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What Is School Avoidance?

What Is School Avoidance

School avoidance, also known as school refusal and school phobia, is defined by Stanford Children’s Hospital as “a term used to describe the signs of anxiety a school-aged child has and his or her refusal to go to school.” The infrequent refusal to go to school is normal, but when this becomes a routine problem for a young person, it may be indicative of school avoidance. The natural consequences of a young person repeatedly missing school are obvious (e.g., falling behind academically, diminished self-confidence, social isolation, friendship difficulties, etc.). School avoidance is not uncommon, and data suggests that school refusal occurs among 2 to 4% of all children, from early childhood through high school. 


School avoidance is not a disorder, but rather it presents as a symptom experienced by a young person. It is not uncommon for an adolescent who is experiencing school avoidance to have previously struggled with social anxiety, depression, undiagnosed learning disabilities, and or has a history of separation anxiety. There are also several situational reasons (e.g., bullying, divorce, moving, death of a loved one, difficulty getting along with teachers, lacking friends, etc.) that can be a part of why an adolescent may develop school avoidance. There are several reasons that can contribute to a young person’s refusal to attend school, but the result is the same: going to extreme lengths to avoid going to school.

Signs and Symptoms 

The primary sign that is exhibited by an adolescent that is school avoidant is the clear refusal to attend school. This can manifest in different ways. Some examples of behaviors exhibited by a young person who is school avoidant include the following, provided by Harvard Medical School:

  • Refusing to get dressed in the morning
  • Purposefully missing the bus to school
  • Constant complaints of different physical ailments
  • Neglecting to do homework
  • Anxiety
  • Weight fluctuation
  • Depression
  • Social isolation

When a teenager goes to a doctor for his or her physical ailments, frequently no illness or medical diagnosis will be found. Most adolescents who experience school avoidance are unable to articulate their discomfort and do not actually know why they feel sick. The symptoms surrounding a teen’s school avoidance, most commonly, will be present on school days and absent on the weekends. It is important to keep the lines of communication open with your adolescent regarding his or her experiences at school. If your teen becomes withdrawn and expresses extreme concern for or refusal to attend school, obtaining guidance from a mental health professional can be advantageous.

For Information and Support

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times.

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


We are available to answer any questions you may have regarding mental health treatment and our residential program, anytime. Contact us today using the form to the right.

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