Dealing with Kids Who Skip School

It is a phone call parents dread receiving.

“Hello, this is the school attendance office. Your child is reported absent from periods 1, 4,and 7.”

Skipping school, “playing hookie”, cutting class is still truancy, whatever you want to call it. As a parent how you deal with it the first time you are notified is going to either allow the problem  to perpetuate or nip it in the bud.

It is important to recognize there are laws holding parents accountable for the attendance of their child which in some states can include jail time and stiff fines for parents. It is also crucial to recognize skipping school signals an underlying problem , and this is the way in which your child is bringing it to your attention.

It is important to pay attention to attendance because it is one of the best predictors of dropping out of school. For most kids dropping out of school is not an event, it is a process. It is vital  parents recognize the markers in the process and to seek help early.

“I went to the school during the second week of my daughter’s freshman year and asked for help and was told because she didn’t have an absence problem yet, there was nothing the school could do about it unless she was labeled truant.”

All too often I hear this story from parents.  Schools claim they do not have the resources in light of budget cuts, or they are unwilling to take preventative measures. As a parent and the person who knows your child best, my advice is to become the squeaky wheel at the school and document the responses you receive from each person with whom you speak.

Meanwhile, at home, it is important to talk about the importance of school, create an environment that supports completing school homework with structured times and noncompeting family activities, and there are immediate and significant consequences for nonattendance.   Don’t let a single incident go without investigation and consequences.

In my work with students I often find students who are not coming to school have experienced a stressful or traumatic event in their life, such as parental divorce or separation, being bullied by classmates, or are experiencing a non-specific lack of attachment to school.

Creating a sense of belonging in school is essential to keep students engaged in school. Unfortunately, with the emphasis placed on high academic achievement, many students would engage through extracurricular activities and sports participation are excluded from participating because of their low academic standing.  Belonging and identifying with a positive peer group is essential for teens. If your child does not qualify to participate in school activities seek other venues for participation.  Boys and Girls Clubs, church groups, recreation centers, volunteer and community service activities all provide opportunity for positive group participation.

Five Steps to Dealing with Refusing to Go to School:

  1. Make sure the rule to attend school every day, all day is clearly understood by your child and that you also honor this rule when making dr’s, dentist and other appointments for your child. Make sure the consequences for nonattendance are understood.
  2. When you receive a call from the school, respond as soon as possible to gather the information you will need to confront your child. Talk not only to the attendance office, but the teacher whose classe(s) were skipped.
  3. Be confident, detached and in control when discussing the situation with your child. Enforce the consequences without negotiation and with as little emotion as possible. As one mother related, “I was so calm you would have thought I was just detailing what we were having for dinner.”
  4. Refrain from creating inadvertent positive consequences when your  teen refuses to go to school. Access to computers, cell phones (unless there is no house phone) transportation, video games, etc. are kept strictly off limits.  Unhook it, take it with you and lock it in your trunk if you must.
  5. Let them be responsible for the consequences at school AND at home. Home consequences are in addition to any consequences the school may give such as Saturday school attendance.

Students who do not attend school regularly often think school is boring, or difficult; it has little relevance to their life. They frequently view staff members as uncaring and unsupportive.   Lack of connectedness and feelings of belonging at school often make it difficult for kids who cut school to see that their choice is not a solution to their problem, but creating the exact reality they are trying to escape.





Back to School Special: New Lunch Menus

Backpacks, clothes and school supplies aren’t the only new items awaiting students this year as they head back to school this fall. Under the new Federal guidelines school lunches received an overhaul, the first revamping in 15 years.

Changes students will see on their plates are part of the healthy school lunch initiative launched by the First Lady as part of her efforts to address childhood obesity. The new guidelines are based on the 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

Although this is step in the right direction to provide nutritional modeling for students as well as increased nutritional content, many schools fear the new standards will increase the amount of food students waste. Students brainstorming the marketing position of the program agree how the menu is promoted to students and parents will have an impact on the consumption of the foods.

“If I know the recipe is a Rachel Ray recipe like they had at the school she visited and not just something the cook threw together, I would probably try the food,” stated Alsyssia Crankle, a middle school student.

Students suggested the following for cafeterias to consider:

  • Make the menu look interesting in presentation like they do in restaurants
  • Try and feature real chefs’ recipes.
  • Have a smile on your face when you serve the food.
  • Ask the students what they like and if they don’t like it try something else on the menu.
  • Put interesting names on it. Don’t just serve tacos have a name on them like Taco Bell does.
  • Host a student food naming contest for the menu items.
  • Let students write the description for the foods on the menu and post it for other students to read so they know its teen approved.

