My 17-Year-Old Doesn't Want to Go to School
By Joe Connolly, Consulting Educator
My son who is 17 does not want to go to school. He comes up with all kinds of excuses. He won't do the assignments given by teachers. He distracts others. He is breaking his mother's heart and stressing us to the max. What should I do?
I have a lot of empathy for your situation. Without having more specific information about your son's history, it can be difficult to figure out the actual problem. My suspicion is that the behaviors you are seeing from your son are symptoms of something else that is going on in his life. There are many things that could be affecting his behavior.
It could be something as simple as normal teen development. At 17, your son is very close to being developmentally independent. This could be an attempt by him to demonstrate that independence. Simply stated, you want him to do A, therefore he's going to do B.
His behavior might stem from some control issues that have existed for many years. If a child has been under very tight controls his entire life, it's not unusual for that same child to act out by refusing to do anything his parents wish once he advances into his teen years. Likewise, if a child has been allowed to do anything he pleases, without any boundaries, he also could exhibit the behavior you describe.
Another possibility is that your son could be using alcohol or other drugs, thus causing a behavior that is new to you and destructive to him.
I would start by trying to talk with your son about your concerns. But you need to do it in a way that he feels completely safe. He needs to know that you love him and that you're concerned with his health and safety, not with punishing him. If the two of you can get to this point, he might tell you what's really going on. At least then you'll have a way to start helping him.
If that doesn't work, you might ask the school counselor to get involved. Most school counselors see this type of behavior all the time and are very qualified to help. You could also check in with his teachers to see what they think. If he has another adult in his life that he is close to, you could ask that person what they think is going on.
If those suggestions do not help, you might consider professional counseling. There are many qualified counselors who can help you get to the root of the problem. You should see the counselor first, so you can explain the situation. Keep in mind that finding a good counselor is often like finding a good pair of shoes. Sometimes you have to try on a few pairs before you find one that fits.
If you have any reason to suspect alcohol or other drug use, even if it's a small chance, I would urge you to seek professional help as soon as possible.
Parenting teens is one of the most difficult tasks imaginable. Sometimes we feel like we are the only one who has a particular problem. Understanding what is at the root of the problem, and then getting the necessary help, can make parenting easier.
Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.