It starts innocently, with a few bad grades here and there. Soon after motivation drops, followed by skipping class (without the parents’ knowledge), to parent/ teacher meetings, and before you know you know it you end up fighting with our teenage children who scream in our faces:
“I don’t want to go to school!”
These are not easy and very hard words for any parents to hear or even understand. They think their children, suffering daily without being heard, are are “unmotivated” and “lazy”.
It is precisely this internal struggle parents fase that usually pushes them to respond to their children with:
“Do you think this is life? Doing nothing? Aren’t you ashamed? This is your one-job and you don’t even want to do it, if you think you’re staying at home you’re wrong, you’re going to do this, you don’t understand anything at all!”
The son or daughter who, at the sight of the angry and panicked parent, feels increasingly lost and misunderstood, without being able to express how he/she feels they respond:
“Fine, I will go to school, or maybe I will run away from home and you will not hear anything about me! Anyway, as soon as I have money in my pocket, I don’t need you anymore!”
Who, I ask you…. won this argument.
In fact everybody looses.
This is the typical argument between a parent and their adolescent child, in which both lose.
The child did not feel the certainty and support that they indirectly and desperately seek out from their parents, and the parents did not have the communication and collaboration that they seek from the son/daughter..
How do you cope with an adolescent teenager whose decision it is to leave school?
During adolescence it is very easy for teenagers to lose their compass more than once, and guess who has to help them find the right way?
Exactly — you! Their Parents!
But if, we as parents, lose our own compass, where do we go for help in finding it?
There is a real risk of pushing your child even further away more where the child feels that their “only” option is to drop out of school.
Parents also need to be even more vigilant these days, as the pandemic has helped to identify this sense of demotivation and loss.
As a coach for teenagers with over 15 years of experience, I have witnessed dozens and dozens of situations where boys or girls wanted to leave school, and simultaneously working with their frustrated parents.
The first thing a parent should do (and doesn’t do) is “stay calm and never loose your temper”.
Just like in any real-live emergencies: do not panic and stay clear minded.
A parent, hurt and angry, can often only return this anger and increase the suffering of their children. What we have inside is what we give out.
Instead, we must remember that WE as adults, must first and foremost pull ourselves together and try not to let our emotions overwhelm us. Anu emotional outburst will lead to that we will later regret.
So, … why do the children want to leave school?
There can be many different reasons why a teenager wants to leave school.
Before I list them, however, I would like to start by saying something important.
Not all people are made to study in a traditional school setting, many prefer to learn something more practical, or a trade that allows them to immediately enter the work force, and make their way into the working world.
Before judging, parents must always be open to accepting views that are not traditional or mirror the way the grey up themselves.
Having said that, how can a teenager, who has always done well in school, or who has always shown at least some ambition in school, suddenly change and decide they no longer want to continue down that path?
1ST REASON: LACK OF MOTIVATION
One of the main reasons is lack of motivation.
A teenager is demotivated when they see a wall that is immediately to high to climb, and thus convince themselves that they cannot do it, and give up before even trying.
For example, seeing a mountain of tasks and having by nature poor planning and time management skills, will leads to completely crisis mode because they are overwhelmed by the stress inability to handle it.
School, especially when moving to middle and high school, can really become a big obstacle and a reason for “loss of self-esteem”. The children enter a new environment and are already in a phase of growth that, on a hormonal and physical level, causes insecurity and at the same time a desire to “have to belong”.
In addition to this, evaluation and expectation become much more rigid, structured and teachers’ demand more independence from their students: overall a complete structural change of attending school. The amount of homework increases disproportionately and children are treated with less and less understanding. Earlier in their school career, they were praised and pampered children of the “teacher”, but now they have become “those who do not want to do anything”, who cause trouble, and who always try to deceive the teachers, and disrupt class.
The lack of motivation at school could also come from the fact that the children are attending a school that IS NOT a right fit for them!
It is very common in fact, that children enter a school only to satisfy parents, friends or teachers. Motivation, however, comes from “having a reason to take action” so, if the chosen school was not what they wanted, they will have a hard time supporting the weight of this choice.
Lack of motivation can also result from a lack of knowledge of one or more subjects being taught in school. You start getting bad grades, you lose self-esteem, you stop studying, you get further and further behind and then you decide not to go back to school so you don’t have to face that responsibility.
In 2022 the great wave of lack of motivation and school dropouts was certainly caused by the pandemic. The confinement of children at home, the false hope of freedom and the distant learning method certainly did not help.
If it was difficult for some to stay on track before, with distance learning, it really became nearly impossible to keep children motivated. Distraction, unwillingness and above all lack of other outlets and moments of “compensatory” leisure were obliterated, and morale dropped so low, that rather than accept the new way of life, they abandoned it.
2ND REASON: DISCOMFORT AMONG CLASSMATES AND IN SOCIETY
A second important reason that leads children to think about dropping out of school is certainly the discomfort they could feel in being in the company of their peers and in society in general.
Unfortunately, the western world is full of stereotypes , and anyone who moves away from those stereotypes struggles to make their way and find a place in the world.
Many adolescents teenagers react to this “forceful behaviour” by putting on a mask while others react with social withdrawal. Obviously, neither method is beneficial for their mental growth and emotional integrity.
Leaving school is the very first form of social retreat that allows children to avoid contact and therefore confrontation with their peers.
Often the reasons leaving school is also being is being in a class/school that houses or rewards bullies. Children with a difficult or different life story often become pray and are make fun, where in contrary it is the bully who in reality is the weakest of all, carrying the strongest masks to hide their vulnerability.