While all of these ideas may not be ideas readily adaptable for all schools, the idea of giving the marketing and promotion to a group of students for brainstorming certainly taps into the real-world skills used by entrepreneurs. Who knows? They just might create the next best-selling school cafeteria brand.


Sexting is the act of receiving or sending suggestively nude photographs or messages through cellular telephones.

Experts Disagree on When Parents Should Intervene in Bullying Situations

As we met for coffee, a friend of mine could hardly wait to flip to the latest expert opinion on bullying quoted in her Family Circle magazine. The article on helping teens overcome rejection held many fine points, but when it talked about intervening in bullying I had to disagree.

There is a difference between the rejection invariably faced by all teens as they naturally find the social circles to which they will belong…until the next clique forms…. and bullying.  And nothing can be as hurtful to an adolescent as being on the outside of a clique to which they once belonged. Most teen cliques form, norm and disband quickly. Being blindsided and  unexpectedly dumped to the curb like yesterday’s snack by your “friends”  usually passes quickly.

As parents it is important we keep a pulse on what is going on in our children’s lives to discern if the comments that are causing the hurt from our teen’s peers are a result of an incident that will be forgotten in a few days, or if the hazing and harassment seem to be on-going and causing your teen a great deal of stress.

According to the Director of Clinical Psychology at UNC Chapel Hill, Mitch Prinstein, Ph.D  parents who intervene by contacting the bully or their parents infantilize the teen. He encourages parents to try and understand what is happening and to work with their teen to recognize the bullying is not about them but about the perpetrators.

I would agree, but this is a first level approach. If the bullying escalates to the point where your teen doesn’t feel safe at school, or they refuse to ride the bus home, or walk a particular route because they are fearful of encounters with bullies, it is time for adults to take charge and create a “teachable moment”.  To take next level approach contact the school counselor if the incidents are happening to and from school or on the school grounds. If the bullies don’t attend the same school, contact the parents.

We are all sensitive to the pain our kids receive when they are socially rejected because we can all remember walking in those shoes. There  is  difference between allowing your kids to overcome a little rejection here and there and learn important coping skills in the process and allowing your teen to be constant brunt of torment in the hands of classmates.

For some teens, the difference is life or death.



What is CyberBullying?

According to :

“Cyberbullying is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. It has to have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against another minor.”

Certainly, it’s not the social cruelty you or I experienced when we were in school. Unlike the bullying you and I faced, cyberbullying  is without time limits, is not bound by space; it doesn’t go away when we leave the school cafeteria or get off the school bus. It is a 24/7 gossip cycle, a hell where the innocent are sentenced to social ostracism, and  a neon beacon on line for all to see. Picked up by the nimble fingers of former friends it can spread faster than wild fire.

The insidiousness of cyberbullying  is its’ under the radar nature and the quickness with which it strikes. The humiliation of cyberbullying follows the intended victim to and from school, around the house, and into their social circles. With the press of a button the hurtful remarks can be around the school in minutes, even around the globe in a matter of hours, and forever carved in cyberstone.

Many parents are unaware their child is being victimized or acting as a perpetrator. Only 20% of the students tell their parents, and about double that many tell a friend of their cyber torture. The rest suffer the social degradation in silence.

As of this post, at least 44 states have anti-bullying laws.

Unfortunately, how the law is translated and enforced at the school level varies. While the consciousness is rising that it is not right to mistreat another human, to say unkind and mean things to others, many educators still hold the “turn the other cheek” attitude and a “kids will be kids” mindset.  The intervention practiced by most schools include suspension of the perpetrators, work with an over-burdened guidance counselor for the victimized child and pre-packaged programs stressing positive social norms for the by-standers.

Communities effectively addressing the problem have stopped pointing fingers at the parents, the kids, the educators. They are coming together to create circles of understanding where professionals and community leaders, work alongside educators and parents to look at the policies and practices of protection need to weave a safety net allowing children growing up in a world increasingly without boundaries to remain safe.

As one of my parents told me, “It’s not the adult perpetrators we have to worry about in cyberspace. We need to be protecting our kids from each other.”

“The language we use to communicate with one another is like a knife. In the hands of a careful and skilled surgeon, a knife can work to do great good. But in the hands of a careless or ignorant person, a knife can cause great harm.”

Exactly as it is with our words.”

