Need advice with 12 year old son that is close to failing school.

My 12 year old son is barely passing 7th grade. He got his report card yesterday and yet again he got D’s in all his major subjects that require any significant homework (ie. math, history, science and english). I am divorced and he is with me approximately 25-30% of the time for one week a month and every other weekend.

Overall he is a sweet natured kid and he is not a behavioral problem, but he is easily distracted and not particularly inclined to start his homework. My ex- is in large appliance department store retail sales and typically works until 7PM + at night during the weekday as a retail salesperson, and when she gets home at 7:30 -8PM does more or less nothing to make sure he has done his homework. Mainly this is because she is tired and even if she was not, she hates the confrontation of getting him to sit down and start his work so she avoids the situation. From the time he gets home around 3:30 PM at his mothers until 8 PM when she comes home, he plays outside and watches TV or plays with the Playstation. The homework is normally not even considered until she gets home, and then he wants to eat dinner, and then he gets tired and then he goes to bed with no homework having been completed.

I have sat down with this teachers and the chorus is unamimous that he is usually missing large chunks of homework and that if only turned his homework in he would have B’s instead of D’s. The only reason he is not failing completely is that I check and make sure he does his work when he is with me. He knows I will not stand for any delay tactics or other BS when he is with me and seems almost eager to get it out of the way, but whatever dynamic he has developed with his mother and his schedule at her house makes it difficult when he is with her. I am also paying for and taking him to a tutor twice a week to help him with his math homework.
A few dilemmas.

As pissed as I am at the situation I really don’t want to get in a nuclear war with my ex as we have finally established reasonably friendly relations in the last year or so.

It’s ultimately his responsibility. At 12 years old he really should be starting his own homework.

I really have no clue what to do. My normal MO of ranting and raving about how this crap is really going to hurt him gets sad and sullen looks from him, but has done nothing to get him motivated to solve the problem.

Any suggestions appreciated.

Paddle his fanny.

Unambigious standards, automatic consequences and an utterly clear message that you will not tolerate certain things are absolutely essential in disciplining a child.
I have spoken. Selah.

How’s he doing on his tests? The reason I ask is that if he is nailing his tests, then his homework, from his POV, may be considered a waste of his time.

I have never understood teachers that place so much emphasis on homework even if a student is nailing his tests, and I’m a teacher.

4 1/2 hours every day is too much time for a 12 year old to spend by himself. He needs some structure in the afternoons. Can he spend the afternoons/early evenings with you. Is there an after school program? Sports? Sports may be particularly helpful because they would require him to keep his grades up.

What are his reasons for not doing his homework?

He is reasonably intelligent child, but it’s not that the work is so easy he gets bored. He is typically getting C+'s and B’s on his tests except for math where he is truggling with comprehension issues which is why I got him the tutor. The main problem he has is reading instructions carefully before proceeding, writing down assignments, and paying attention in class.

Ranting and raving won’t motivate a 12 year old. Nor will it get you very far with your ex I’m sure.

12 year old kids usually need supervision to complete all their homework properly. Especially when they haven’t established good study skills already.

Seems like your son knows when he’s at home that he doesn’t have to do his homework and that is not going to change unless something changes at home.

You and your ex need to be a united front about the homework issue. You may want to also broach a different solution to the after school situation as obviously since he comes home and shirks his homework he probably should not be spending those 4+ hours alone after school every day.

Frankly if your ex is willing to completely sacrifice your son’s education because she’s tired and doesn’t want to deal with him. You have larger issues here and she probably should not be the custodial parent.

However heartless this sounds;

Take him down to skid row and point out the wastrels to him quite carefully. Let him see the (low) quality of their lives.

Take him to a homeless shelter. Talk with one of the counselors and ask if there is an attendee who would be willing to talk to your kid about how important continuing edumacation is.

End up the day at a (carefully pre-scouted) fast food place where there are seniors still flipping burgers.

On another day, take your kid to work or a friend’s work place (if permitted) and have him talk to some business professionals about how education was critical to their success.

