Teen Anxiety: When Teens Refuse to Go To School

There’s a danger when teens don’t go to school. And there’s a danger when parents let their children stay home because they are “emotionally ill”. The danger for teens is that there are a number of gadgets at home to get lost in – televisions, Ipads, computers, gaming systems, and Iphones. Teens can easily stay entertained the entire day without missing their experience at school in the least.


For parents, the danger of allowing teens to stay home because they feel too anxious or depressed is opening the door for it to happen again and again. Although teen anxiety and depression are serious psychological illnesses, it’s not a reason to keep a child home from school. If symptoms are severe enough to keep a child home, then professional assistance is warranted. When psychological symptoms get in the way of a teen being able to function in his or her day, a psychological evaluation is in order.


The refusal to go to school is not a disorder in and of itself, but it is an indication that there might be a mental illness. School refusal is a symptom of a larger problem. Diagnoses that might lead a teen to avoid school include the following:


Social Anxiety Disorder is an illness in which the fear of social situations, specifically fearing judgment and embarrassment in those situations, is excessive. A teen might be excessively worried about how he or she looks or will behave and might even avoid those situations to escape the teen anxiety, rather than enjoying that experience. Social phobia tends to also come within an extreme feeling of self-consciousness and a fear of humiliating oneself.


Separation Anxiety Disorder is a unique kind of anxiety disorder that is the result of being separated from home or separated from a primary caregiver. For instance, when an adolescent is separated from parents, siblings, or grandparents, and he or she experiences symptoms of extreme anxiety as a result, a diagnosis of Separation Anxiety Disorder might be warranted. However, this kind of anxiety is considered to be above and beyond what is expected for that individual’s developmental level. For instance, a teen typically would not throw a tantrum, as a two year old might, when a parent drops him or her off at school. Yet, if severe sadness or anxiety is the result of being separated from a parent, this disorder might be applicable.


Separation Anxiety is not uncommon and can be present in about 4% of adolescents and children. However, according to the most recent version (May 2013) of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the standardized text used by psychologists and therapists to diagnose their clients, the age of onset for this disorder is no longer restricted to under 18 years of age. Separation Anxiety Disorder is now considered by the American Psychological Association to be a disorder experienced at any age.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a diagnosis given to those who experience an excessive or unrealistic amount of worry, anxiety, and fear for at least six months. Those with GAD might experience anxiety every morning upon waking, and they may have free-floating anxiety, which is anxiety that is unrelated to a realistic, known source. For instance, a teen might feel anxious or nervous before performing in the school play, but feeling anxious for no defined reason might point to a mental health condition. An individual who carries an underlying feeling of anxiety and tension throughout the day may very well have a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.


The disorders mentioned here might keep a teen from wanting to go to school. His or her refusal to attend school may be a symptom of one of these disorders, or another psychological illness. The best response a parent or caregiver can have to a teen who continues to refuse to attend school is take that teen to a mental health professional for a psychological evaluation. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a common form of teen anxiety treatment that is effective and safe.




Kisson, D. (December 23, 2013). When Kids Refuse To Go To School. Huff Post Parents. Retrieved on July 8, 2014 from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/debra-kissen/when-kids-refuse-to-go-to-school_b_4483268.html