My 12 year old has been blowing off homework, and now is writing on his clothes!

He plays hockey, which he loves. I stopped letting him play for his teams when his report card came back with bad grades due to his lack of homework.

I told him that if he improved his grades and did his homework by his next progress report (2 weeks) he could play again. He has improved his homework effort but has not done all of it, even knowing that he will not be allowed to play. He pulled up most of his grades, so I allowed him to play again just this week, and then found out he has 10 zero's in math for homework (that was not on the progress report).

On top of that, last night I looked at the sleeve of his $55 Under Armour Sweatshirt and saw that he drew on almost the whole thing with a sharpie marker.

Am I losing my mind or is he regressing to a toddler? Nothing works as a punishment for this kid. He has lost Xbox, his TV, his phone, hockey etc. Nothing phases him. He cares for a moment then seems to have the whatever attitude. Not sure what to do.

  • Hi Deb, and welcome to the site! I've made some minor edits to your post, but feel free to change it further if you like. I removed "lying" from the title because you didn't discuss it in your question.
    – user420
    Dec 19, 2012 at 16:50
  • I agree that talking with him about what's going on is key. Also, as Beofett said, keep consistent and concrete. But, make sure he's getting enough exercise.
    – 5un5
    Dec 20, 2012 at 17:43
  • Ha! I'm sure I was the same at that age. Being rebellious, not caring about homework, expressing yourself -- it's all par for the rocky course known as the teenage years. You spend a lot of your teenage years having inane conversations with friends (although they're fascinating to you) because your brain is learning how to be social. But at the same time your brain is also growing new connections, which leads to what may seem as irrational behaviour. It's a tricky balance, I'm sure, wanting the best for your son and to be supportive at the same time. Good luck! Dec 22, 2012 at 11:13
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    I'd say let him rebel in every way you can, and stand firm on what matters. The shirt? e wrote on it, he has to wear it. Don't stress, but don't replace it. Orange hair or a mohawk? It'll grow back. Finishing school work? Take a stand there. Take a stand against anything illegal or dangerous. Give him as big a yard to play in as you can while keeping him safe.
    – Marc
    Nov 6, 2014 at 4:00

4 Answers 4


This sounds like fairly common behavior for a boy that age.

In fact, it sounds an awful lot like me at around 13-14.

It may just be that he is testing boundaries, or it may be that he genuinely has an issue with doing his homework.

The first step I'd suggest is finding out why he hasn't been doing his homework. Is he bored? Is it too tough? Does he feel he doesn't have enough time to do it? Or does he just "not feel like it"?

Try to work to alleviate his reasons.

If it is too tough, talk about what options he has (tutoring, talking with the teacher, switching class tracks if necessary/possible, etc.).

If he doesn't have time, work with him to create a schedule for his week. This will help identify what activities may be taking up too much of his time, and help teach him some valuable time management skills.

If he's bored, you can look at ways at supplementing the assignments, either by working with the teacher, establishing your own criteria (i.e. add a research paper on some aspect of the topic that your son finds interesting), or looking for outside resources. This answer from another question provides some good advice.

However, finding out why he isn't doing the homework is only the first step.

You should absolutely keep up with the restrictions you've already put in place (loss of hockey privileges, other recreation, etc.) until he shows an appropriate level of improvement.

It sounds like he's shown some improvement, and you shouldn't underestimate that. You don't indicate whether the 10 zeros in math were from before or after you reinstated hockey privileges, but if they were from before, I'd consider letting him play unless he misses more assignments after he starts back up. It would be a bit harsh and discouraging to earn back his privileges by putting effort into doing better (which it sounds like he has), only to lose it because of old mistakes catching up to him.

Most importantly, I suggest setting concrete guidelines for what is required from him in order to regain each privilege he lost. Its too vague to say something like "when your grades get better", or even "when you stop missing your assignments".

