You wake up on a cold, Monday morning to the annoying sound of your alarm and struggle to drag yourself from your bed. The temptation to resist is strong but you finally get out of bed to start your day and deal with the next battle… making sure your teen is up and ready for school. You walk into your teen’s room and are immediately greeted with a groan of disgust. After numerous attempts and even the potential yelling match, you admit defeat and walk away. You are left with a mix of emotions and think to yourself yet again, why won’t my teen just go to school?
School refusal isn’t a new problem, but has noticeably become a bigger issue due to the pandemic. Refusal rates are estimated to be 15% to 20% higher than previous pre pandemic rates of 1 to 5% of students. The pandemic has created a rollercoaster of ups and downs in schools. One week students are in-person and the next they are back to sitting in front of a computer and talking to their friends through a screen. Peer relationships are important in helping teens develop their social skills, problem solving skills and discovering their sense of self. Being distanced from their friends can cause your teen to feel lonely and isolated.
However, school refusal cannot just be credited to the pandemic. On a daily basis teens are learning to manage and navigate school workloads, extracurricular activities, and peer relationships. Dealing with this can feel immensely unbearable to teens as their problem solving skills have not fully developed.
Some other factors that lead to school refusal or absenteeism include: anxiety, friendships or bullying, family struggles and difficulties with classroom learning.
How can you help your teen?
- Talk with your teen: Express interest and empathy in the struggles they are experiencing. Ask them if there is anything you can do at home to help with these feelings. Let your teen know they are heard! (Remember, some issues might seem small but can feel overwhelming large to your teen)
- Connect with their teacher: Reach out to their teacher and see if there is a way to get your teen some help with managing their struggles in the classroom. (You can even include your teen in this conversation so they can feel like they have a voice. Teachers spend a significant amount of time with your kid and might have insights into their classroom struggles that you don’t.
- Limit electronics: Removing video games, cell phones or other electronics can let your teens know it isn’t a fun, free day off. Holding firm limits during regular school hours takes away the temptation for them to stay home curled up in their bed scrolling through social media or trying to pass the next level in their video game. Electronics might only be adding to your teen’s stress, especially if bullying is happening.
- Brainstorm fun mid week activities: Schedule fun activities to help keep your teen feeling connected with others and give them something to look forward to. Get creative and keep it simple. Have your teen pick a place to eat/order take out, plan a movie or game night, etc.
What tip will you try to help make that school struggle a little bit easier?
Blog written by Sentier therapist Bridgett Brye, MSW, LICSW