School attendance can become a huge flashpoint between and parent and their teen when he or she simply refuses to go to school. All parents are aware that children must attend a around 175 school days during the school year. School attendance is mandatory in all 50 states, including the alternative options for educating the child such as a charter school, parochial school, or home school. So what does a parent do when their teen refuses to go to school?
A kneejerk response might involve punishment for truancy, such as taking away the teen’s phone, game console, or other privileges. These negative consequences may work for some teens, motivating them to get to school in order to get their privileges restored. However, for the majority of teens who are not willing to go to school this can set up a power struggle that only exacerbates the tension over the school attendance problem.
When punishment is met with additional defiance it is good to have a different tactic at the ready. The most constructive approach to the problem is to open up communication with the teen. Getting to the core issue behind the reluctance to go to school is imperative. The goal is to find a constructive solution to the teens problem, working together with the teen, the school, and a therapist, so the teen will not fall through the cracks and drop out of school entirely.
Reasons Teen Refuses to go to School
All parents can recall how some days they just didn’t want to go to school. Truth be told, many parents were guilty of skipping school on occasion themselves. Not wanting to go to school is not a foreign concept, especially during the teen years. However, parents know that skipping school is not a choice or an option; school attendance is mandatory. Just because the teen refuses to go to school doesn’t mean he gets to stay home.
Consider some of the most common issues that are behind a teen’s resistance to going to school. Each one of these can be remedied through a concerted effort involving the parents, the teen, and various support persons. Whether it is the school counselor, teachers, the academic counselor, the teen’s therapist, or other support sources, there are usually constructive steps that can help get the teen back on track.
Academic issues. Teens have been under increasing amounts of academic pressure in the last decade. College preparation begins as early as middle school, with teens being pushed toward engaging in the college application process much earlier than in generations past. There is pressure to maintain a strong GPA, to participate in extracurricular activities, school sports, and volunteer activities. Some teens are not necessarily cut out for college and can sink under this pressure to conform.
Social issues. Increasingly, social media is replacing authentic communication among teens, which can lead to interpersonal problems, feelings of being left out, social shaming, envy, and low self-esteem. Attempting to cultivate authentic relationships via a smartphone app is resulting in teens that feel socially awkward or anxious.
Teen Depression. Teen depression is on the rise, as is the rate of suicides in this age cohort. In fact, suicide is now the second leading cause of preventable death among Americans aged 10-34. When depressed, a teen will experience loss of interest in school and social activities, moodiness, fatigue, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, and feelings of sadness or hopelessness. This may explain why the teen is not up for going to school
Teen Anxiety. Anxiety, especially panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety, continues to rise among teens. Anxiety affects 31.9% of teens aged 13-18, with 8.3% of those teens experiencing severe impairment in functioning. Some teens may avoid the school setting because it triggers powerful anxiety symptoms, such as trembling, sweating, racing heart, feelings of intense worry or dread, and nausea.
Bullying. While kids picking on other kids is not a new phenomenon, the intensity of these aggressive and hurtful acts has heightened in recent years. Approximately 20% of teens experience bullying in a given year. A teen may avoid school if they are the target of social, emotional, or physical bullying. Cyberbullying, where the teen is the subject of ridicule or harsh criticism posted on digital platforms, can also permeate the teen’s school experience.
Solutions for the core problem are not always going to be found at school. It may be that the teen would be better served by attending an alternative school environment that provides more flexibility to accommodate the teen’s core issue.
Trying Positive Rewards for Attendance
Parents can become deeply frustrated when their teen refuses to go to school. Knowing that school attendance is compulsory, parents are under pressure by the school officials to ensure that their teen makes it to school. Additionally, parents are all too aware that completing school is a necessary aspect to future success in life. All parents want their kids to succeed in life.
While it is natural for parents to resort to strict disciplinary tactics when the teen simply refuses to comply, both the parents and the teen are wise to get to the bottom of the problem. Have a calm discussion with the teen, asking open-ended questions and really listening to their response. When the teen feels they are truly cared for and that the struggle they are experiencing is being acknowledged, they may be more willing to open up.
Instead of only using negative consequences for refusing to go to school, try another tactic using positive reinforcement. Maybe set up a reward system for the teen that will motivate them toward compliance. For example, when the teen completes a solid week of school attendance they will earn a special privilege, such as additional time for video gaming. Offer ongoing praise for their consistent efforts to get to school on time and to be completing their assignments. Keep the lines of communication open and check in with the teen on a regular basis to see if he or she is feeling more comfortable in school.
Sources of Parental Support
Parents who partner with school officials or teachers will have better outcomes than those who attempt to wing it themselves. This is because the school support person will reinforce the plan that has been devised, regularly reporting back to parents. School officials are quite familiar with the issues that underlie poor school attendance and can be a helpful ally in getting the teen back on track.
In addition to teachers or administrators, it is helpful to access the help of a school counselor or psychologist for guidance, especially if the core issue has a psychological component. The school psychologist may in turn refer the parent and teen to a private practice mental health provider who can provide more intensive treatment for such issues as anxiety or depression.
Legal Ramifications When Teen Refuses to go to School
Truancy is a serious issue. A student is considered truant when they miss a total of two weeks without a legitimate reason. These students have not received an excused absence for something like a health issue, a death in the family, or religious holidays, for example. They simply have not shown up to school and have not been excused for the absences.
When a teen has continuous unexcused absences it will be reported to the district superintendent. At this time a meeting will be set up between school representatives and parents to discuss the problem and create a plan for remedying the situation. However, if the truant behaviors persist, the district can contact law enforcement and a civil violation is charged. This action will force the parents to go to court, which usually results in fines and mandatory parenting classes, community service or parent training courses.
When to Enlist the Help of a Psychiatrist
There are a variety of mental health issues that might be contributing to the teen’s refusal to attend school. Oppositional defiant disorder is a disruptive behavior disorder that features a rejection of authority, refusal to follow rules, explosive angry outbursts, hostility, and defiance. This acting out often includes refusing to go to school.
Depression and/or anxiety are other mental health disorders that can cause a teen to avoid going to school. Teens with a mental health disorder need to obtain the support of a psychotherapist or psychiatrist that can create a treatment plan. The earlier that a teen’s mental health issue is addressed and treated the better the outcome. Many times the disorder can be successfully managed through cognitive behavioral therapy and solutions-focused therapy, as well as other helpful coping skills for teens.
For a teen that is unable to overcome the core psychological issue through outpatient mental health services, a higher level of care is available through teen residential programs. The teen residential treatment programs provide highly customized and intensive treatment plans to help the teen return to healthy functioning.
BNI Treatment Centers Teen Mental Health Treatment Los Angeles
BNI Treatment Centers is a highly regarded psychiatrist-owned and operated residential mental health treatment program located in Los Angeles, California. BNI offers acute psychiatric stabilization and residential treatment for a variety of mental health disorders, including oppositional defiant disorder, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. By creating an individualized treatment plan that addresses the reasons behind the resistance to attend school, the clinical staff at BNI Treatment can offer constructive support for both the teen and their family. For more information about our program, please contact BNI Treatment Centers today at (888) 522-1504.