Be very concrete. Set rules such as "if you complete 100% of your assignments for all classes for the next two weeks, you can start playing hockey again. After that, if you miss more than one assignment in a week for any given class, you'll lose it again."

If there are certain classes he's struggling with, you may set goals/rules that account for that. Perhaps he gets some leniency in the classes he's doing well in, provided he puts extra effort into the classes he's having a hard time with.

You also want to make sure you communicate clearly and frequently with him. Be proactive. Ask what his assignments are. Talk to him about what times he plans on working on his assignment, and respect those times (perhaps bring him a snack while he's working to show support).

As for drawing on his clothes, well... I wouldn't read too much into it. I remember that lots of kids in my school drew on their clothes, myself included. All I suggest doing is be very strict in that you won't buy him new clothes just because he decided that he didn't like how the drawings turned out. Being short on clothes, or forced to wear something that has been "decorated" in a way that he no longer likes, will drive home that lesson pretty quickly. Of course, if he legitimately outgrows the clothes, then they can be replaced as normal.

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    +1 for the setting concrete rules. A study I read recently indicated that kids who were given concrete, attainable guidelines for improving their grades actually were able to improve their grades, whereas kids who were simply told "Improve your grades" often didn't know how to improve their grades on their own. Giving them concrete goals--ie. "Turn in all of your homework for the next two weeks"--is much more do-able for a 12-year-old than an abstract command like, "Bring up your grades".
    – Meg Coates
    Dec 20, 2012 at 0:18
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    Plus, if a student has never previously been in "grade trouble" he/she might not know how to bring his/her grades up because they've never had that type of experience before. It may just be that he made some bad decisions, got a little in over his head, and doesn't know how to get himself out now.
    – Meg Coates
    Dec 20, 2012 at 0:20
  • I always imagine what it would be like if you took 30 random adults and forced them to spend several years in a class room, learning about things they don't care about. I'm sure the reaction to homework would be similar :) Dec 22, 2012 at 11:15
  • I absolutely abhor taking the thing he enjoys, balling it up and threatening to throw it at him. Since there's more than one way to skin a cat, choose one that doesn't turn his passion into an offensive weapon. (yes I posted my own answer)
    – monsto
    Oct 4, 2013 at 5:47
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    @DjangoReinhardt - It's called work and the sentence is 20-to-life ;)
    – Robotnik
    Jan 28, 2015 at 9:30

I disagree with removing hockey. Why? I remember being in the exact same situation and how it affected me as a person.

When I was that age, I had one thing: music. It was my passion. At 13 I was writing Manilow-like music (it was 1978) on our horrible piano and I was playing trumpet and french horn at school.

Meantime, my grades in Civics, Math, etc, suffered. The next thing I know, the piano is locked down and I'm being held out of orchestra at the local stock theater "until your grades come up."

The result was not motivation, it was hate. I'm 48 years old now and you see how I describe it. Lasting impression? A little. As a 13 yr old, all I saw was my parents using that thing I love against me for. . . whatever. So what if it was for my own good. It doesn't change the fact that it pissed me off and irrevocably changed my relationship with my parents. That's what they call 'collateral damage'. And baggage. It's like luggage cuz they carry it around forever.

Of course that is not what they intended, but it's how a 13yo can see it in their closed off 13 yr old world and it's the lasting impression when parents forget having been 13. It's a mixed up world with everything changing and societal norms going against biological evolution. Did you know that no other mammal enforces a familial relationship with offspring beyond their ability to reproduce? So not only does family seem "different", but friends are different, school is different, the world is smaller and everyone's expectations are different. The 13 yo expects to be able to make their own decisions, thanks to biology, but parents still want to tell them to "take a shower", thanks to the nuclear family.

Today, as a parent of 5, I understand what my parents goal was when telling me I couldn't be musical, but I absolutely disagree with the method.