Source of Quote Unknown

Should You Call the Cops on Your Out of Control Teen?

Anderson Cooper recently ran a segment on parenting kids who are out of control.

Let me preface this and forewarn you, I am not a big fan of Anderson Cooper. This show further reinforced why I’m not a fan. It clearly demonstrated and perpetuated the judgment cast on parents who raise strong-willed children. Since the psychologist he used as an expert clearly gave text-book answers to these situations I feel I have to climb on my soap-box of defense for this one.

For the sake of summary, two mothers who called the police for assistance in reigning in their out-of-control daughters were guests. As they shared their story Anderson took comments from less than sympathetic audience members, with one woman asserting what many secretly believe   ” Parents are failures if they have to call the police for backup.”

Mr. Cooper Skyped in a police officer, who expressed his opinion that valuable resources were being wasted when parents called the police to assist with their children, citing he was sometimes called to help get kids out of bed and to school. Apparently the state in which this officer works over-looks the law that says children must attend school. Parents living in states where this law is enforced can face heavy fines as well as jail time when their children refuse to attend school.

The psychologist invited to be the parenting expert gave pat answers from the psychology of parenting course textbook, and did not indicate to me she was really listening to the parents or the situations represented.  Dr. Binder-Brynes kept insisting services are available to assist parents. That may be true but many of those services are at or above service capacity. Our local low-cost counseling center has a waiting list of three months for family counseling, and the funding it uses to support service delivery has been severely cut forcing the center to turn away many parents and teens unless they meet certain qualifications and strict guidelines set by the agency’s funder forcing  many families in crises to address issues on their own.  It is a scenario replicated in cities across the nation.

Calling the police on your child is undoubtedly one of the toughest decisions a parent has to make.

Teens who are suicidal, or aggressively out of control and who are a threat to the safety of themselves or other family members need to have police intervention.

This is not, as Anderson, or Dr. Binder-Brynes would suggest, a reflection of poor parenting. Nor does it send the message to your child that you can’t handle the situation. It is an act of parenting courage and sends a clear statement to your teen that you love them enough to do whatever it takes for them to get back on track.

Good parents use all available resources to support the positive growth and development of their children.


Gay Teens Transcend Social Barriers in Homecoming Festivities

At a time when many teens are teased, taunted, and harassed for their sexuality, it is refreshing to hear about a school in Olivehurst, CA nominating  two homecoming princesses, one gay, instead of the traditional homecoming prince and princess.

The two Lindhurst High School juniors,  Ellie Yang and Corina Soto-Gonzalez, both 17, are using the nomination to spread awareness and acceptance for gay rights. Corina, who came out to her parents and classmates at age 15, wants to spread hope for other students who are still in the closet.

She told reporters ” People shouldn’t be afraid to be who you are.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth often face tremendous difficulty in school and are frequently the target of bullying.



The Process and Praise of Building Self Esteem In Your Teen

Confidence. Self esteem. Parents want their t’ween or teen to have a healthy dose of both. Caring parents generously praise. They know praise motivates and builds self-esteem. But de

During the vulnerable teenage years, self esteem is a roller coaster ride, not only for teens, but for parents who don’t quite know how to handle the ups and downs their teen experiences.

Teens hang their self worth on the success or failure they feel in one area of their life. If they get their sense of self from being with certain friends, when those friendships shift, they adopt the idea “I’m nobody.” If they tend to affiliate with a sport and don’t make the team or low grades keep them from participating, they lament, “I’m nothing.” Bombing a test can send a good student into a downward spiral believing “I’m a total failure.”

Research clearly shows that the single most important factor determining the self-esteem a child starts out with is the parents’ style of child-rearing during the first three- to four years of life. A student enters school molded by their early environment and their biology. After this, the cause and effect of self esteem becomes diluted. Does academic success foster self esteem or does self esteem foster academic success? Does fitting in with the crowd foster self esteem or does high self esteem help kids fit in with their peers? Do teens like themselves because they do well in sports or do participation in sports raise their self esteem?

And what do you do when your t’ween / teen comes home and they are in the dip of the self esteem roller coaster because they’ve just failed an important test, or incorrectly answered a teacher-directed question in front of their peers? While teens may believe they are doomed for life when these things happen, recent research in psychology and neuroscience show the brain of an adolescent to be growing and with this growth, nothing in the mind is set in stone; with dedication and a little bit of persistence, all students can achieve.

How parents approach school setbacks can either help or hinder their teen’s confidence in their abilities.

