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HELP FOR TEENS STRUGGLING WITH SCHOOL AVOIDANCE

School avoidance, also known as school refusal, is when a young person refuses to go to school because of emotional distress.

General Information

School avoidance is not a disorder, but rather it manifests 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. All of these can be contributing factors to the development of a young person’s school avoidance.

There are several situational reasons that can be a part of why an adolescent may develop school avoidance. Some examples can include the following:

• Moving
Bullying
• Divorce
• Death of a loved one
• Parents frequently arguing and or having marital problems
• Not having friends
• Difficulty getting along with teacher or teachers

Many young people find school to be a fun and enriching experience. Studies have concluded, that one in four adolescents occasionally refuse to go to school in America. The infrequent refusal to go to school is normal, but when this becomes a routine problem for a young person he or she may require the help of a mental health professional.

School avoidance will look different on different adolescents, but ultimately have the same result of missing school. Some of the noticeable symptoms can include, but are not limited to: constant complaints of not feeling well, stomachaches, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and or hyperventilating. Other physical symptoms such as fever and or weight loss are less common. When a teenager goes to a doctor for his or her 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. These physical symptoms largely manifest because of underlying mental and or emotional struggles that the adolescent is experiencing. The symptoms surrounding a teen’s school avoidance, most commonly, will be present on school days and absent on the weekends.

There are many ways in which to help a young person who is struggling with school avoidance. First and foremost, it is imperative to have your teen be seen by a medical health professional, so as to assure there is no presence of a physical illness. It is of equal importance, for parents to have an open line of communication with their teenager. School avoidance can appear as a teenager behaving in a defiant manner, which is not at all the case. Rather, the teen is attempting to cope and protect his or herself from the emotional discomforts that arise from attending school. Discussing why he or she does not want to attend school can provide a parent with insight as well as give a platform from which to offer supportive, problem-solving advice. Validating your teen’s feelings and concerns is important, but must be followed up with insisting on his or her return to school. The longer a young person is out of school, the more difficult his or her transition back will be. Bring the school into the loop and make your teenager’s teachers and principle aware of his or her school avoidance.

In some cases, it is possible to successfully manage your teenager’s school refusal alone. There are, however, many therapeutic modalities that can help a young person with his or her school avoidance. Talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), creative arts therapies and relaxation techniques are all therapeutic methods that can be helpful in treating a young person who dealing with school avoidance. If your teenager’s school avoidance lasts more than one week, obtaining the help of a mental health professional may be necessary.

Further Information

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of 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. Seeking 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.

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