My idea? Instead of negative reinforcement, try positive reinforcement. Instead of the police state "No. Not until X", I'm suggesting that you come at it from the other side. Good grades? New stick. Or gloves. Or whatever. If you're like me, you can see their grades online. With an immediate term gain, go back to hockey AND do something different/special.

"You know why we went out to dinner after hockey practice? Your grades. Nice job and keep it up. There's more where this came from, if there's more where that came from."

It is respecting that thing they love and allowing them to get closer to it. It's similar to what I'm doing now with my 12 yo and have had a modicum of success. I'll even bet that I've had no more success than you, but I can guarantee that my daughter isn't pissed off about it.

Last thing: It's easy to say "Yeah? They just need to get over it. this is the way it's gonna be." Those words can fall out of a parents mouth easier than the corner of a chip (crisp for you euros). Don't forget how it felt when your parents said that to you.

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    This is a fantastic approach, it's obvious how this would be motivating. How can this asker achieve that first "victory" that triggers an after-practice dinner? Is there a way to jumpstart your method? Oct 4, 2013 at 6:19
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    I really like the second half of your answer, but my experience of having the things I loved withheld until I did the other things had an opposite effect on me as that you describe. It motivated me to prove I could get them back, and I did. I really appreciated that from my parents - although at the time I was a bit stroppy because I was a teenager :-)
    – Rory Alsop
    Oct 4, 2013 at 9:18
  • @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun Since it all starts with talking, rather than talking downwards, I talk upwards. Then, the slightest appearance of traction gets some kind of attaboy with an explanation. It doesn't always have to be commerce either.
    – monsto
    Oct 5, 2013 at 14:07

I might want to add: Have you sat down down in calm way. How is school?

Get to know him. He might shrug you off right now but I remember my parents never talking to me and can be strict which made us rebel more. Taking hockey away I understand but that is the only place that may help to cool off and help with stress.

Maybe you might want to art project with him on his shirts. I think he's expressing himself though bored. My daughter has ADHD. Maybe he has problem and maybe you over looked. You are doing great as parent but sometimes we don't listen and we just get angry and lash out instead of listening. I've been having one on one with my kids for over a year now and one my boys would never tell me how he feels unless we are alone.

My kids lie a lot but they are changing because I set rules and what will happen. Someone once asked about how i parent my kids too when it came to every little think. I was punishing for tiny things that shouldn't matter as much as encouraging my kids to be the best they can be.

I've been learning through my teen that I need to say more positive things instead always saying. why can you this? why didn't she follow through on washing her clothes. I learned we adults want them to be doing it now when they will learn but not at our pace. I know when my boys reach to teen it won't be easy with their disabilities. When was young I tried to run away as teen several times. Punishing wasn't the answer. I wish my parents asked me why? I wish they put their arms around me when I was calm.

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    I've edited your post to remove all the typos and tried to format it to be more readable, but perhaps you could improve it further by distilling it down to the essential answer to the question? Oct 4, 2013 at 6:27

If you want to show a child that something like homework is important, then you need to show them it's important and not tell them.

I would set aside time with him specifically for working on homework, and help him with it.

The best learning most often happens at home. In this case, you're not only helping him learn his school material, but you're teaching him that the things that are important for him are important to you.

I really believe he needs help, outside of school, from either you, the other parent, or some sort of tutor. If he really enjoys hockey, but even that's not enough of a motivator for him, then he may be blowing off homework because he feels something like, "I'm never going to get it anyway", and gives up from hopelessness. He needs assistance in learning how to overcome this obstacle, learning that difficulties like this can be overcome, and that being a hard worker is the most valuable trait he can have.

When you feel hopeless about something, punishments won't have any other affect than increasing that hopelessness. As the pressure to perform continues to build with each new punishment, the ability to perceive a way through continues to degrade.

If your son isn't finding the assignments difficult, but rather too easy (and thus a waste of time), then time should still be set aside to work with him. This could easily become a time to praise him for his work (and also reward him.)

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