences! Let him not do his homework and flunk and let him have to repeat a year. (Make sure he isn't passed to the next grade automatically.) You might as well "let him," since that's what's happening anyway! Then you can point out to him that HIS choices have affected his social and academic life now and may affect his earning power in the future, and you will love him no matter what he decides to do but don't expect any future bailouts (monetary or otherwise) from you. At the very least, everyone's home life should be pleasanter without the constant haranguing and poor-me-ing.

Good luck! L.



answers from Sioux Falls on

I can't really give you any advice on how to get him to do his homework because is seems that they will either do it or they won't. It also sounds like you've gotten the support of the teachers but do you have the support of the principal? The reason that I ask this is because my 15 year old (boy) was doing the same thing. It didn't matter what we did, he would just dig his heals in deeper. But last year, before the principal retired, she told the special ed staff that they needed to get him on an IEP or this child will fail in everything that he sets his hands to. The end result was they did find that he qualified and that just by placing him is the special ed resource room for his study halls and a couple of his classes has helped a lot.
The first two quarters, it looked like it had been a waist of time because his grades didn't appear to be changing. But last quarter, I started to see the come up a little bit. And this quarter, after getting mid-term reports, he's only failing one class.
It's not that he's not learning because he is. It's just that he has gotten over whelmed with how much homework he has to do. The extra study hall has helped because he can get the help that he needs to understand and he's thrilled beyond belief when he gets a better grade. Plus I've been making a really big deal out of those improvements, whether they're big or small. I've also told him that if he fails this year that he'll have to repeat this grade again (he didn't like that idea one bit) and that I don't expect A's and B's but I do expect him to get a little better grade than what he's been bringing home.
You'll also see an improvement at home when he finally "gets it" because his attitude will change.



answers from Madison on

The only thing I can suggest is something you may already be doing (?) as it seems obvious...
The SECOND he walks in from school, I would sit down with him and go through his homework with him, helping him with anything he is struggling with. Sit next to him until it is DONE, then excuse him for the night for dinner/play/free time. You will need to do this every day for possibly many months -- then give him a chance and if no good result, then do it again. Even President Obama commented that his own mom had to do this! No TV, no phone, no computer, no friends, etc. until homework is complete. If you need to, ask his teachers to email daily assignments to you, so you can "help" track what needs to be done -- stressing getting assignments done early rather than at the last minute, yet on time. Provide your son with a small planner or notebook (can be a very cheap mead notebook), specifically to write down homework assignements. Your son may need help with time management and organization -- help him plan out how to finish long tasks, such as a paper that requires research. Take him to the library. You may need to really hold his hand until he gets the hang of how to do this himself -- some kids require this. This will probably mean that you and perhaps your other child have to forgoe some activities for a while until you get this under control as you will really need to "hawk" over him. In the long run, he will learn how to do this, complete assignments and manage time on his own and in the VERY long run, he will thank you for it. :-) By working with him on a daily basis, you will also be able to judge if you need to bring in professional help, such as a tutor or counsel as you figure out if the problem is developmental, academic, organizational, or psychological/emotional.

Also, what has been his response when you asked him why he did not turn in an assignment that was complete as that just doesn't make sense unless he is trying to fail -- which would suggest a call for attention and possible need for counseling. Perhaps he suffers from depression? Impossible for me to say -- and possibly even for you. Depression can be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain and is something that may require treatment. That could also be causing the behavior issues -- has he acted out in any other way?

Just some thoughts. Good luck and best wishes!!


answers from Davenport on

My son did this. He had great grades all through grade school, but when he hit junior high, they started slipping and slipping to the point where he was failing. Had him tested and he has ADHD and sensory problems. As long as we help him keep his sensory problems under control, he can manage the ADHD just fine on his own. It also helps that his girlfriend insists on doing her homework with him and that he does his at the same time. He just couldn't handle having to be responsible for his own work because his mind is so scattered, he does it then forgets that it still needs to be turned in because mentally, he thinks it's done and has moved on to the next thing. It helps him to have someone who can explain things to him as he needs it explained, sit and work with him and encourage him. The fact that it's his girlfriend, well, he always wants to impress her! lol Have him tested as it may be a problem of not being able to pay attention enough to understand what's going on, or perhaps he just doesn't understand the explainations the teacher gives (i'm in college myself and some professors styles of teaching just doesn't mesh with my learning style and I struggle because of it) and he's getting frustrated as a result, maybe even thinking he is stupid and can't do it. Nothing worse than a teacher inadvertantly hindering a child, but it happens, intentional or not. Talk to him in a non-threatening, non-accusatory way, ask him what he thinks the problem is...trouble with kids at school, trouble with a teacher who has taken a dislike to him, just isn't understanding the teachers way of explaining things.....

Since we've had my son diagnosed with sensory problems and ADHD, the school has been better able to work with him, and having his girlfriend sit by his side and tutor him....he's gone from nearly failing every class to C's and B's in all his classes, and this semester looks like his grades will be higher yet! Have him tested to rule out anything such as this that might be interfering with his ability to perform at his best (that he may find self deafeating), and for goodness sake, talk to him, no one can tell you better than he on what the problem is, even if he can't exactly describe it, it might be enough to clue you in as to the real problem, then work with him to help him overcome it because he does need to learn how to handle it on his own some day.....Good luck to ya hun!



answers from Minneapolis on

Have you threatened to go sit in his classroom with him during school? It sounds like he has other issues and you need to get to the bottom of them. If you are concerned about drugs, go to a pharmacy (Walgreens) and buy a drug testing kit. Rule that out before you exhaust other avenues. Test for learning disabilities. Most of all try to get him to open up and TALK.



answers from Milwaukee on


Our son did the same thing. He scored high on his tests but refused to do his homework all throughout high school. He had F's in many of his classes. He also has ADD.

