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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.

  • 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
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    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
  • I was totally type 1 as a kid, coupled with the being ADD and intellegent so I never felt the need to do it and was easily distracted from doing it. My father fought for all my youth without any luck to get me to do the homework, for me to suddenly transition to doing it surprisingly consistently when I got into upper high school and finally reached a point where I needed to do my homework to learn the material. My poor dad spent allot of effort failing to fix something that would ultimately remedy itself. – dsollen Jun 12 '17 at 20:32
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Are your twins on an IEP or 504? (More detailed educational tracking/special accommodations provided for kids with special learning profiles).

Should they be?

My daughter started exhibiting this behavior in middle-school (6th grade); it wasn't a blocking issue till she hit high-school -- at which point it became a MAJOR issue -- she crashed-and-burned her freshman-year.

In retrospect, my advice to any parent whose kid is consistently refusing to do homework, is to treat it as a red flag and immediately engage your school's psychologist, special education consultant -- homework-refusal may be happening because your kid is experiencing (and signalling) "this isn't working for me; I am trying and consistently failing; this hurts too much" in which case he/she may need special accommodations (doesn't mean they are dumb or handicapped; it just means they learn differently, and schools in the US are required to teach differently to kids who learn differently). Be prepared to engage for the long-haul, if you decide your kid needs help -- SPED is a major expense for schools, and they push back. This is a really big topic, so I can't go into it here.

BTW, I encourage parents to demand that teachers give nightly homework during middle-school, and insist on the kids being able to do it more-or-less by themselves by end of 7th-grade. This is the most efficient way to flush this problem out of the wood-work and get the school-system to own the problem.

I'm going to throw out some buzz-words, which are highly correlated with needing an IEP -- if any of them have been attributed to your twins, then almost certainly what you are experiencing is definitely NOT a behavioral issue, but rather a physiological/psychological issue which means you need to get help for the kids, not discipline them: ADHD, impaired working-memory, executive-function issues, social-anxiety-disorder, depressed, chronic anxiety, fetal alcohol syndrome, fetal alcohol spectrum [different from FAS]. (And for middle-school-girls in particular, poor-self-esteem.) There are a gazillion other possibilities, but these are ones which I know are correlated with home-work refusal.

  • I think Pooh talks about some good stuff. Seems unfair to be downvoted. My son is ADHD and is on an IEP. The key I think is IEPs really force the parent to openly communicate with teachers and support at the school. As a united team the group of teachers and parents can really get homework issues under control. My son is now on point with homework. Of course, you don't need an IEP to get with the teachers and tackle the problem head on. But it's certainly an option and with any problem you should be open to all solutions available to you. – user2694864 Apr 23 '17 at 1:58
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I went through this phase for a few months in high school. I think it was a combination of my parents getting divorced and general defiance. A few of my teachers noticed and inquired my friends as to what was going on and they told my teacher that my parents were getting divorced. My teacher called me, and told my gently that she noticed that was was not doing anything at school, and my parents getting divorced should not be a reason it, and she'd like to see me back on track. It was like a switch has been flipped. I went back to being a high performing kid.

Sometimes its just someone (other than immediate family) take concern.

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