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Problems With Teens Skipping School, Truancy and Chronic Absenteeism

Teenager skipping school or being truant. Shown instead at home asleep on her books.

Updated on April 28, 2024

Most parents understand that children cannot learn effectively without going to school. When teens skip school or some classes, they threaten their academic success and endanger their capability to become financially successful adults.

Parents, being the primary authority figures responsible for their children, definitely play a big role in reducing juvenile truancy.

Truancy and Skipping Class

Truancy, Skipping SchoolTruancy has been an unrelenting problem in the U.S. since the era of one-room schools opened in the 1800s. However, it wasn’t until the1950 that chronic absenteeism became a hot-button issue among parents, educators, and religious leaders.

The term “juvenile delinquency” officially entered mainstream jargon in the ’50s as the popularity of rock and roll music and movies like Rebel Without a Cause gave parents nightmares but enthralled suburban adolescents.

Dropping out of high school in the 1950s and 1960s was fairly common among boys who could get good-paying jobs at factories that didn’t care if you had a high school diploma.

Apprenticeships were also plentiful, with plumbers, electricians, and auto mechanics training teen boys who dropped out in their junior or senior year.

By 1970, however, employers were starting to hire high school graduates exclusively due to industrial and office equipment requiring better reading, math and writing skills.

During the 1970s, university enrollment soared, partly because the digital revolution was just around the corner, employees with degrees were in high demand and high school drop-outs could no longer depend on factories to hire them.

Skipping Classes vs. Skipping School: Understanding the Differences and Addressing Your Child’s Challenges

When it comes to school attendance, distinguishing between skipping classes and skipping school is crucial. Although both behaviors are concerning, they stem from different issues and need different approaches.

Understanding Why Kids Skip Classes

Teens who skip individual classes often face specific challenges within their school environment. This could be due to a variety of issues, such as:

  • Struggling with a particular subject: Your child might find the material too challenging or not engaging enough.
  • Boredom or lack of challenge: The coursework may not be stimulating, causing disinterest.
  • Social difficulties: Problems with peers or teachers can make the child feel unwelcome in the classroom or create stress and anxiety. 

What you can do to help a teen who is skipping classes:

  • Get a Tutor: Providing additional support can significantly improve your child’s confidence and their grades. 
  • Partner with Teachers: Meet with your child’s teacher. Often, teachers don’t realize there is an issue or it may be a simple misunderstanding that can be easily resolved through open dialogue. If these discussions don’t lead to an improvement or resolution, speak to the school about transferring your teen to a different class.
  • Stop Bullying: If your child is being bullied, you must take immediate action. Communicate with school authorities to address and resolve these issues quickly. 

Understanding Truancy: How to Tell If There’s a Bigger Problem and What to Do

On the other hand, your teen skipping school altogether (truancy) can be a symptom of more complex, systemic problems. Not going to school at all is a much broader issue than just skipping some classes. It means there’s a serious problem that you need to investigate further.  This behavior often indicates underlying issues that are not directly related to what’s happening in school.

Teen truancy often stems from:

  • Mental health challenges, such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
  • Broader behavioral issues, including conduct disorders or engagement in at-risk behaviors.

What you can do to help your teenager: 

  • Get Professional Support: Consult therapists or counselors who specialize in adolescent issues or schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist or psychologist.
  • Identify the Root Causes: Conduct assessments to uncover any underlying social, emotional, or environmental factors contributing to your teen’s truancy.

By understanding the differences between simple absenteeism and truancy, schools and families can develop tailored interventions that effectively support students and address the root causes of their absenteeism.

Why Do Teenagers Skip School and Class?

If you have asked yourself this question one too many times, take comfort in knowing you are not alone. An examination of surveys completed by teachers and teens indicates that 29% percent of middle and high schoolers are skip school regularly. 

In addition, rates of unexcused absences are consistently higher in urban areas where race, poverty, crime and lack of qualified teachers contribute to chronic truancy among troubled teens.

The Most Common Reasons for Teenagers to Skip School

Parents are often surprised at the reasons kids give for skipping school. In most cases, teen truancy is not because they are bored or unmotivated. In fact, one of the leading causes of teens skipping school and class before and after the COVID-19 pandemic is bullying.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 22% of students of all ages report being bullied at school.

