Why Your Teenager Won’t Go To School

Many teenagers face anxiety or fears regarding school, ranging from stress over a big test to worries that their crush will turn down their dance invitation.

For some, however, these anxious and stressful feelings are serious enough to lead the teen to repeatedly miss school. The habit of avoiding school because the experience is stressful, fear-inducing intimidating or emotionally distressing is known as school refusal.

If your teenager won’t go to school, there are ways you can help them deal with their stressful situation. Read on to understand the reasons why your child might be demonstrating school refusal.

6 Reasons Your Teenager Won’t Go To School

If your teenager won’t go to school due to stress or anxiety, they could be facing a number of situations that make school attendance a challenge. The most common reasons for school refusal include the following:

1. Bullying

Bullying is a growing problem at every grade level, and teenagers are not immune to the stress and anxiety caused by being a bully’s target.

Your child can become the victim of an individual bully or a social group’s bullying for a variety of reasons. Bullying can take many forms, including:

  • Physical
  • Verbal
  • Psychological
  • Social
  • Cyber

2. Performance-Based Problems

Doing poorly in a subject at school, or simply the fear of failure is the root cause of school refusal for many teens.

Whether your child has always struggled with a particular subject or the rigors of high school are affecting their history of good performance in previous grade levels, failure and fear of failure can be incredibly stress-inducing.

3. Peer Rejection

Even if your child is not the target of bullying, getting rejected by one’s peers can make going to school difficult.

Much like the fear of poor grades, the fear of being rejected by peers without actually experiencing it can also lead your teenager to school refusal.

For example, your child may fear situations that they believe might cause fellow students to reject them, such as having to give a presentation in class or work on a group assignment.

4. Issues at Home

Believe it or not, why your teenager won’t go to school doesn’t always stem from something directly related to school.

Problems at home or family conflicts such as a divorce can also lead to school refusal. In such cases, school refusal sometimes comes from a desire for more attention from parents and other family members.

5. Mental Health Problems

The stress associated with school refusal is not always linked to a diagnosable psychological concern.

However, if your child does have an anxiety disorder, depression or mental illness, the other issues that lead to school refusal can be exacerbated.

6. Physical Symptoms Related to Psychological Issues

For some teens experiencing stress and anxiety related to school attendance, the psychological issues end up manifesting themselves as physical ones. In other words, the anxiety your child feels about participating in gym class might show up as a headache or stomach ache.

Teens who face such somatic symptoms tend to experience them in the morning before school or the night before, while days without school are often symptom-free.

If you’ve taken your child to the doctor and ruled out any actual physical cause for their symptoms, there’s a good chance their constant headaches and stomachaches could be related to school stress.

Helping a Teenager Who Won’t Go To School

As a parent, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when your teenager won’t go to school. Their serious school-related stress, anxiety and refusal to attend class naturally affects you as well.

There are some tips to ease their distress and make it more comfortable for them to get back to school.

Take Your Child’s Concerns Seriously

First and foremost, take your teenager’s concerns seriously and get help for them as soon as possible.

Talk to your child’s school counselor, get resources, even consider speaking to a psychologist who specializes in school refusal. Whatever the cause, understand that your child’s behavior and refusal to go to school are a cry for help.

Identify the Underlying Issue

How you help your teen overcome their phobias regarding school depends largely on where those fears and stresses originate.

Worries that something will happen to a parent while at school need to be addressed differently than issues arising from bullying.

For example, if your teenager won’t go to school because of difficulties in math class, extra help and focused attention from the teacher may ease their worries and make going to school easier.

Maintain a Normal Schedule

Your teen’s school refusal won’t be resolved overnight.

Until they are able to attend school on a regular basis, keep them to a normal schedule even when they do stay home. Don’t coddle them or reward them with special treats unless they are making progress towards their goal.

As much as possible, keep your teen connected to his or her peers through their normal extracurricular activities.

Stay Connected to Your Child’s School

Keeping a strong connection between your child and their school can help ease the transition back when they’re ready.

Work with the school’s administration to make sure that your teen gets all of their assignments sent home, and nurture the relationship between your child and their teachers as much as possible.

Maintaining such a close connection can help your teenager feel safer about going back to school when they’re ready.

Gradually Get Back to the Classroom

If your teenager’s school refusal behaviors have been going on for a while, don’t expect them to be able to return full-time right away.

Instead, plan for a gradual reintegration. You can start by having your child come with you to school to drop off completed assignments and collect new ones. From there, consider letting them attend their favorite classes for a portion of the day, slowly increasing the amount of time they stay at school until they’re back for the entire school day.

Helping Your Teenager Cope with School Refusal

If your teenager won’t go to school, it’s important for you as a parent to get to the bottom of what is causing their stress and anxiety.

Being supportive and finding the right balance between being strict and lenient to their needs is critical to show them that you’re there to help. You’ve already made great strides towards getting your teenager back to school.

Learn more in the school refusal fact sheet