Why is a teenager refusing to go to school?
Years ago my first reaction when I heard parents and teachers complain was “you’re the mom, you make her go to school” attitude. About a year ago I met Mary, a 15 year old sophomore who had just left a very large high school for a smaller high school when living with her dad. At the time I was working as a Guardian ad Litem and was referred to this family because the parents were fighting about custody. I was an impartial party that after my investigation I was to make recommendations to the court.
One of the main concerns is that Mary’s mom wasn’t making her go to school. Too embarrassed to go to school: I spoke with Mary and found out what her reasons were for not wanting to go to school. She said she has been failing for an extended time and she just didn’t see the point. We talked about what specific problems she was having. She stated that she doesn’t understand the work they were giving her. She said she couldn’t read and understand what the assignments were and instead of being embarrassed she just didn’t go to school.
The father was very adamant that Mary come live with him and his new family. They were in a smaller school district and Mary would get more attention and instruction. Mary had started the school year there as her dad refused to let her go back to her moms. Mary was going to school and playing volleyball and really seemed to be doing well. They had suggested testing Mary to see if she in fact had any disabilities and identify both her strengths and weaknesses.
Later in my investigation, Mary finally admitted that when living with her mom she was responsible for her 3 year old little brother. Her mom didn’t work but according to Mary, her mom was never home and that there were no consequences when Mary missed school. There were so many red flags I didn’t know where to start.
Mary was begging to be allowed to live with her dad and continue going to school from her dad’s home. She said if she was made to go back to her mom’s she was going to run away.
Upon inspection of the mom’s home it was adequate however I smelled cat urine immediately upon entering the home. That was another concern the father raised was the home was in deplorable conditions. Mary’s mom admitted that the house had been a wreck but she had been cleaning for 3 days before my visit.
The impression Mary’s mom gave me was how unmotivated she was. She had never completed high school, she had no job nor had she had one for at least four years. While I’m all for stay at home moms, I am one, you don’t live off the system and child support. Mary’s mom did. I asked her what would happen if she demanded that Mary go to school and she said Mary would do just about anything she had to do to leave even starting fights if it came to that.
I’m a firm believer that when you are making recommendations regarding custody and visitation I really listen to the teens. If Mary was made to live with her mom she had every intention on running away and making life so miserable for her mom that mom would give up the fight and allow her to go and live with her dad eventually.
Charges filed on mom:
At one point Mary’s mom was brought up on charges for not ensuring Mary be in school. Even that was a disaster. Her mom would have rather deal with law enforcement then with Mary’s unwillingness to go to school.
Upon my recommendation, Mary is now living full time with her father and getting appropriate services and is doing very well. Mary now attends extracurricular activities and is almost on grade level. A learning disability was identified and once that was determined and she started getting the extra services. The family is now in counseling with Mary and she is gaining confidence and self-worth which she didn’t have when I first met her.
When a child won’t go to school there is a reason. Find out what the reason is and address it. Even if you can’t figure out why, do something, don’t just sit on the problem and not do anything. It can be an easy fix like Mary’s problems were.