It is getting more and more common for boys and girls (teenagers) to be subjected to distasteful jokes, get teased or are subjected to the gallows of social networks! We all know the phenomenon and term Cyber Bullying that spread like wildfire and has affected, at one time or another: 5 out of 10 teenagers.
If children do not feel heard, if they do not feel trusted and safe (at home and at school) then they can decide to oppose school and avoid exposing themselves to the risk of being bullied all together.
3RD REASON: DISCOMFORT AT HOME AND/OR DIFFICULT HOME SITUATIONS
The third reason concerns a state of discomfort that children experience in their home – i.e. family life.
Teenage years are not easy; hormones cascade their bodies and minds, literally changing their mental and physical characteristics!
These strong changes often and unfortunately intertwine with difficult family situations: loss of a parent, separation of parents, draining quarrels between siblings, conflicts with only one parent, absence of one or both parents, possible change of home or relocation of home”).
A teenager doesn’t have a fully developed brain yet and they are not 100% able to “reason” but live mostly reactive, on instincts and emotions.
Each situation a teenage experiences is therefore amplified 10 folds.
Pain is an immense, the sense of abandonment is infinite, enthusiasm is great, depression and the sense of loneliness goes deep, anger feels forever… and so on.
As emotions are experienced so intensely, it makes them also very difficult to manage.
School requires balance, discipline, perseverance and firmness. However, in some instances, rigidity towards the children is very high and there is no room for flexibility in possible moments of crisis.
Instead of understanding, the children get bad grades and the poor notes regarding their behaviour and participation. They are now being labelled by the class as “those who do not study” and instantly, the school that was once fun and interactive, becomes a nightmare and the child shuts down.
Family problems, never exist in a bubble, or within the walls of a house. Children take them along into their everyday lives and live vicariously through them expressing them in the forms of: anxiety, insomnia, desire to escape, isolation, addictions and the desire to give up!
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO WHEN FACED WITH THESE CHALLANGES?
First of all, as I mentioned at the beginning of the article, never lose your temper. Instead, when faced with their child having a crisis, they should immediately enter a reflective state.
Wait for anger and frustration to leave their minds and hearts and think about how to act and how to support the children.
The most common mistake that parents make is to identify the children as “the bad guys” or as “the enemy in the fight”.
This happens because at that moment of frustration, when children are suffering and trying to voice their thoughts, the movie parents play in their head, is that they are now the bad guys they need to fight.
The truth however, is that the first thing parents should think about is: “What’s wrong with my son/daughter? What is causing them such great suffering that they feel inadequate to attend school?”
Changing ones perspective is absolutely necessary to be able to move from an “attack” position to a “support” position towards your children.
If the parent begins to be overwhelmed by the whirlwind of negative thoughts, such as: “I did everything for him/her and that’s how he/she is repaying me, I spent all the money to ensure a good education, I try to always be around, he/she does not care about anyone but himself/herself”… then failure is guaranteed.
Negative thoughts generate negative actions that children will interpret as “personal attacks” to which they will respond by defending themselves and provoking them in turn.
Behind every child who wants to leave school is a still fragile soul (even if they project a tough façade to the outside world) who is confused, who is scarred, who is disoriented and who does not know if they CAN DO IT, does not know if they are up to it and wonder if they are worth anything in life.
So here’s what a parent should be working on: providing their child or children a safe-zone and increase their self-esteem.
Family and school provide lots of difficult challenges such as; bullying, depression, and generate thoughts like “Am I strange? Am I weak? Am I crazy? Am I different? Am I unlucky?”
Thoughts that they are often to scarred or ashamed to share and that are scary to repeat out loud. They are afraid to be who they think they are, and to get confirmation of these feelings.
To stop being afraid, they decide to “check-out” so they don’t have to put themselves to the test.
In these cases, it is good for the parent to understand the child’s cause of their pain, and take action by offering a way out.
Screams, quarrels, insults and above all statements like “I knew you were lazy, you’re not good at doing anything” don’t help at all.
Any attack on their personality will only worsen the child’s opinion of themselves and lead them prescisely towards the abandonment of their ambitions: “if Mum and/or Dad think that I’m not good at anything… I dread to think what the rest of the world could think of me”.
So, to sum up, what concrete actions could a parent take in response to their child’s request to drop out of school?
- Observe your child
- Talk to him or her at a suitable time
- Find out what the problem is
- Put on paper the pros and cons of the current situation
- Evaluate together if there is a different solution, a different approach to deal with everything (for example: help with school subjects, understanding the difficulties and going to talk to the principal, courses that help them to organise better)
Let’s not forget that any form of physical activity is a natural medicine that strengthens mind and body and reduces stress.
Last but not least, I would like to remind you that sport, fundamental for growth, should never be lacking in the lives of young people!
Often when kids panic because of too many school commitments, they also drop out of sports. It is the job of a parent to make sure this does not happen and to support their children so that they can safely pursue sports as well.
Sport allows for improved functioning of the brain thanks to the re-oxygenation of the tissues, which also promotes concentration and elevates the hormones that make you feel good.
Parents should never say to their children: “skip sports because you have too much homework” or agree if children want to skip. Sports is is never the obstacle, but a perfect outlet for your child growing brain and body.
When parents are active themselves, it sets a president and example to the value of movement, making it easier for the child to identify positive attitude towards movement and/ or sporting activities.
I hope this article has given you useful insight into teenager behaviour and how to help.
Do you want to support your child who is going through a tough phase, and is loosing motivation, and want to know more on how to help him/ her? Click here and discover the personal growth camp in Ibiza.