Dealing With Truancy--

Truancy can be broadly divided into two categories:

  • Those teens that skip off school once in a blue moon

  • Those who are away from school more often than they
    are there

Why Do Kids Skip School?

1. Truancy - like smoking, drinking, drug taking - is a cry for
help.  The US Department of Education states in its Manual to
Combat Truancy that truancy "is the first sign of trouble; the
first indicator that a young person is giving up and losing his
or her way.”  When your child decides to skip school, not just
once, but chronically, this usually means that the school (the
custodian of the child) is somehow not serving this individual.

2. Truancy is often a standard response to trouble at home.

3. Some experts cite bullying at school as a significant cause
of truancy. Here the desire to escape ongoing exposure to
torture causes the victims to take the matter into their own
hands. When you scratch the surface of many incidents of
truancy in teens, you come up with actions that are
sometimes appropriate, or at least understandable responses
to inappropriate circumstances.

What to do--

  • Be involved with your teen's school.

  • Get to know their teachers, the school administrators by
    attending Parent's Night and other school functions.

  • Volunteer to help where you can. Schools are always
    looking for parents help with chaperoning dances or field
    trips, or running the concession stand at sporting
    events. The more involved you are in your teen's school
    the less likely they are to try and get away with skipping

  • Keep the lines of communication open with your teen
    when it comes to their school environment. Allow them
    to vent to you if they need to about a teacher, a certain
    class, etc. We all need to blow off steam. If there seems
    to be a major problem, work with the school and the
    teacher to find an answer.

  • Let your teenager know what the consequences are for
    being truant. Find out what your local area's laws are for

  • If truancy becomes a problem, set up an Action Plan.
    Write down all of your expectations, the limits, and the

  • If your kid is between 5 and 16 and is registered with a
    school, remind him that you are legally responsible for
    making sure he attends school regularly -- and that YOU
    could get into trouble too if he skips school.

Other points to consider:

Don't delay. Truancy must be addressed quickly. The longer it
goes on, the less chance the problem can be easily resolved,
and the greater risk of your child getting into even more

Let him know how you feel. Although it’s important not to lose
your temper with child, you must tell him know how upset you
are. But at the same time be careful not to make them feel too
guilty about it. Remember there may be a valid reason why
your child doesn’t want to go to school.

Listen to what they have to say. Addressing truancy means
addressing the reasons behind it. And the only way you’ll find
out these reasons is through your child. Sit him down and ask
him calmly why he’s not going to school. Tell him you won’t be
angry with what he tells you, and reassure him that you’ll help
him get through the problem, whatever it is.

Stay calm. It's a natural reaction to fly off the handle when
you find out your son or daughter has been skipping school.
But shouting and screaming won’t help you get to the bottom
of the problem. You need to stay calm to try to identify the
reason why your child doesn’t want to go to school.

Work with the school. The more you cooperate with your
child’s school, the better chance you have of resolving the
underlying problem, as well as avoiding too harsh a
punishment. Teachers and headmasters appreciate parents
working with them rather than against them.

School refusal vs. truancy—

School refusal is when a youngster does not want to go to
school, or is afraid to go to school. Often these kids will be
sick or miserable in the mornings. They want to stay at home
rather than go out and do other things.

Truancy on the other hand is when kids leave for school or
go to school but then slip off to meet with friends or do
something that may involve breaking rules.

What is school refusal?

School refusal is when a youngster does not want to go to
school or actually refuses to go to school. It can be very
distressing for both the moms & dads and the youngster.
Often moms & dads are blamed, as if it is their fault, which
makes them feel worse. If your youngster is not wanting to
go to school it is usually not your fault but there are some
things you can do that might help.

Kids who don’t want to go to school usually:

• are more likely to be the youngest member of a family
• don’t have any serious behavior problems
• don’t try to hide their wish not to go to school from their
moms & dads
• get upset about going to school and may have stomach
aches or headaches, or do not feel well without a physical
• want to stay at home with moms & dads

School refusal can happen at any age but is likely to be at
times of change such as starting school or starting high

In the long term these kids usually do well, they get back
to school and don’t have any after effects. The short-term
problems are about missing school work and not having the
chance to enjoy playing with friends. These can happen if it
goes on for a long time, as it sometimes does.

