Top tips to keep your child or teenager safe online
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Mark Calleja
Mark Calleja is the co-founder and Headteacher at HackLab. He is an experienced school teacher who was recognised by Ofsted as an ‘Outstanding’ classroom teacher in 2014 and is a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator. He has been interviewed about coding on the BBC and the Naked Scientists show.
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Teenage education

What can I do if my child or teenager refuses or doesn’t want to go to school?

Teenagers can struggle at school. They are in a very results-driven atmosphere, with huge emphasis on academic work and self-discipline. Their peer group is usually very important and defining to them. If they have no friends, or are dealing with bullies, then school can feel like a hostile place. It's important to try to be a calm and supportive base for them.
In Short
Listen to your teenager and show concern for their feelings. Ask them why they don't want to go and try and get to the root of the problem. This may take some time.

Keep your temper under control.

Don’t physically force or bribe your child to go to school.

Remember one of your jobs as a parent being a role model for dealing with life’s problems, so try to deal with it calmly and supportively.

Do practical things like making sure they're OK with their homework, and have the right uniform and things they need to blend in with the crowd.

If you think or know your child is being bullied discuss it both with them and the school.

It might be your child doesn’t want to go to school simply because they are bored or tired. That’s life and they’ll probably just need some encouragement to get on with it. Simple things like improving their sleep and/ or diet, or getting involved in sports, drama or emotion coaching/ mindfulness, can make a huge difference. You can help encourage and support these things.

However, there might be a more serious reason and you may need to pay more attention to what that could be.

Is my child or teenager refusing school because of bullying?

Of course, there are also times when your teenager may refuse to go to school because they are truly unhappy or subject to bullying. If you are concerned this is the case, then you need to engage with the school straight away.

If your teenager has settled well into high school, they will probably have a good amount of self-confidence to deal with the demands of everyday routines. They should be strongly praised for their behaviour and the ability they’ve demonstrated to adjust to the new and sometimes overbearing expectations. Meeting new classmates and teachers, as well as managing the journeys to and from unfamiliar buildings are all achievements to be celebrated. If teenagers have the backing of parents to value their early initial efforts to get on well at school, then they become much better able to express and explain periods of fear or stress that they may feel later on.

11 tips for parents to help their children deal with concerns about attending school
  1. Listen to your teenager and respond sensitively to show your concern for her feelings.
  2. Keep your temper under control and do not raise your voice. Matters will escalate if you let your emotions take hold and enter into a shouting match.
  3. Similarly, try not to manhandle your teenager as you might scare her. Your teenager may hit out if she is physically forced, and it will not be a good start to the day.
  4. Always remember that you are the parent, the most important role model in your teenager’s world. You cannot undermine this role as she will feel even more rejected and insecure.
  5. Express your unconditional love for your teenager, and at the same time emphasise that skiving off school is not an option, explain that you can help resolve the problems she may be having there.
  6. Try not to engage in any form of overt bribery to make your teenager go to school. However, you may want to suggest a compromise. Such as suggesting that you will offer her special one to one time with you if she agrees to go to school. This will work particularly if your teenager is refusing to go to school because she is really trying to spend more time with you. By conceding to giving more quality time your teenager will be the victor. However, she will also be agreeing to what you wanted, so you will be gaining as well.
  7. As a parent, you should also be aware of your vital role in supporting your teenager to get her homework done on time. Many teenagers become anxious about going to school because they have not completed their homework or prepared themselves for a school test. Try to ensure that you give the time and inspiration to help get your teenager into a good routine from the start about doing homework and learning for exams. Make sure she receives encouragement and has the right tools and environment in the home, such as a desk in her bedroom with a comfortable chair and resources such as pens, paper, a dictionary, research books and maths tools etc.
  8. Start as soon as your teenager is given homework to sit with her to see that it is done. As she develops the habit to complete homework on her own, ensure that even if you are not doing it with her, that you take an interest in what she does. Keeping engaged with your children over homework helps them remain motivated and also allows you to seek ways to extend your teenager’s knowledge through visits to places of history, and research of the natural and man-made world. Having success with homework and thereby keeping up with the school academic expectations will help avoid your teenager being fearful of attending school.
  9. Another reason for teenagers not wanting to go to school is fear of being picked on because their school clothes are in some way different or do not fit them as well as they should. Parents need to make the effort to wash school clothes regularly and ensure that they fit well. Let your teenager set out the clothes the night before, with clean underwear and encourage her to prepare additional kit; such as sports clothes or swimming gear. Most children want to look like everyone else at school, so try not to impose your personal beliefs on your children’s dress.
  10. Going on school trips often fills children with fear and makes them unwilling to attend school for days in advance of the planned experience. If your child is fearful for a wide range of reasons, try to listen to her and build self-confidence when you can. Never force your child to go on trips with the school, but set a good example by giving her prior opportunities to go away on simple holidays with the family, and stay overnight with friends and family. Your child may find it hard to conceive of sleeping in a strange bed and could be scared of the other aspects of sleeping somewhere different, such as the smell of the sheets, the location of the toilet and bathroom, or not being close to her favourite toys that bring comfort.
  11. If your teenager does not want to go to school because they are scared of specific classmates whom they meet every day, you may want to have a private word on the phone with the school or a meeting to discuss the concerns. But at home, you need to encourage her to learn to express feelings and emotions. Good communication with your teenager will make it easier to help her explain her problem. If she can develop a better understanding of why her peers behave in different ways according to their moods and experience, she will be more open-minded and tolerant and less likely to take offence or react emotionally.

Remember that every child is different and that, as parents, you will need to show empathy and understand that your teenager doesn’t usually make difficulties for fun. Have confidence in her and sympathy for her fears and try to improve the situation by showing respect.

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.