We have had similar struggles - though perhaps with less girly drama - with my 12-y-o step-son, who's in 7th grade this year. Here are some thoughts that spring to mind, based on our experience:
1- His teachers told us several times that 6th grade is a hard year for most kids, because they're transitioning to harder work, more work, higher expectations of managing their own time and assignments...at the same time that there are huge social changes amongst their peers, they may be starting puberty, and perhaps they're at a new school. (Here, elementary ends at 5th grade and 6th-8th are in a separate school.) Indeed, our kid is doing better and working more independently this year. Don't lose hope!
2- Make sure the expectations are appropriate. Is she bored? Or are her classes too hard for her?
Conventional wisdom says, if a kid's smarter than average, they ought to get good grades easily. But I am convinced what happened with my step-son is that he latched onto things pretty easily and came to feel that "hard worker" and "good student" were simply innate parts of his being - regardless whether he actually ever worked hard at anything. After all, it didn't take him much effort to learn things and complete assignments that other kids struggled with, and - for a while - adults were always praising his work habits and diligence, even telling him he was a "genius"! But starting in 2nd or 3rd grade, work loads became increasingly harder and getting your work done and getting decent grades became more a matter of your actual work habits and less a matter of innate intelligence. Some kids no one had ever called "genius" had been forced to learn in kindergarten how to work to master new concepts, and how to apply themselves to complete tough assignments. I think it was something of an ego-blow to DSS, to see these kids doing better than he did, in school. He seemed to have no idea in the world how to approach things that weren't easy for him. In fact, he seemed to feel it was unfair that anyone would expect that of him. He was a "genius"! He was "amazingly hard-working" and "responsible" and "paid such amazing attention to detail"! (At least, that has been the constant message from his mother, who I'm sure means well.) Well, how dare people fail to recognize and respect those things about him, and instead expect him to prove them!?
By the same token, it was a big loss for him not to have a lot of free time while other kids were working. He was accustomed to the idea that, if his teacher gave the class time to work on an assignment, he could spend a good deal of that time doodling, or reading something for pleasure, or surfing the web (if they were in the computer lab) - and that he could still get the work done; or that if he goofed off after school, he could breeze through all his homework in the last 1/2-hour before bed and do just fine. When it became evident that that level of effort was no longer sufficient, he mourned that goof-off time, to which he felt very entitled.
For a while he did what it sounds like your daughter is doing...he put his considerable energy, effort and creativity into looking for ways AROUND working hard in school. And, as you know, it was SO FRUSTRATING as a parent, to wish he'd just put the same effort into DOING his freaking assignments that he put into trying to GET AROUND doing them!
If it sounds like your daughter's issues are similar to my kid's, then I'd say you just have to keep banging your head against the wall and repeating that you expect her to do as well as she, personally, is able - and she's not. Remind her of things she dreams of doing in the future and that ALL of them will involve hard work, dedication and time-management. She will not suddenly develop that, in college. Now is the time to learn the basic work habits and time-management skills she'll need, the rest of her life. And you're not nagging to make her miserable, but because of how much you love her and want her to have the opportunities to do whatever her heart desires, when she's older.
Of course, if she has the opposite problem - if things are too hard - I think the path to fixing that might be more obvious.
3- I think you have to get more involved with kids' time-management in 6th grade than what seems logical. My parents did not check my assignments every night when I was that age, nor did my husband's. But having put 3 kids through 6th grade, now, I can assure you that is what teachers and administrators are expecting of you, even if they're too timid to say it. If there's an online, or voicemail, "Homework Hotline", where you can double-check what her homework assignments are, check it every night. At the very least, she should have an assignment notebook. If they don't already, get her teachers to initial it every day, so you know that what she wrote down is accurate. Make her show you each assignment after she completes it. If she B.S.'d her way through it, make her do it over again. At least once a week, go through her binder with her and help her weed out graded or outdated papers and put all the things that are in the wrong place, loose in her backpack, or tucked into her textbooks, where they belong. If her locker's the problem, make a regular date to stand there with her, after school, while she cleans it out. When she has long-term projects, sit down with her at the beginning and make her come up with a plan for what portion of the work she's going to do, each day, until it's due, so it doesn't get pushed to the last minute. Then check what she has completed, every day.