Reasons for school refusal—

Some reasons for not wanting to go to school are:

•        Fear of losing a parent. The youngster
may think something bad will happen to the
parent. This could be due to: a parent being
ill, (sometimes happens after the parent gets
better); marriage problems and fighting;
moms & dads separating; knowing another youngster who
has lost a parent or whose family has broken up.

•        Fear that a parent might leave while the youngster is at

•        Jealousy if there is a younger brother or sister at home
- the youngster may think the mother is doing all sorts of
good things with the younger youngster while she is at school.

•        Moving house in the early primary years when the
youngster does not fully understand distance and space and
so feels she has lost contact with her home.

•        Moms & dads being unreliable about when they pick up
after school. Some moms & dads are very late picking up their
kids, and the kids feel they have been forgotten.

•        Moms & dads’ worries. If the moms & dads show they
are worried about the school refusal, the youngster is more
likely to believe there is something to really be worried about.

•        Problems at school which could be: being bullied; not
having friends; not understanding where things are - feeling
lost at school; learning problems; not getting along with a

•        Separation anxiety (being afraid to be away from moms
& dads). This may be because some time in the past there has
been an unhappy separation such as the youngster or parent
being in hospital.

What moms & dads can do—

It is important to get the youngster back to
school, because the longer he is away the
harder it is likely to be. Try to deal with the
cause if you can work out what it is from the
ideas above.

Some other things you can try, depending on the cause:

  • Let him know that you can understand how he feels. For
    example say, "That feels really scary to you". Don’t make
    fun of his feelings and don’t tell him that big boys aren’t
    scared - everyone is afraid sometimes. If you are not
    understanding, your youngster will find it hard to tell you
    when he is worried.

  • Listen to your youngster and encourage him to tell you
    about his feelings and fears.

  • Try not to let him see that you are worried.

  • You need to believe that your youngster will get over the
    problem and let your youngster know that you believe in

  • Check with the teacher what is happening at school. It is
    important that you develop a good relationship with your
    youngster's teacher and that your youngster knows
    this. You and the teacher are the most important adults
    in your youngster's life while she is at school.

  • Be reliable and on time when picking up after school.
    Have a plan for times when you might unavoidably be

  • Give the youngster as much control over the problem as
    you can - ask him what he thinks will help and then try

  • Let the youngster know you will be doing something
    boring at home while she is at school.

  • Let the youngster take something of yours in her pocket
    to mind during the day (it need not be something
    valuable but needs to be something the youngster
    knows is yours and that you would not want to lose).

  • Make sure your youngster knows that you will always
    come back - tell her over and over again if you need to.

  • Sometimes it is helpful if the youngster says good-bye
    to you at home and a friend’s parent takes her to school.

  • Sometimes moms & dads can volunteer to help in the
    library or elsewhere in the school so the youngster
    knows you are near until she feels safe.

  • Spending time with a teacher that the youngster knows
    well at the start of the day sometimes helps. It will give
    her something to take her mind off her worries and help
    her to settle in.

If the problem still keeps on or if you or your youngster are
getting very upset, special help may be needed to help get
things going again. All schools have a school counselor or
other staff member responsible for this area.


•        Kids who run away from school to do
other things (truancy) rather than stay home
usually have different problems from those who
don’t want to go to school.

•        Kids who truant a lot sometimes go on to break the law
as they get older.

•        Kids who truant usually try not to let their moms &
dads find out.

•        They may be wanting to get attention, trying to
impress their friends or they may be angry because of school
or home problems.

•        Truancy may happen when there are learning problems.

•        Truancy sometimes happens when moms & dads are
not very interested in the youngster getting a good education,
and perhaps don’t get on very well with the school themselves.

Schools usually expect moms & dads to inform the school in
advance if their youngster will be absent through the student
diary, or by phoning the school on the day of absence. It is a
good way of ensuring your youngster's safety.

