Problems With Teens Skipping Schools, Truancy and Chronic Absenteeism

The majority of parents recognize the fact that children cannot learn effectively without going to school. Skipping school or some classes hinder students from gaining academic success which in turn may limit their capability to become financially successful in the future. Parents, being the primary authority figures responsible for their children, definitely play a big role in reducing juvenile truancy.

Truancy and Skipping Class

Truancy has been an unrelenting problem in the U.S. since the first one-room schools opened in the 1800s. However, it wasn’t until the1950 that chronic absenteeism became a hot button issue with 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 plentiful as well, 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. University enrollment increased exponentially during the 1970s as well. 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.

Why Do Some Teens Skip Class?

If you have asked yourself this question one too many times, take solace in the fact you are not alone. An examination of surveys completed by teachers and teens indicate that 13 percent of middle and high schoolers are regularly skipping school. In addition, rates of unexcused absences are consistently higher in urban areas where race, poverty, crime and lack of qualified teachers fuel chronic truancy among troubled teens.

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 unexcused absences before and during the COVID-19 pandemic is bullying.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 20 percent 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. Five percent of students say they have been shoved, tripped and pushed. Most bullying incidents happen in school hallways or stairwells (43 percent). Fifteen percent of students say they are bullied via text or on a social media site.

Online bullying rates have increased dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close and move to strictly online learning. Fortunately, the pandemic appears to be easing with the rapid rollout of vaccinations. Most schools are expected to allow students to attend classes in person this fall. However, the problem of bullying continues to be a leading driver of chronic absenteeism in both online and “brick and mortar” schools.

Teens skipping school because of bullying

Other reasons kids skip school include (in their own words):

  • 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 you 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, autism/Asperger’s or other developmental issue

If you discover your child has been skipping school, sit down with your teen and ask them why they are not going to school. If you don’t get the results you wanted, schedule a meeting with yourself, your teen and the school’s guidance counselor to determine what can be done about your teen’s absenteeism.

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.

As soon as you learn your teen has missed just one day without your knowledge, you should take action immediately to stop future absenteeism.

Why Kids Need to be in School Every Day

When a child is chronically absent in grade school, research indicates that child will likely drop out of high school

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 miss 10 percent of the school year

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 for experiencing worsening mental illnesses, social isolation and dropping out of school.

According to NCJRS (National Criminal Justice Reference Service), teens skipping school will cause them to lose interest in school activities as well as lowers their confidence and ability to complete their schoolwork. Statistically speaking, juvenile truancy causes many students to get left behind or prevents them from graduating from high school. Researchers also show that children and teens that constantly skip school are also more likely to participate in daytime crimes such as vandalism, shoplifting, drug use and others.

Effective Consequences and Punishments for Skipping School

Consequences parents could invoke 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


Legal Consequences for Skipping School

Most kids are unaware that chronic absenteeism could lead to dealing with legal ramifications. In California, parents of truant kids could be fined for failing to ensure their child attends school. 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.

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.

Problems With Teens Skipping Schools, Truancy and Chronic Absenteeism Troubled Teens

Beyond the Punishment

The best kinds of consequences imposed for bad behavior are those that 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 on 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 in order to advance to the next stages of their academic life.

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 or not. If possible, have your own system to track the attendance of your teen 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.

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