Talk to your local branch of SCORE (Senior Corps Of Retired executives) and see if they will make an exception about talking to your son. They usually give business advice, but I’ll willingly bet dollars to doughnut holes they’ll take the time to steer your son straight.


astro- my son is like this at times. he does well on tests, but almost never does his homework unless we sit on him to do it. We’ve given that tactic up- he knows what the consequences of bringing home bad grades is, and so long as we are aware that he is actually learning the material, we let him choose. he’s shaped up pretty well, especially when things like access to friends and video games are at stake.

we have a pretty good situation at home (read:stable), though -he’s with us except for every other weekend, when he goes to his dad’s(he’s my stepson). his dad is pretty lax about punishments, schoolwork, etc. so we do what we can at home. it works pretty well, though he is an asshat half of the time anyway. we love him despite that. I can see where you’ve got problems, astro…it sounds like there is not a lot of reinforcement of anything going on for the boy. that can be rough and frustrating.

as for the homework question…i grew up doing homework. i know that there has been a shift away from it in recent years, but unless the teacher is totally insane, i back up any assignments that get sent home (even if i don’t agree, we do that night’s assignment and i take it up with the teacher later). oftentimes, it’s not the material that is at issue- it’s the reinforcement of a work ethic.

it’s like saying that you should give your best at every practice, not just at games. if you don’t do well in practice, you may never get to play in the game.

i hope that makes sense. i’m horrible with sports analogies.

It seems to me he should be severely punished for getting a bad report card. Nagging at him on a daily basis doesn’t really solve the problem, since as you point out, you can’t always nag him if he’s at your ex’s.

Rather, punish him severely for the RESULTS. Why does he still have Nintendo and TV privileges? Explain he will be punished even more severely if the next report card is not up to the standards you expect. Make the punishment last a long time, and even when it’s over, remind him - oh, maybe once a week - that his next report card had best be improved.

I appreciate fatmac98’s point and there’s some validity to it, but a smart kid getting D’s is totally unacceptable no matter what you think about homework. He should do his homework because it’s his job.

I have no experience as a parent of a 12 year old, but when I was 12, I began to lose interest in school. Never to the point of failing, but never striving to get As, either.

Looking back, I wish my parents would’ve let me know that people who don’t work hard in school generally don’t amount to squat. They could’ve taken me to some shoestring factory or something…shown me what a shit job is like, then remind me that I’d be doing it for 40-50 years. Let me know that having a job you don’t like is similar to a prison sentence.

I ended up doing OK, but I could’ve done much better, sooner if my parents had forcibly pulled my head out of my bung and told me what the adult working world was really like.

when my little cousin was failing school, her mom said nothing to her, as she was 12, she should be repsonsible for her own homework, when report cards came out she had all d’s one c, and an f. Her mom grounded her, from everything. No tv, no phone, no friends, no family, no computer, no nothing. Until the next report card. Next report card, she had a’s and b’s.

IMO, punishing him isn’t the way to go at this stage. Right now, he needs motivation and someone showing interest in him rather than punishing him for not meeting expectations.

What is your schedule like? Is there any reason you can’t pick him up when you get off work? If your ex isn’t home 'til 8p, perhaps you could pick him up, grab a quick bite, then go to the library or someplace and help him with his homework. You could probably still get him home by the time your ex gets home so she doesn’t feel like her time is being trampled on. It’d likely be beneficial for both of you to spend more time together, and I’m sure it’d mean a lot to him that his dad takes time out of his evenings to be with him.

Oh, dear, I feel sorry for the kid . . . Seventh and eighth grade were my worst years; I barely managed to keep up passing grades, too. I couldn;t get motivated—nothing could make me want to study or do homework, and the farther back I fell, the less I could understand.

I think the thing that finally helped me was finding interests I liked: films, theater, history (not the kind they taught in school, of course!) and friends with similar interests. Made it worthwhile to get out of bed, and I knew that when I finished my goddam homework, I could work on stuff I really liked.

Also, I Grew Up. Good luck, and tell the kid he’s got my sympathy, I know just where he’s coming from . . . And I grew up to become a World Famous Writer-person!


