As a therapist who sees teenagers, I get this questioned posed to me often…Stacy, I don’t want my child to drop out of school, but they refuse to go and I don’t know what to do. What should I do? I often approach this topic from “what is your child communicating to the rest of us that we aren’t hearing?”
Have you been to high school lately? It can definitely be a bit overwhelming. Most high schools in our community are overcrowded, full of lots of busy hallways, with demands for academics first on the teachers’ minds, and demands for social skills first on the youths’ minds. Whew! Talk about a set up. Now, add to that the stress of overcoming sexual abuse. Or physical abuse. Or getting through your parents’ divorce. Or wondering where your next meal will come from. The list goes on and on.
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Often what happens is a child refuses to wake up to go to school. The parent goes in and wakes the child, “Get up. It’s time to go. If you don’t get up now, you are going to be late.” The kid says, “Yeah, yeah, okay, I’m getting up.” The kid goes back to sleep. The parent comes back in, “I said get up! If you don’t get to school you are going to fail. Then, you’ll get kicked out. What do you want to do with your life? You loser.” The kid just digs in further and refuses to get up. Eventually, this pattern occurs over and over and the youth and parent land in my office with the youth having the label of “oppositional defiant disorder.” Does this sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. My guess is that thousands of people go through this everyday.
The solution? Meet the child where he or she is at. “Give in to them” you say? No, not at all! What this child needs is a good, healthy dose of understanding from an adult caregiver. Get into the shoes of that youth. Just exactly is the young person going through every day of their life at school?
A few answers:
1. There is a social scene that they can’t navigate or are struggling to fit into to.
2. The academics at school have gotten tougher and they do not understand what is being taught.
3. They are getting bullied.
4. They are not sure how to organize their life so that they can get all their homework completed as well as have time to ask questions to the teacher.
5. They are anxious about asking questions to the teacher.
6. They are already failing and see no hope of things getting better.
7. They feel like they have already disappointed their parents so why try.
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These are just a few of the reasons that kids refuse to go to school. What they need is someone who is willing to hear these concerns and help them problem solve, champion them, build their self-esteem. This solution isn’t a quick fix. It takes time. They need an advocate on their side, willing to help them navigate the struggles they are having.
So, dropping out or staying in? Depends on the youth. Sometimes, dropping out of a traditional high school setting and finding alternative education may meet the needs of the youth. Sometimes, with an understanding, non-judgmental caretaker, the struggles at school can be solved and they can stay in.