Research by Dr. Carol Dweck, published in the New Your Magazine entitled How Not to Talk To Your Child: The Inverse Power of Praise” shows the type of praise given to a student can have unintended and highly damaging consequences.

The Cliff Notes version:  Dr. Dweck and her colleague divided groups of students into two subgroups and gave them a task to complete. They pulled the students out one by one to give them their results and also offered a single specific line of praise to each student. Students in the first group were praised for being smart. Students in the second group were praised for working hard and putting forth effort. They gave the students another task, but this time the students were allowed to choose between a challenging task and one that was obviously much easier.  A whopping 90% of the kids praised for effort chose the challenging task while most of the others chose the less challenging task. Later when the students were retested on the original material, the ones who were praised for effort improved their scores and the “smart” kids did worse.

So exactly what does this mean when your teen brings home a poor grade on the World History test? It means you downplay the grade and instead focus on “process” praise (praise for improvement, engagement, perseverance, study strategy etc.). Process praise sound like:

  • You really studied for this test by reviewing your notes each night, rereading the  chapter preview, outlining the reading, using your flash cards. You worked hard.
  • This test was a huge endeavor. You really concentrated on studying. That’s great.

After you have focused on the process of what worked, if the result of their work produced a low grade, ask your teen what processes they feel will help produce a different result next time. Offer to work with your teen to figure out what they don’t understand, create a strategy for mastering the material and then help to set a structure in place to help them execute those strategies. Monitor and support. For example, if your teen says, “I should have began studying earlier for the test.” Help them to set up a study schedule for the next test or project that will help give them more time. to help instill this new practice, remind them and praise the process while they execute the task.

Not only is process praising more motivating for teens, but it helps them develop the critical thinking skills that translate into the business world. When your boss hands you a project it is highly unlikely it is going to come with a timeline for project management. Allowing teens to see and experience this biz-to-work translation highlights the relevance education has to their future.

Middle and high school grade students often view school as a place where they complete academic exercises solely to receive the judgment of their teacher. Many students wrap their worth around either being smart or a failure based on the grades they “receive”.  Given this perception, our American grading system may have a negative impact on a teen’s willingness to take risks and tackle new challenges. But if we look at highly successful business people, their success was predicated on how they used the feedback from tasks they encountered before. Many of them report a string of successive failures before their breakthrough. Intelligence then isn’t based on the grades we earn, but on our willingness to take risks, fall down, get back up,  brush the dirt off, and learn from mistakes.

Coming Next: Helping Your Teen Foster a Mind Set for Success.



Parents’ Turmoil In Divorce Troubles Teens

There’s no arguing our teenagers are growing up in a world that is changing more rapidly than the world we knew as adolescents. For most of us, remote control television changers, microwaves, large clunky car phones and a new computer in the classroom marked the technological revolutions that captivated us with their ability to instantly connect us beyond our secure and safe little world.

Youth today have grown up never knowing a television with knobs or buttons, having always popped popcorn in the microwave. Theirs is a fast-paced ever-changing world, where most kids own a cell phone that doubles as a mini-computer. Six years ago, the sites most frequented by youth – You Tube, Facebook and MySpace didn’t even exist.

For today’s youth, fast, abrupt change is a fact of life and they weather it well.

Except when change is  due to divorce.

While there is a myriad of research available on the impact of divorce on teenagers, none of it measures the specific impact the disruption of the family has on an already turbulent time for teens, and much of the information is conflicting. While one study says divorce is more difficult on boys, another study will say divorce has a more negative effect on girls. The good news is, teens are remarkably resilient and many, given a supportive outlet in which to discuss their feelings, and the ability to maintain a positive, solid relationship with both parents, can rebuild, rebound, and heal the wounds they suffered in the cross-fire.

A 1991 study published in the journal of Science cites many studies suggesting children with divorced parents were more likely than those from intact families to be rated by parents and teachers as having behavioral problems and to score lower on reading and mathematical achievement tests. Recent studies indicate children exposed to marital conflict and discord exhibited the same behavior and academic challenges.

It comes as no surprise that kids being tossed in the middle of marital conflict don’t do well in school and may have more social and behavior problems. So it should be no surprise that many of the same difficulties are present before the actual divorce itself and may be actually magnified by the divorce itself.

 Coming Next: What Parents and Teachers Can Do To Help Students Through Divorce


Is Your Parenting Style Stifling Your Child’s Success?