Our son would gladly get D’s and F’s if we let him. He knows in no uncertain terms that if they show up on his report card, he’ll lose all computer, TV and video game privileges until he gets the grades back up.

He also understands that this means “until the next report card comes out in three months”, so he’s keeping his grades up.

Unfortunately for your situation, I’m assuming your ex-wife has control (or total lack thereof) over the Playstation & tv.

Could you get one of his friends from school to come home with him a couple times a week to work on homework? Say if they get all their stuff done, they can play videogames for an hour or two?

Idle time is the worst thing for a kid like this. Maybe an after-school babysitter? If he’s embarrassed, tell him he can get rid of the sitter when his grades come up.

Also, how about calling your ex every night to get a homework report? That way, you’ll be putting up a united front with her and you’ll know what’s going on every night.

Also, I’d take away Nintendo completely, and television until all the homework is done. Good luck!

Bosda take my word for it that I am already a fairly terrifing person when pissed and I have to moderate my rage. I angrily spanked him once barehand to bare bottom when he was 6 for endangering other child at the playground by pushing a smaller child off an elevated platform, and this left red welts on his rear end. I determined at that time that I would never physically strike my children ever again and except the few times I have had to wade in and break up fights between he and his 16 year old sister, I have kept that vow.

It’s not that corporal punishment doesn’t have it’s place, but I am a large and strong man with a fierce temper when aggravated, and physical punishment of my kids is a slipperly slope it is best for me not to step on as I wish neither to injure or terrorize them. Also, based on my life experience with corporal punishment as a child, physical punishment often becomes counter-productive and dangerous if the wielder of this punishment cannot control themselves. I have a belt scar on my rear end to remind me of this.

I think this may be where to start.

Can he go to a friend’s house after school 2x a week? You could enlist the friend’s parent or the friend himself to enforce the rule that they only play or watch tv or call girls (or take the $5 you’ve left them for ice cream) after homework is done.

Lacking a compliant friend, could you require him to be at the library for the first 2 hours after school 2x a week doing homework, away from the distractions of home?

Could you get a neighbor or older student in the neighborhood to check in with him for a couple of bucks?

When does he go for tutoring? Could that be scheduled for the after school hours? Many schools have older students on tutoring lists/staffing drop in home-work centers after school.

Can you call him every day to be sure he is at home (son, I know you want to go outside right away, but I want to make sure you’ve gotten home and are safe before you take off–if you aren’t there to answer, I won’t feel secure) and to ask about the homework–being very specific about it? My kids’ school posts their homework assignments every day online, so I will sometimes check and call up to quiz them about their progress on a specific assignment.

(I do agree that a 12-yr old should be developing the self-discipline to do it for himself. I also believe in carrot and stick, but I assume you’ve tried this too.)

I do have experience with this. A LOT of experience with this. Both my kids at this age would do ANYTHING to avoid doing homework. I tried about everything I could think of:

– Asking teachers to make sure they wrote down their assignments daily. Usually only lasted a few days since the teachers simply didn’t have time – or the assignment list wouldn’t make it home in any case.

– Querying every day about assignments, and asking teachers to call me or send me a note when major assignments were missing. Didn’t help because, again, teachers were too busy. (When they have 5-6 classes of 30-40 kids each, individual attention is usually beyond their abilities, and I don’t blame them.)

– Sitting over them and making them do the work. Often didn’t work because I would learn days or weeks later (often by physically searching their backpacks) that the assignments had never been turned in! :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek:

– Rewarding good work and assignments well done. Didn’t work.

– Punishing for bad grades or assignments not done. Didn’t work.

– Conferences with teachers. Lots of conferences. Didn’t work. The kids would rotate around which classes they were doing badly in each grading period so that it was always a different teacher I was dealing with.

Problem was, both kids were able to do well enough on tests that they could pull out passing grades at the last moment by doing well on the tests. My son in particular was an expert at this; we’d get a warning he was going to fail a class (or three or four), then he’d get an A on the final exam and end up with a B in the class.

