Written by Doctor G

Skipping classes

Q: My high schooler is skipping some classes, what should I do?

~Maria, in Portland, OR

A:When I first read this question I thought, wait! I need details! Which classes, how often, how is she doing in school? After some more consideration, those details don’t really matter.

From the perspective of raising a responsible adult, here is my considered opinion: don’t do anything.

Pause for breath here, I can feel your blood pressure rise, see your mouth drop open. How in the world can doing nothing about truancy help to raise an adult I will admire? This woman is crazy, I’m never reading her blog again!

OK, if you’re still with me, here it is. You can’t micro-manage teenagers. Grilling (and punishing) your teen for every skipped class, every lie told, every interaction handled badly, will set you up for a about six to ten years of conflict, but will not give the space necessary for the development of a responsible adult.

I know there is a swirling Technicolor spiral in your head. Skipping English to a failing grade to more avoidance and more failure to a high school drop-out and drug addict. And the background music is on the How-Have-I-Failed-As-A-Parent Top Ten Greatest Hits. So here is a plan.

Step 1 Decide on your requirements of your teen’s academic performance. This may mean a certain grade point average, or a certain minimum grade in most classes. This may mean a quarterly letter signed by teachers that the student is working hard. This probably includes your child being safe during the school day (OK, all the time, but stay focused here people). This should include staying out of trouble at school. Administrative action at school should also mean consequences at home.
Step 2 Make your requirements clear to your teen. Decide (adults only or with input from the student) on the consequences if your requirements aren’t met.
Step 3 Write it down and have parents and teen sign it. Put in this contract how often the teen’s performance will be reviewed. This could be by grading period, monthly communication with teacher, daily signed sheet for a kid that is really struggling (but ease up on this as their compliance improves). Also include in the contract any help the student wants that you find reasonable, like a tutor or computer access, or a whiteboard to help remember assignments. Put in consequences for the parents if you nag!
Step 4 Live by it. This is the hardest part. You can make a very detailed contract if you want to, including number of tardies and absences and quiz grades and number of books read and notes passed in study hall. I REALLY don’t recommend that! Let your teen find out by trial and error how to fulfill these requirements. Offer help and advice ONLY WHEN ASKED.

If your child has such a contract, they will quickly learn that skipping classes leads to consequences at home due to poor grades. You are giving them the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. That is the education they need to grow into an admirable adult. If your child gets in trouble at school for truancy, make sure they have big consequences because they violated the contract. This mimics adult life and encourages better decision-making in the future. Which is how we all learned which “classes” we could skip and which we couldn’t.

OK, bring it everyone! I look forward to reading your comments.

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17 thoughts on “Skipping classes”

  1. you’re truly the best. we are dealing with this on a smaller scale with my 10yo (grades, not truancy) and somehow, between meeting with teachers and his ped, we settled on a similar plan, and it is working. sounds totally counter intuitive to not be punitive, but you are right. nicely answered. also, nice to be validated 🙂

  2. SO glad for my many years spent working as a counselor for teens at a sleep away summer camp. I think I would be totally freaked out by the prospect of my “babies” becoming teens if not for this experience. Glad you are there to help shed some light for those experiencing the great joys and challenges of the teen years for the first time with their own kids! Excellent advice.

  3. What do you do if your child refuses to bring their grade up? Our son, 16, is required to maintain at least a low C in every class to be able to use the computer (read: Facebook) at home. He skips classes often. He is failing several classes. Nothing seems to be incentive enough to pass. He will pass each end of the year by the skin of his teeth, just so he doesn’t get held back a grade. He is almost 17, had not had driver’s training (another thing he had to be passing for us to pay for,) and just doesn’t care. What would be appropriate consequences? How do you motivate a child that seems to have NO motivation? For the record…he is actually a brilliant child. The only classes he gets A’s in have been advanced math classes and Physics. He is very much into music (the guitar.) Taking the guitar away only drives him into anger and depression…it does not help his grades or truancy issues. HELP!

      1. Hi,
        My 16 y0 son sounds like Maureen’s. He is *so* capable and just does not care about grades. He also does great in some classes (Math/Science/Spanish/Band) but does little-to-nothing in others. He skipped school for the first time last week. He spends a lot of time on his various instruments and we don’t feel that taking that away is a good idea. He has been smoking pot on a regular basis this year. His only academic goal is to pass.

