Many teenagers don’t like going to school so it makes sense that they’d make up excuses not to go. A lot of kids will consider skipping class it they haven’t finished an assignment that’s due, if they’ve managed to schedule an appointment during school hours that they could manage to skip a few extra classes to attend, or if their friends want to hang out instead of sitting in math class. There is a difference between figuring out what to do if your teenager is skipping classes because they know they can get away with it occasionally and if your depressed teenager won’t go to school because of the distress it may cause.
Aren’t They Just Playing Hooky?
School refusal is distinguished from normal avoidance by several factors:
- Frequent physical complaints and trips to the school nurse, often for no real medical reason or on days where assignments are due
- How long your teenager has been avoiding school
- How they spend their time when they refuse to go to school
- How much distress they associate with attending school
- How strongly they resist
- Willingness to complete work at home
- Whether they try to hide their absences
- How much their resistance is interfering with their personal life and the family dynamic
- The types of situations at school that they are trying to avoid, such as being bullied, struggling to fit in, academic pressure
Normal avoidance suggests that they don’t go to school or stay in class, while school refusal suggests that won’t go because it would be too overwhelming. It can be hard to identify signs of school refusal if your teenager comes up with credible excuses, claims to be sick often, switches up the classes they miss, or stays on top of assignments. Many students may prefer to work on assignments at home or in a different setting, so may not be flagged for academic failure. However, the longer your teen misses school, the harder it is to get back in the routine.
How to Motivate Your Depressed Teen
Listen to their reasons for not going to school. If they feel comfortable talking to you about it, they will be less likely to come up with excuses and may reveal that there is something going on at school that they don’t know how to face.
Talk about their depression. Validate their fears about going to school. It is possible to acknowledge the difficulty they are having without enabling their school refusal to continue. Empathize with what they are going through and encourage them to reach out for help.
Create a routine. Structure is necessary for feeling purposeful and organized. Teenagers who lack structure in their days are more likely to feel aimless and directionless, which perpetuates feeling depressed. While the school environment can be overwhelming, it provides a structure for their days that reduces feeling overwhelmed by free time. Avoid over-scheduling them but help them establish goals for structuring their day and encourage keeping up with a calendar that helps them stay organized.
Encourage getting involved at school. Many teenagers struggle with finding their purpose at school. Joining a club, a band, or a sports team helps teenagers to feel more connected to their school and build relationships with their classmates. They may find their identity through meeting others with similar interests. Getting involved can be fun, but it also improves social skills and teamwork.
Encourage physical activity and recreation. Joining a sports team can be particularly effective in boosting one’s mood and improving executive functioning. Physical activity increases physiological symptoms that calm anxiety and reduce symptoms of depression. Finding an activity that makes them feel good increases their energy and strengthens their immune system that may reduce their physical complaints.
Encourage healthy sleep habits. Sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness are some of the biggest reasons for school absences. It can be difficult to get up in the morning to go to class when you’ve barely slept the night before.
Consider school options. Your teen might need a change of environment or peer group to get a fresh start and get into a new routine. They may also need a school that is more sensitive to how their depression affects their academic performance and is more willing to offer accommodations and emotional support. Equinox is a residential treatment center with an accredited academic program that addresses how emotional issues and behaviors can contribute to academic difficulties.
How Equinox can Help
Equinox is a residential treatment center that helps boys ages 14-18 who struggle depression, anxiety, and addictive behaviors, which can lead to school refusal. Equinox offers a unique treatment program designed to fit each individual’s specific needs. This treatment center has a supportive environment that helps students heal from the inside-out. We emphasize academics, family therapy, adventure therapy, physical fitness, and relationships. Students develop a healthy sense of social and emotional awareness and learn how to incorporate good habits into their daily lives. Equinox enforces a positive change in the lives of young men and offers them a fresh start at a happy and healthy future. We can help your family today!