The most common method of bullying involved being called names, being insulted and being the target of rumors.

  • 5% of students say they have been shoved, tripped and pushed.1
  • 43% of bullying incidents happen in school hallways or stairwells.2
  • 14% percent of boys and 28% of girls experienced online or text-based bullying.3
  • 27% of students reported that bullying at school affected their schoolwork.4

Online bullying rates increased dramatically during and after the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close and move to strictly online learning. Bullying continues to be a leading driver of chronic absenteeism in both online and “brick and mortar” schools.

Teens skipping school because of bullying

In their own words, student shares what leads them to skip school: 

  • “I don’t have any friends. Nobody wants to sit with me at lunch. Nobody wants me on their team during gym.”
  • “Teachers don’t care. I raise my hand to ask questions about something I don’t understand, and they just ignore me.”
  • “I hate riding the bus.” (Kids in rural areas sometimes ride the bus 45 minutes to an hour to and from school)
  • “Being labeled a “smart” kid makes me a target for bullies”
  • “I don’t have money for lunch, decent clothes, school items, etc.”
  • “I’ve tried to pass my classes, but I’m just not smart enough (This reason especially impacts kids with undiagnosed disabilities like dyslexia, ASD (autism/Asperger’s) or learning disabilities or another developmental issue.

     

If your teen skips school, sit them down and ask why they are not attending school. If you don’t get the results you want from the conversation, schedule a meeting with the school’s guidance counselor to determine what can be done about your teen’s absenteeism.

Stay Informed: Schools are supposed to inform parents via email or text notifications regarding their child’s unexcused absences. In some cases, schools lacking resources or manpower may not get these notifications to parents in a timely manner.

Take immediate action: As soon as you learn your teen has missed a class or has an unexcused absence, deal with it; don’t delay. This is the only way to prevent future absenteeism.

 

Why Kids Need to be in School Every Day

When adolescents are chronically absent, they have a higher drop-out risk.  They often have legal problems as a result of illegal activities and become more susceptible to exploitation and other unsafe situations. 

Students who miss more than 15 days out of one school year (two days per month) have poorer academic performance indicators than students who don’t.

Kids with autism, ADHD or other developmental disabilities are twice as likely to skip school than kids without ADHD or an autism spectrum disorder. Schools offer special resources and teaching professionals these kids need to help them graduate high school and potentially enroll in college

When high school students struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental health problems are chronically absent from school, they increase their risk of experiencing worsening mental illnesses, social isolation and dropping out of high school.

According to NCJRS (National Criminal Justice Reference Service), teens skipping school will cause them to lose interest in school activities and lower their confidence and ability to complete their schoolwork.

Statistically, juvenile truancy causes many students to get left behind or prevents them from graduating from high school. Researchers also show that children and teens who constantly skip school are also more likely to participate in daytime crimes such as vandalism, shoplifting, drug use and others.

Legal Consequences for Skipping School Summary. Other personal skipping school consequences for teens.

Effective Consequences for Skipping School

As parents, we understand the frustration of dealing with teenagers who skip school. The most common consequences parents use when their teens skip school include:

  • Taking cell phones away
  • Limiting Internet time
  • Grounding teens from attending school events (when schools allow such events)
  • Deactivating social media accounts
  • Taking away a teen’s car and/or driver’s license
  • Delaying the start of driving school

While some of these disciplinary measures are effective, you can try more creative consequences that will help your child understand why attending school is so important. 

More Creative Punishments for Skipping School or Skipping Classes

Here are some innovative ideas to encourage your teen to take their education seriously.

  • Instead of taking away their phone or grounding them, try having them volunteer at a local charity or community center or, better yet, find something they can do that is related to education, such as tutoring younger students or organizing a school supply drive. This not only teaches responsibility but also helps them gain perspective on the importance of education.
  • Assign them a research project on the long-term consequences of skipping school and the consequences of truancy. Have them present their findings to the family. This will help them understand the real-world impact of their actions.
  • Restricting access to electronics or social media can be an effective deterrent for tech-savvy teens if you give them an opportunity to earn it back by completing extra chores. You could also have them create an educational presentation on the dangers of skipping school. Get creative, invite their friends over for a get-together, and then have your child share the presentation with his friends. 
  • Create a “school schedule” at home, complete with strict wake up times, study hours, and early bedtimes – no exceptions.
  • Take them to work with you for a day, and have them shadow you to gain an appreciation for the value of showing up and working hard.