We tried everything from medications to scolding, to grounding to meetings with teachers to setting up schedules with teachers and having sign off sheets...

Long story short. He hated his school. He did graduate, but barely. The teachers all thought he was brilliant, he just wasn't applying himself.

He didn't go to college right away. he worked at McDonald's then PNS.

He'll be 22 this month...he's in college at a tech school getting straight A's and is on the Deans list.

He just hated his school. Now he's into something he loves. It's holding his interest and he's paying for it so he's applying himself.

He started his schooling last year.

So, I guess my words of advice would be to hang in there.

Our daughter did the same thing to us. But she turned it around her senior year. Made up all the classes, graduated and made it on the honor roll.

Things can change.

Hang in there and just love your kids and keep giving them support.




answers from Minneapolis on

Okay I have to respond as a parent who has literally been there done that. I was like your son, I hated school, hated all the homework, and if I did get the homework done I didn't care to turn it in. My grades improved when I was a cheerleader but that was because if they slipped I couldn't cheer. My parents tried grounding me, talking with teachers, helping me out, tutors, but none of it worked. What finally worked and this was after I had children I was diagnosed with Bipolar and Adult ADD. Medication has helped me being able to focus on what I want and what my family needs. With that I have been able to go back to school and I am getting good grades this time around. It is just so much easier to be able to think with a clear head, not one that is cluttered with so much junk that you can't fish stuff out of - for me that's what it felt like.

Good Luck everything will work out in the end. Just take him in and see if he needs professional help. Being able to talk to a third party has been a lifesaver for me and my family.




answers from La Crosse on

Hi K.. Check into Sparta HighPoint Charter School. My son attended the public junior high and was an honor roll student. He used to stay up until 11 o'clock at night studying. He was so stressed, trying to keep up with all of the assignments. One day, he just dumped his grades and went to C's D's nad F's. At Highpoint, they do not have homework. They work very hard during the day. Also, there are no grades. They choose the areas of study that interest them. Highpoint students also have a higher college acceptance rate than the public system. The classroom is non-traditional and the teachers are progressive. If you can take the stress of homework out of your child's life and the terrible feelings about getting 'bad' grades, and allow him to study what he wants to study, something he cares about, there is a chance that he will be happier and perform much better. May not be for you, but look into it.



answers from Milwaukee on

We took in my troubled 14 year old sister last fall and had a similar problem with with homework. What we ended up doing was 1) being in daily email communication with the teachers and 2) we made her do the "missing assignments" even if they couldn't be turned in for credit. After about 2 weeks of having to do assignments that she didn't get credit for -- she started just DOING the work.

I'd like to say the lessons stuck, but she has been back with her Dad for two months and is again failing 3 classes.

Just remain consistent!



answers from Duluth on

What do his teachers say? Is he capable of the work? Quite frequently, kids who are not keeping up with their work have other issues: boredom, rebellion, can't "get" the work, can't see, can't hear, or even issues at home. Assuming that you know none of those things are issues, if you haven't already talked to the teachers, do that. They might be seeing something else you aren't. I would encourage you to continue to take those things away that make his life more fun. You say he plays sports; where are the coaches on this one? I have taught HS English for 8 years, and the absolute most effective tool I had in getting under-achieving kids to simply DO their work was when Coach said, You have an F? You don't play. Most schools have that policy anyway. One coach, our wrestling coach, actually required kids' grades to be higher than the school policy, and even when I had discipline issues with one or two of his kids, all I had to do was say the word to him and the problem was solved--but he was a well-respected coach, and if the kids don't adore the coach, it probably wouldn't work. That said, have you had a totally open and honest conversation with him about why he's not doing his work? You say he has "poor me" syndrome, which is not uncommon...but is there any validity to his arguments? He may be blowing something small out of proportion, but perhaps he then needs help sorting out what is "big" from what is "small" (ie: "The teacher hates me" can easily be a teacher who is exasperated because she sees no reason why a student can't/won't do his work) and sometimes kids need help just seeing what is painfully obvious to adults. Finally, if this is really a point of tension between you, maybe YOU or his dad are not the person to have this talk--is there another adult or responsible person in his life that can talk more candidly with him? Some of the most successful kids I've seen are those who are willing to have another--many other--adults be role models in their lives. Encourage him to befriend or get to know adults you wish him to admire--teachers, coaches, members of your church, relatives, etc. Good luck!

Oh--and since he's still young...sometimes kids just need to learn to fail. I've failed kids who really do come back the second, third time and do much better, because they finally see the point to what we're doing. Whatever you do, do NOT start picking up the slack for him!



answers from Minneapolis on

I don't have any teenagers YET :o) But I do have 4 kids, and the rules that I have for my kids are that if they aren't putting in their full effort at their school work (I homeschool), then they do NOTHING. No TV, staying up late, sports, computer, music, friends, pool, etc. NOTHING!
All of that stuff is earned by getting good grades, following the rules, and being respectful.
If I were you I'd try really hard to nip it in the bud right now because the older he gets the harder it's going to be.
If you think he's depressed or out of sorts then I'd get him evaluated. They have tons of resources out there. They can even do a neuropsychological evaluation on him and see exactly what is going on - if anything.
I come from a big extended family and I've seen too many of my cousins go down a road of trouble because they are allowed to run the show and aren't required to perform up to par in order to get things. I'm not saying that's you, but things like this can really get out of control if you done get ahold of it.
Best Wishes,

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