What Can a Parent Do About a Teen Who Refuses to Attend School?

By Damon Verial
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Getting your teen to go to school when he refuses might be a bigger issue than you think. Legally, it’s the parents’ responsibility to ensure that the child attends school. Thus, parents with school-skipping spawn should aim to address the problem of truancy before the law gets involved. Through discovering the root of the problem, making your expectations clear and pointing out the severity of truancy, you make it much more likely that your teen will listen to reason.

Explaining the Rules: The First and (Hopefully) Last Step

Before you consider a more drastic measure, ensure that you’ve taken the first step in explaining to your teen the importance of attending school. Some parents, like those with a permissive parenting style, skip this step. Explaining to your teen that not only do you have the expectation that she will attend school but the state has the expectation that she will attend school makes truancy seem that much more severe. For a teen, breaking conformity is natural, but at the same time, teens must be able to separate harmless nonconformity from nonconformity with legal implications.

Be the Messenger

If your teen fails to attend school even after a thorough discussion on the importance of doing so, switch your role to that of the messenger. Act as if you work for the state. Tell your teen, in specific terms, the legal implications of truancy. In many school districts, after a certain number of absences, the state will intervene and summon both parent and child to a hearing. If the state finds your teen’s absences unjustified, it can punish the teen directly by forcing him to go to summer school or holding him back to repeat a grade. By showing him you know the detailed consequences of truancy, you are showing him your concern as well as indirectly threatening him with the huge punishment of even more school.

Investigate: Snoop Out the School-Skipping Cause

No two truancy cases are alike. While directly explaining your expectations for your teen and the consequences of truancy might work for many teens, other teens have deeper issues. Some teens skip school because of fear -- they might suffer from poor academic performance or motivation or they might have social anxiety. Other teens skip school because they don’t feel safe during the commute -- they might have to walk through a dangerous community or be the target of school-bus bullying. If the case is severe enough that your genuine expectations don’t spur your teen to action, elicit the problem by objectively listening -- listening without judging or interrupting -- to your teen’s concerns. The reason might surprise you but also lead you to new paths to deal with truancy.

Deal with the Root Cause

When you find the real cause of the truancy, hit it as hard as you can. Removing the barriers to attending school might just be enough to get your teen to willingly attend class. For example, a teen with no motivation to learn perhaps feels that school is simply not relevant to her. As a mom, you can make school relevant by taking an interest in her schoolwork and connecting it to your household lifestyle. Help your teen with her homework and assist her in creating ideas for interesting and entertaining school projects. For a parent of a teen with social anxiety or a bullying problem, psychological counseling or a direct discussion with school officials can help you take the right steps in dealing with social problems.

About the Author

Having obtained a Master of Science in psychology in East Asia, Damon Verial has been applying his knowledge to related topics since 2010. Having written professionally since 2001, he has been featured in financial publications such as SafeHaven and the McMillian Portfolio. He also runs a financial newsletter at Stock Barometer.