 

The key to creative consequences is to make the punishment fit the “crime” in a way that is meaningful and impactful for your teen. With a little creativity, you can turn a negative situation into a learning opportunity.

 

Legal Consequences for Skipping School

Most kids are unaware that chronic absenteeism could lead to dealing with legal ramifications. 

Is Skipping School Legal In Some States?

In California, parents of truant kids could be fined for failing to ensure their child attends school. Other states hold parents accountable for truancy, while some require parents to partake in parenting classes or attend court-mandated programs. 

They may also be found guilty of an infraction and prosecuted if the authorities determine the parent has not attempted to keep their child in school.

Infographic illustrating the legal consequences for parents in various U.S. states when teens skip school.

Students between 13 and 18 years of age who refuse to attend school may be suspended from school and/or have their driving privileges revoked.

When all other avenues have been exhausted, habitually truant teens under age 18 may be put into foster care if the parent is found to be grossly neglectful regarding school attendance.

13 and 18 years of age who refuse to attend school

Beyond the Punishment

The best consequences for bad behavior lead young people to learn valuable lessons. For example, parents who deal with teens constantly skipping school may opt to address the issue a different way.

They may try to set reasonable academic goals for their children. If they meet this goal, they receive a reward. If they don’t meet this goal, some of their privileges will be restricted until the goals are met.

This way, children focus on the real goal rather than just school attendance. They also learn for themselves that when they don’t stay in school, they most probably can’t meet their academic goals.

After all, parents want their children to stay in school not just for the sake of school attendance but for the sake of learning what they need to learn to advance to the next stages of their academic lives.

How to Stop Kids from Skipping School

There are many possible reasons why teens skip school, and while consequences and punishments for skipping school is an important means of behavior modification, it is not enough.

Finding out the underlying reasons why your child is unmotivated to go to school (or motivated not to go to school) is the best way to help them get back on the right track.

When a teen consistently skips school, it’s a good idea for parents to take extra measures in order to keep their teens in line. Here are a few suggestions that may be helpful.

  • Keep track – Parents can request the school to notify them if their teen is absent, regardless of whether the absence is excused. If possible, have your own system to track your teen’s attendance in school (like an attendance log signed by their teacher).
  • Investigate – Ask your teen if there are any specific reasons why he doesn’t want to go to school:
    • Is he being bullied?
    • Are there classes that he’s scared to attend because he’s not confident about his performance in it?
    • Are there gang problems in the area?

Talk to your child’s guidance counselor and teachers to find out if he has begun hanging out with a bad crowd.

  • Explore alternative solutions – For parents who continuously have a hard time keeping their teens in school, it may be best to explore other alternatives.

Depending on the reason your child is skipping school, possible solutions may include homeschooling, encouraging your child to see a therapist, transferring your child to a different school in order to avoid bad crowds, and others.

In some cases, sending teens to therapeutic boarding schools may help stabilize them emotionally before reintegrating them to mainstream schools.

Truant teens will only stop skipping classes and begin giving their best in school when they are convinced personally that this is the right decision to make.

When is it Time to Seek Professional Help?

For parents who have done all they can to help their child stay in school, the next step may be to consider sending their child to a therapeutic boarding school.

These schools provide caring, licensed teachers and counselors who can help children struggling emotionally and/or academically.

Therapeutic boarding schools also offer a holistically structured environment in which children receive one-on-one time with teachers, share similar experiences with peers and improve their self-esteem.

Who Can You Contact for Help?

When speaking to your child, coming up with creative consequences and punishment fails. You can contact your local education authorities for help.

Please talk to the school principal, visit with a social counselor or work with the juvenile officers to suggest ways that you can work with your teen to make school more relevant and or develop a coordinated plan to help your teen.

If all of that fails, and your teen is missing or skipping school, about to be suspended, or has been expulsed, contact us to learn how residential treatment can help.

Sources: 

(1) Home Page | Ed Data Express

(2 & 4)NCES Blog | February 29. 2024 (ed.gov)

(3) Unesco & Center for Disease Control

Updates: 

4/28/2024 Updated statistics

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