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We have tried grounding them, taking all their privledges away, we have tried reward systems and nothing works. They have started lying about getting the work done and turned in when they know we will see that it wasn't done. They have been grounded almost all school year and they just don't seem to care. Any suggestions?

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Is it getting done and not turned in, or is it not being done and not turned in?

I think this is a fairly normal thing for kids this age to do between the ages of 12 and 14, and if the habit isn't stopped it can turn into a real problem in high school.

To begin remedying the problem (because it's going to be a process), you need to find out why your kids have stopped doing their work. There are a lot of reasons this could have happened:

  1. Some kids are simply not extrinsically motivated. They don't care about rewards or punishments or even grades necessarily. If this is the case, then the reason they're not doing their work is because they probably don't see any value in the work they're being asked to do--especially if they already understand the material. Perhaps their current school is not the best fit for them and they need an alternative form of school (homeschooling, Montessori schooling, Waldorf, or even a good, challenging private school).
  2. They've slacked off early in the school year, got behind, and created such a hole for themselves they don't know how to dig themselves out. I've seen this happen with students before. Rather than ask for help (because even at this age they want to be viewed as adults), it is easier to just keep doing what they're doing.
  3. They see other kids at their school not doing their work who aren't receiving any kind of punishment at school so they don't see the point in doing the work themselves. I don't know where you live, but in American public schools (especially the middle schools), there is tremendous pressure put on teachers to pass kids on to the next grade, even if they are not proficient. Kids figure this out VERY quickly, and I've had more than one student come to me as freshmen in high school who stopped doing their work in middle school and were still passed on every year.
  4. There could be some societal things preventing them from getting their work done. Maybe they were/are being bullied at school and they've decided to stop doing their work to appear "cool". Maybe the group of friends they've fallen in with is somewhat questionable.

These are just a few reasons I can think of off the top of my head, there might be others or it might be a combination of things. Either way, a good heart-to-heart conversation is in order. My experience has been that teenagers and pre-teens can sniff out disingenuous people faster than a drug-sniffing dog can locate a bag of heroine. Be prepared to calmly discuss with them exactly why you're concerned about their refusal to do their work. See if you can get to the bottom of the refusal. At their age, you should not have to sit with them while they do their homework, but it might be the only option left to you. Sometimes when kids rebel like this, what they're really saying is, "I need my mom and dad's attention". Even though they're older and more self-reliant at this age, it's an incredibly difficult age--one which probably requires more parental support and guidance than we realize.

Talk to their teachers and see if they can make the work up--or even just some of the work. Commit to sitting down with them and making sure the work gets done--even if it takes all weekend. Your children will know that you think this is important. They won't like it. Resist the temptation to say, "If you'd done the work the first time it was assigned, you wouldn't have to be doing it now". Deep down, they know it and pointing it out will only build a bigger barrier between you.

If NONE of that works, you might just have to let them learn a tough lesson their own. It will be painful for all of you, but for some kids the only way they will ever learn is to fail and have to dig themselves out on their own.

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Thank-you for your input. There is a mix between some work getting done and not turned in, or not being done at all. they tell us that ALL assignments have been turned in. They do have a rough childhood background. I am their step-mom. They havent seen their mom in almost 4 years. She just left one day and never returned. Before that, she moved them through 9 schools before they were in 4th grade. We know they have some emotional issues and have been trying to find some affordable options for counseling. – Vhuber Mar 13 '13 at 22:01
Yeah, that certainly adds a whole new dimension to the situation! Crossing my fingers you'll be able to find a way to get them some help. Having your mom just up and walk out on you is definitely going to leave you with some emotional baggage. – Meg Coates Mar 14 '13 at 3:41

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