All of what I just said is maddeningly time-consuming. I have compared notes with other parents and many feel as I do: it's unexpected, but kids almost seem to need more of your time during middle school than they did, during preschool. I truly believe the investment of time is worth it. I was so often frustrated and exhausted to the point of tears, when DSS was in 6th grade. But it DID appear to make a difference. He simply did not have the skills or the personal discipline to teach himself how to get organized and manage his time. Teaching him has been worse than potty-training. But he has learned and is more independent - and I wouldn't want to have left him to figure this out for himself, in adulthood, after spending high school and college limping along like he did, when left to his own devices.
If your daughter balks at all the oversight or whines that you "don't trust her", assure her you'll back off just as soon as she becomes more responsible. When you visit her locker, or go through her binder, and they're usually pretty organized...when you double-check her assignments and consistently find that she's writing them all down in her agenda...when she goes a month or two with no missing assignments, you'll be happy to quit spending all your free time double-checking what she's doing. (But still do it every once in a while, to head off relapses.)
But secretly, if you and your DH are both very busy and a lot of your time at home is spent catching up on adult things, all of her whining and trying to get you to do things for her may really be her need for more of your attention. Sometimes I find DSS focuses more if someone is just sitting at the same table with him (even if you're doing something else). Or, last year, if his essays or reports were crummy (way below his ability level), he could usually produce something much better if I sat down with him and offered to let him do dictation. He puts his thoughts together by himself, but I type. Basically, your daughter may whine if you clamp down on her homework, but secretly, she may want you to. She may want guidance in developing her study skills, and she may just want your time.
4- I would draw the line at her putting off homework 'til recess. Homework is homework. Study hall, homeroom, finishing something on the bus or at recess should all be solutions of absolute last resort, for those rare days when you have so much homework, plus a doctor's appt., plus sports practice, that you can't possibly finish everything unless you stay up 'til midnight. That should not be allowed to be the norm.
5- Keep looking for the consequence that will actually motivate her. But be careful about letting it be weekend outings. Social life is very distracting at this age. She may actually be avoiding it, by telling people she can't join them on the weekends because she's grounded for grades. Don't let her. If her friendships are changing, she may need your support in being brave enough to get out there and change with them. Make new friends. Pursue new interests. Feel good about herself even if some people don't seem to like her. Don't hide at home. If she feels secure about her friendships and the time she gets to spend with friends, she may have a better attitude about homework. But withholding computer or TV time, use of her own cell phone, video games, etc. - do that as much as you want! (Well, except there should be some things you do together as a family that don't get taken away. Watching a favorite show together every week. Going to the movies together. She really needs that.) Plus, 12-y-o's can be rather dramatic and self-pitying. You don't want her to tell herself she's never going to be able to pull herself out of this hole of being grounded, so she may as well just accept never getting to go anywhere and comfort herself with the thought of how unfairly mistreated she is, instead of striving to do better.
6- Try giving rewards/consequences that are more immediate. The end of the grading period may seem like a really long time, to a 12-year-old, while it seems like the blink of an eye, to us. "I bought your favorite dessert. We'll all have some together, but only if you finish your homework before dinner." (Of course, 1st check what her homework is and make sure you're giving her a reasonable amount of time. And if she does seem to be working pretty diligently, give her grace if she needs another 1/2-hr. after dinner.) Or, "Start your homework as soon as you get home from school. The more focused you are, the more free time you'll have at the end. And I love you - I really want to see you give yourself some time to relax."
Edited by VocalMinority - 10/8/11 at 6:45am