After 3 days of unexplained absence the school will usually
contact the parent, as schools are required to report student

What moms & dads can do
about truancy—

•        Getting help from a family
counselor may be an option.

•        If it has just started, try to find a cause. Think about
what else was happening in the youngster’s life when it

•        If truancy continues there needs to be an assessment
of the youngster’s problems.

•        If your youngster is skipping lessons, certain days or
certain teachers the school counselor can help her to see what
pattern is emerging, and put strategies into place to minimize
the risk of truancy occurring.

•        Attendance officers are available to help students with a
history of long term truancy.

•        Let the youngster know that
you believe that going to school is
really important.

•        Most high schools will have
behavior management consequences
for truancy.
Note: Students in large cities are twice as likely to leave school before graduating than non-urban youth. More than one in four Hispanic youth drop out, and nearly half leave by the eighth grade. Hispanics are twice as likely as African Americans to drop out. White and Asian American students are least likely to drop out. More than half the students who drop out leave by the tenth grade, 20% quit by the eighth grade, and 3% drop out by the fourth grade. Nearly 25% changed schools two or more times, with some changing for disciplinary reasons. Almost 20% were held back a grade, and almost half failed a course. Almost one-half missed at least 10 days of school, one-third cut class at least 10 times, and one-quarter were late at least 10 times. 8% spent time in a juvenile home or shelter. One-third were put on in-school suspension, suspended, or put on probation, and more than 15% were either expelled or told they couldn\'t return. 12% of dropouts ran away from home.

Both school problems and personal factors are reasons for dropping out:

·Did not like school in general or the school they were attending.

·Were failing, getting poor grades, or could not keep up with schoolwork.

·Did not get along with teachers and/or students.

·Had disciplinary problems, were suspended, or expelled.

·Did not feel safe in school.

·Got a job, had a family to support, or had trouble managing both school and work.

·Got married, got pregnant, or became a parent.

·Had a drug or alcohol problem.

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Extent of the Truancy Problem—

Although there are currently no
national statistics available on the
extent of the truancy, many states and
cities do keep their own statistics
which are often used to influence
policy. A recent national study of
school principals revealed that
truancy was listed as one of the top
five concerns by the majority of
respondents (Heaviside, et al., 1998).
In Chicago, a study conducted during
the 1995–1996 school year indicated
that the average 10th grader missed
six weeks of instruction (Roderick et.
al., 1997). Recent OJJDP research
suggests that the number of truants
are highest in inner city, public
schools, where there are large
numbers of students and where a
large percentage of the student
population participate in the free
lunch program (OJJDP, 2001).

In terms of court processing, the
number of truancy cases referred to
juvenile courts is fairly small; for
example, in 1998, about 28 percent of
referred status offenses were
truancies, which is an 85 percent
increase compared with the previous
ten years. However, this number is
expected to increase dramatically
given recent changes to truancy laws.
Interestingly, the OJJDP (2001)
reports that females are just as likely
as males to be adjudicated for

Correlates of Truancy—

The following factors have been found
to have associations with truancy in
that the likelihood of truancy is
increased given the presence of
these variables. First are family
factors, such as lack of supervision,
physical and psychological abuse,
and failure to encourage educational
achievement. Second are school
factors which can range from
inconsistent enforcement of rules to
student boredom with curriculum.
Economic factors are a third correlate,
and these could be factors such as
high family mobility or parents with
multiple jobs. Last are student
characteristics such as drug and
alcohol abuse, ignorance of school
rules, and lack of interest in education.

Getting Tough on Parents—

Many states hold parents accountable
for their children's truancy, and
Arizona was the first state to
implement such laws. The rationale
behind this movement was to coerce
parents into taking an active role in
their children's education and for all
parties to take truancy laws and
school attendance seriously. In
Virginia, parents can be fined and
jailed for failure to adequately
supervise school-aged children,
which includes making sure they are
attending school. In Pennsylvania,
parents can also be fined and jailed if
they have not taken reasonable steps
to ensure their child is attending
school. In Texas and many other
states, similar laws have recently
been passed.