        It feels like he has built up a wall of deceit around himself- I feel like he is lying to me or patronizing me every time he opens his mouth and I can’t really believe anything he says. Up until he skipped, I have been trying very hard not to be intrusive and I thought we were doing ok. I had a deal with him that I would not be invasive and only ask questions when I needed to, and he would tell me the truth. He seemed ok with that, and seemed to understand that I need to know he is safe. It felt like it was working, and I felt like I he was telling the truth when we spoke. We knew he was smoking pot and have instructed him on the dangers there (and he knows and understands them) and asked him to keep it to a minimum.. not on school nights, etc. Then he started doing it more and my husband took action and raided his room and backpack and threw away what he found. There was no yelling or outbursts., it was done calmly. After that point I think he closed off from me/us, now skipped school and has brought the lying to a new level. Now I really don’t get a good feeling when I talk to him. He used to admit when he wasn’t being truthful. Now what he says does not *sound* true to me, and he is not admitting anything. My instinct is that he is lying but he is stonewalling me. I am afraid to alienate him further and but I also fear that this behavior will continue and get worse and more dangerous.

        Anyway.. I would love to find your reply to Maureen in the blog post you referenced but I’m afraid I don’t see where it is.


        1. Suzanne,

          If you feel that the lying is escalating and his behavior is dangerous (to him or to your relationship) in any way, you should get more involved. I agree that teens want and often deserve some space, but that must be earned. Can you insist that he spend a lot more time with you? Meaning in the same room as you or his dad? Often just the constant presence will wear down a teen’s defenses and put them in a position where they are able to open up a lkittle more. Especially if you’re able to let him know that you want to be closer to him physically even if he isn’t yet ready to be close again emotionally. Continue doing the great work you’re doing coming to him from a place of safety and respect, that you love him and want to find solutions that work for all of you.

  4. my daughter is 16 years old and she is in the ninth grade and skipping her 5th period I got a warning that was brought to me and that she is skipping to me in person that if she continues on skipping i will be taken to court. And if she goes to a appointment she needs a excuse by the doctor or nurse.

  5. What to do she is a good kid. Should i ground her teenagers say i wont do it again but they do help if we go to court i have to pay i am a single mom

    1. I think you need to 1. Find out how much it would cost, and make sure she knows that will be HER fine to pay you back, not your money. Then ask 2. Why is she skipping that class? She may have a real problem with someone or something there and need help solving that problem. 3. She does need some kind of consequence for skipping. And she needs to go to the teacher about the learning she’s missed. Does that help?

  6. I am in a similar situation as Maureen above.

    My daughter has struggled with depression but is currently well balanced in that area. She is still in treatment but no longer has depression symptoms.

    One reason she skips is anxiety – fear of failing. But she sometimes skips because she doesn’t want to put forth effort. My daughter says she wants to go to college but skips classes and doesn’t turn in work. As a result her gpa is quite low with F’s in some classes, including French which she loves and wants to continue studying.

    We are working with her therapist on this issue but would love any additional advise or insights. I know that she doesn’t want to fail – that she wants to get into the college of her choice.

    1. It sounds like she could use a school-based counselor in addition to the therapy that she is doing. Maybe some cognitive behavioral therapy to help her focus on actions she can take (positive ones) when she feels emotionally overwhelmed. Does that sound realistic?

  7. I have a 15 year old teen that is going through alot of things. She recently moved in with us. We have been driving her to and from school every day which is an hour away from our home. I have repeatedly spoke to her about her swearing, skiping school and not completing assignments. She is a great person and very kind but has a teenage attitude right now. I have been very patient with her but my patients are wearing thin as I get calls from the school weekly saying she’s not in school and last week she was Suspended for swearing and uttering a death threat to a teacher. What should I do?

    1. Gail, It is amazing that you have taken this girl in, and clearly you have a lot of compassion for her. She needs that compassion but she also needs limits and consequences. You can give her the limits and the rules (and enforce them) while still having empathy for her situation. If she doesn’t follow your rules she can’t stay with you – that is real life. Structure – as well as counseling and collaboration with her other adults – will make a big difference. Please let me know how it goes!

  8. Im going threw a similar event with my daughter. She is a great kid. Honor roll student. In Beta Club. She went to class ling enough for roll call, excussed herself to the restroom and was caught down another hall with 5 other friends. Then she didnt come home and telk me her counselor called. So today she is suppose to bring her slip home for detention. Yet she still doesn’t know i know. O and this is the beginning of their spring break. What if she doesnt bring me the slip? How should i handle this with her?

    1. I hope that she lets you know as soon as she gets home. If she doesn’t, though, that’s pretty normal teen behavior. I’d just sit down with her and ask what happened with her class attendance and listen to her answer. She may have an excellent answer – like a friend who was in a scary situation or needed help – that really reflects great values and reasonable decision-making. If you can listen to her answer and her reasons you will have a much easier time explaining how you wish she’d handled the situation and what you expect from her now and next time such a thing occurs. If she doesn’t have a good reason or won’t share her reason with you, then she needs an appropriate consequence and also for you to make clear what would happen if she did this again. That way she can make a more informed decision the next time she considers skipping class.

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