Nothing raises our hackles quite like the phone ringing with a caller ID display for the school, especially if its not the first time they’ve called.

We’re taught from an early age the key to a good middle-class existence is to work hard and grab the gold that follows the diploma. So when a youth is not doing well in school, or worse yet refusing to go to school we see it as a reflection of poorly instilled values on the parent’s part.

In fact, setting the impact of poverty on school performance aside, numerous studies point to parental involvement as one of the primary contributors to children’s success at school.  Many studies focus on the relationship between parental involvement in the child’s education, and correlate a high degree of parental involvement with higher academic success for the student of involved parents and poor performance for those who have parents who are less involved or not involved at all.

Let me hang some dirty laundry out here. As educators we use tend to use parents as a scapegoat. I’m ok with the colleagues who may want to disagree with me. But by and large, when I am working with a school, teachers and administrators will tell me they aren’t getting the support at home to assist the student. Granted, they need that support and so does the student.

Sometimes it’s easier to blame Johnny’s lack of success on family factors than to look at what we can be doing within the educational system to make sure Johnny’s needs are being fully met academically and we are speaking in a way puts parents at ease. If we looked at fixing the educational system to meet the academic needs of the 1.2 million youth fleeing the halls of academia we are trying to turn the Titanic at the last minute. Too much, too late.

Sometimes they aren’t getting the support because the parent has too many other challenges fighting for their attention.

And sometimes they aren’t getting the support because the parent just doesn’t know what to do next. They have tried everything they know and in their natural quest for individuation, their teen is not responding.

What I don’t like about this finger pointing is if we blame the parent for a teen’s lack of success in school, then good grades and attendance are not the school’s responsibility and we can continue to argue over meaningless school reform efforts instead of instituting practices and policies that take into account all the information we have gained about how young people learn in the last 15 years.

Regardless of who is at fault, youth lose, as is evidenced by the numbers of youth – 1 in 4 – who will not graduate.

Usually, the educators are right, but for the wrong reasons. Few parents speak schooleese. Going to the school to talk to the principal is like going for a root canal. You know it must be done and you just want to get through it. Often parents are angry with their teen for their behavior and they arrive at the office in defensive mode.  For some going into the principal’s office is an all-too-familiar place they would rather forget. Unfortunately, for most of us the principal’s office is associated with our short-comings.

But over the years I’ve noted academic success isn’t just not about parental involvement. Parents who are highly involved in their teen’s school activities still have teens barely scratching D’s to pass.

I’ve met very few parents who, when it came to their child, were not absolutely interested in supporting them in school. I have met several who did not know HOW, and even more whose parenting style actually interfered with their best intentions.

Consider the following scenario. Fifteen year-old Tashia is not going to school. Her side of the story “The teachers don’t care.” The school points to Tasha’s home life, a fairly familiar family constellation. Tasha’s mom is head of household, raising two girls with support from a distant father who has started a second family in his new marriage. Mom works and really depends upon the girls to take responsibility for themselves, including making sure the homework is complete and they are getting to and from school via the bus.

Tasha’s mom has an indulgent parenting style. She is responsive and warm in the presence of her girls. On the outside their relationship seems to work. She clearly works hard to make up for the perceived lack resulting in not having a father in the home.  She allows considerable self-regulation of the girls’ activities feeling that natural consequences are the best teacher. Natural consequences parenting style seems to work for her on the surface because it avoids conflict with the girls and she doesn’t have time, and not time with her full-time management job to be monitoring them.

A natural consequence for not doing her homework has put Tasha in a hole where she sees no way out, except to drop out of school.

Now, several studies are surfacing which indicate an authoritative parenting style where parents are accepting, encouraging, warm, engaging towards their children, but firm in enforcing clear standards of behavior for their children have children who do better in school. Adolescents who perceive their parents as authoritative are more likely to earn high grades than adolescents who perceive their parents as non-authoritative.

Tasha’s mom feels guilty about not being more involved in the girls’ school but now they are out of the elementary years where parent involvement was easier, she has drifted away from her volunteer efforts.

That, according to researchers, has less impact on the girls’ success than Mom’s parenting style.

Maybe educators have been right all along. But it’s not about baking cookies and going to Back-To-School Nights, although these types of involvement are important. It is more about a parenting style that grants autonomy with clear expectations and parent-enforced consequences.

The good news is with a little bit of coaching parenting styles can be modified to embrace the characteristics and skills that support educational attainment. A strategic educational intervention plan will put Tasha back on the road to educational success.