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My teenager won’t go to school

QUESTION: My teenager won’t go to school. How do I get him/her to go?

RESPONSE: Teens who resist going to school do so for a variety of reasons. Each reason requires a different response. The problem for parents is that their kids will rarely tell them why they don’t want them to go.

The first step is always to try and discern what lies behind the resistance. This can take some time, especially when the parent is so frustrated and upset, and the teen so stubborn, that any conversation becomes a shouting match.

Don’t have the discussion in the midst of trying to convince the teen to go to school. On school mornings everyone is tense; it is hard to be calm. Plus, there is a battle ground so both parties want to win. The teen wants to stay home; the parent wants the teen to go to school.

Instead make a time to discuss the issue, perhaps after dinner or perhaps even in a neutral venue like a restaurant. While the teen is unlikely to acknowledge that he or she must go to school, an even partly reasonable teenager will accept that the issue must be discussed. This is particularly true if the parents give the impression they will listen to the arguments even if they don’t agree with them.

In the discussion give the teen time to say what it is about school that is bothering him or her. The initial responses are likely to be trivial or monosyllabic (“it sucks”, “it’s boring”) but with persistent gentle questioning the truth will usually come out.

The 3 major reasons teens avoid school (and potential solutions) are:

1) Social networks

Your daughter, or son, may be struggling to find friends, or may be experiencing bullying verbally, electronically or physically. Whatever the cause if your child feels un-liked or unacceptable then school, where that message is reinforced every day, is the last place he or she wants to be.

This child needs parental support to develop strategies to stop the bullying and to build a network of friends to provide a buffer against the cruelty of other students.

Never take bullying lightly, the era of ‘names will never hurt me’ is long gone because modern means of bullying have become so invasive and social acceptance has become such a huge part of our society. In previous generations bullying messed with one’s popularity, today it can crush a kid’s sense of value.

2) Not coping with the work

Some teens cannot face school because it seems that in every lesson confronts them with their inability to learn. Pride will frequently prevent these kids from admitting the academic struggle they face, instead they simply take every opportunity to not experience it.

Talk to your child’s teachers, the school possibly has support programs in place. If you can afford it seek tutoring to help your child overcome the ‘hump’ that is blocking his or her progress. If he or she will let you, work on your teen’s homework and assignments with him or her. The simple fact of having someone help can make the learning easier and much more effective.

3) Cannot see a future

Our last category of persistent truants are those kids in mid teens who just cannot see the point in going to school. It is their perception that nothing they do in school relates to what they want to do in life so can see no point in going to school. Or they see nothing in life they want to do, or believe they could do, and so cannot see the benefit of learning now because in their minds qualifications don’t matter if there is nothing they will ever be qualified to do.

These kids best respond when the adults in their life help them focus on specific beneficial outcomes rather than vague concepts of levels of academic achievement. These kids are not interested in what a year 12 student needs to achieve. Their only interest is “what am I going to do?”

In general the best motivation for these students is to mix work and career with school. School based apprenticeships, TAFE courses linked to their school program, 1 & 2 day work placements can all work wonders in making these kids want to go to school (but they will still do all they can to avoid traditional classroom learning).