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Teen Refuses to Go to School

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My 16-year-old daughter is refusing to attend high school. She wants an education but hates the social structure there. She endures ugly remarks almost daily. This upsets her so much that she can't function in class. Last year she would ditch her favorite ceramics class or come in extremely late because she hated being the only freshman in a group of juniors and seniors who picked on her. For her, it's either avoid the situation or have stomach problems, bad headaches and severe hives from a reaction the stress causes her Even our physician after talking to her felt that school was the cause. She had these symptoms so much last year that she missed a lot of school.

We've been dealing with Lindy's hatred of this school for 2 years now. I've been to numerous conferences with them and have told them how she felt. I have been trying to get her into their alternative school. She has made it on the list, but who knows when she's be able to attend? Her brother went there for the same reasons and graduated this year with extra credits. Lindy's reason for going there was to get away from the social upsets since it's a smaller group of kids at the ALC and more self- paced, so that she can concentrate on getting an education. In past school meetings they felt she was very likely to drop out, but felt that she was college material.

I tried to work with them, but finally got angry because I decided I needed to put my daughter's feelings first. They would try to set up something a step at a time, but not really help get her where she asked to go. She had told her counselor and principal that she hated being in that Ceramics class and why she wanted out. They told her she had to stay there. She just started 10th grade last week, has ditched a few classes and all day yesterday.

Sometimes it can be hard talking to her, as she is like me. We both hold it in, really get upset when we talk about things and then feel embarrassed. What's a mom to do?

A: You don't mention whether your daughter has seen a therapist during the past few years. If she has not, I think individual therapy would be indicated. She continues to be overwhelmed by an everyday school existence and her attitude and behavior is negatively affecting her personally and educationally. She needs some professional help.

It would appear that she has made up her mind that she will not attend this school and her behavior at the beginning of this school year proves it. You and she and the school have all been stuck in a rhythm, which no one seems to be able to break out of. She certainly is not becoming more resilient, optimistic, or educated in the process. Although you may be hard-pressed to document why your daughter needs to be in the alternative school now (as opposed to staying on the waiting list), I suggest that you request a core evaluation for her as guaranteed by federal law for any public school child who may have learning disabilities or special needs that warrant an alternative and/or specialized educational plan.

In your daughter's case, if you can provide convincing psychiatric documentation that she cannot be educated in this school system due to the stress she experiences, you may be able to have her placed in the alternative school as a result of her condition being deemed an educational special need. Get a therapist who has experience advocating for kids in this situation -- his testimony and reputation will play a major role in this plan.

Also please consult our FEN website for articles in the Special Needs and Learning Disabilities sections where we give advice to parents on how to advocate for the educational needs of their kids. We discuss what a child is guaranteed by law and how to find the right solution for your child. Read all the articles by Robert Crabtree on IDEA, IEPs, and advocating for your child.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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