Steps to Solving a Teen’s School Refusal

During your child’s elementary school years, it might have been normal for him or her to try to get out of school. Conversely, school might have been the best part of his or her day, and maybe your little one was upset before school vacations. While young children often have conflicting feelings about school, these mostly settle down by the teenage years. Even if a teen doesn’t love going to school or finds it boring, they usually have made their peace with the fact that it’s necessary and that it will help them prepare for college and beyond. If your teen is refusing to go to school, it’s generally something serious enough to look into. Here are some steps you can take to help your teen move past school refusal.

Get to the Root of the Problem

There are a number of things that can bring about school refusal. The first step in resolving this issue it figuring out what is causing it. Here are two potential causes of school refusal:

  • Bullying – He or she could be being bullied. There could be a physical reason why they’re not feeling well each morning and giving you the impression that they’re “faking it” in order to get out of going to school. It’s possible that it’s simply a matter of an altercation with a friend that will blow over within a few days.
  • Mental Illness – On the other hand, there could be a mental health problem at play. If your teen is suffering from depression or anxiety, these could cause him or her to want to skip school. The teenage years are also a time when social anxiety often rears its head. If your adolescent has developed it, it can cause feelings of inferiority and embarrassment.

Talk to your teenager to find out what is causing their school refusal. It’s possible that they will not want to share what is going on, and you might need to do some digging. An older sibling or an adult friend outside of the family might have better luck getting your teen to talk.

Take Action to Address the Problem

The steps you take to help address the issue of school refusal depend on what’s causing the problem. Once you’ve determined the cause, you will be able to take action.

If your teen is being bullied, it’s important to go to the school administration to find out how it will be handled. It’s important for all students to feel safe at school, and this needs to be addressed immediately.

If your teen is worried about a problem with a friend, too much coursework, or other common issues that bother adolescents, you should address it while still insisting that your teen attend school. Coach your child on what he or she can say to their teacher or guidance counselor if one of their classes is too hard. If necessary, you can schedule a meeting with the teacher or counselor yourself, but it’s good to encourage your teen to handle it if he or she can.

Visit Medical or Mental Health Professionals

Sometimes, there is a physical issue behind why a teen won’t attend school. You might think that they’re exaggerating or making up symptoms, but if your teen is plagued by frequent stomachaches or headaches, there could be a physical problem responsible. Talk to your child seriously about whether the symptoms are real, and if they are, make an appointment with his or her primary care physician. The doctor can run some tests to find out if a nutritional deficiency, stress, or a more serious illness could be the culprit.

Similarly, mental health issues such as anxiety or depression can cause both physical and mental symptoms. Make an appointment with a mental health counselor to get your teen evaluated if he or she is suffering from:

  • social anxiety
  • a high level of distractibility
  • or other troubling issues

Getting any potential issues under control now will help in the later years of adulthood.

Consider Possible Alternatives

Not all students thrive in every educational situation. It’s possible that changing to a new school might be exactly what your teen needs. This could be the case if there has been a bullying incident or another situation that he or she is trying to recover from. A fresh building, new teachers, and some new friends might help. On the other hand, if your teen is dealing with anxiety, depression, ADHD, or another issue, changing schools is not necessarily a good change to make.

Many teens decide to look at alternatives to a regular public education. Some choose a virtual school, which allows teens to work on assignments from home. They might meet virtually with a teacher every week or two to go over the work or to have questions answered. If you have the time and your teen is a self-starter, homeschooling might also be an option. Some parents and teens have found that it’s a good solution for some teens who have anxiety. A teen might also decide to dual-enroll at a local community college or technical school; these programs vary by district, but they often include taking one or more classes at the regular high school and the rest at the college or tech center.

Make a Decision and Agree on Rules

Once you have come up with a solution to the problem causing your teen’s school refusal, it’s time to make an agreement as to what the final decision is. Will they remain in their current school? Switch to a different school or to virtual school? Talk to your teen about how you can meet their needs while helping them to continue their education. Do not try to make this decision on your own; your teenager needs to have a voice in the matter.

Draw some sensible boundaries and agree on rules. For example, if your teen decides to try virtual school, encourage them to make a commitment of a semester to avoid disrupting his or her education too much. Also, decide which days will be school days and at what time they will get their work done by. Since the schools themselves will not usually set times each day, it will be up to your teen to learn time management. Make rules about this. For example, schoolwork should be done before your teen plays video games or goes out with friends.

By working together, you and your teen should be able to come up with a workable solution to school refusal that will help them get back to school while not neglecting their mental health needs. If you are unable to figure it out on your own, talk to a counselor who is experienced in helping truant teens. His or her education is too important to leave to chance, so be sure to get this under control as soon as you can.

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