Interestingly, when they had a really good teacher with material they found fun and interesting, homework was NOT a problem. My son got straight As in Japanese for three years in high school, when even classes he could do blindfolded (like web design) were so boring that he couldn’t be bothered to make the grades.

Ultimately, the ONLY thing that worked was self-motivation. And that only arrived through maturity.

My daughter, upon going to college, discovered what an idiot she’d been in high school and works very hard for good grades today. (There are few more frustrating words for a parent to hear than, “Why didn’t you TELL me how stupid I was being?” after years and years of doing JUST THAT VERY THING!!)

My son, his senior year in high school, discovered a college program he really, REALLY wanted to get into, and pulled good enough grades out of his lazy behind to get accepted. Of course, once he got into the program this year, he discovered that all those years of bad study habits came back to bite him, and he flunked out of it after one semester! Fortunately, he’s doing fine in the regular college program instead of the honors program, but he’s learned his lesson the hard way. And even admits it. :smiley: :smiley: :smiley: :smiley: :smiley:

For your situation, I suggest a conference with the ex, encourage her to support his homework habits; and if that doesn’t work, find another support system for him during the time when he’s with her – an after-school program or some such where he’ll have some supervision. It sounds like supervision might help in your situation. At least to get enough of the work done to keep the grades at the passing level.

But ultimately, I had to point out to both of my kids that they weren’t hurting ME, they were hurting THEMSELVES in the long run, and that after a certain point I simply wasn’t going to make myself crazy over this issue. Unfortunately, 7th grade is too young for that; I think it was about 10th grade where I basically told each of my kids, “Okay, I’ve been trying for years to get you to do your work. You know the consequences of failure. If you WANT help, ASK for it. If you don’t, I won’t offer it – and I won’t be responsible or blame myself for your bad grades.”

If it’s any consolation, I know a lot of other intelligent, well-educated people with intelligent kids who are going through the same problem. It’s the homework issue every time. And there’s simply no easy solution. But hopefully knowing that you’re not the only one who’s had to deal with this will help – because it’s much more a product of your son’s age than of any other factor I can think of!

He sounds a LOT like my younger sister was at that age. She got A’s in subjects where she actually enjoyed, and therefore did, the homework, and C’s and D’s in everything else. It sounds like she was somewhat more unruly, though; she would just ignore any punishment my mom imposed on her, and most of the time, Mom was powerless to do anything about it for similar reasons as your ex (long hours, tired, hating conflict, etc.)

Things looked up for my sister when she spent a semester living with my dad and stepmother. I can’t stand my stepmother, but she is quite a bulldog (she’s a litigator), and made it her personal mission that my sister should have at least a B average by ensuring that she did her homework and didn’t have so much unstructured time. It worked, but I’m not sure how you could accomplish something similar. How does one instill an appreciation of education in a kid? It’s a tough thing. Good luck.

I was a boy just like this once in a very similar home situation (except my mother was a widow); lacking self-discipline, and a master procrastinator. I grew up to be an adult with no self-discipline, and a master procrastinator.

Virtually everyone who has posted here has emphasized punishment, and I can’t disagree with that. He’s doing this because he can. he’s too young to understand the very concept of long-term consequences, and he obviously has developed no self-discipline.

The good news is that he’s not too old to start. I agree ranting and raving will accomplish nothing, but firm consequences will. You will obviously need to find a way to enlist your ex, since she is with him more than you. Probably taking away the Playstation is a good idea. Perhaps you can keep it at your house? Then you can control how much he uses it.
I agree with tanookie that your ex does share responsibility here, whether she’s “tired” or not. Parental responsibilities don’t go away just because they’re inconvenient. There has got to be some way of enlisting her without alienating her (further) as well. Is it impossible to just talk through the problem with her and reach a realistic solution, without making her defensive?

Structure would be a GREAT idea. It’s hard for a kid to be focused when there’s nothing to focus on. Sports, or some other after-school activity, sound like a great idea.

Is it possible he could go to an after-school study hall? Or maybe a general tutor could visit your ex’s home for an hour or two several times a week while he’s alone, and make sure he gets down to work?