If you’re the parent of a teenager who suddenly hates going to school, you’ve probably looked everywhere for answers. Sometimes it seems like their attitude towards school can change overnight, especially in the early teenage years. Although it may feel disappointing to hear how your teen feels about school, as a middle school teacher, I can tell you it happens way more often than you think.
So, what are you supposed to do if your teen hates school and is starting to fall behind? The most important thing is to first realize you’re not alone. It’s very common for teens to struggle, lack motivation, and start to dislike school at this age. If you’re at your wits’ end and can barely drag your teenager out of bed in the morning, we have some tips to help you get them back on track.
Why do teens hate school?
The first question you likely asked yourself is why your teen hates school so much. This can come as a shock when your child previously did so well in school or always seemed to enjoy learning before they got to this point.
The teenage years are an extremely difficult time for every child. From navigating the social dynamics of middle and high school to dealing with puberty, nothing about being a teenager is simple. Since there are so many changes going on during this time, it’s impossible to pinpoint one sure reason why teenagers hate school.
Every situation is unique, and every teen deals with challenges in a different way. Although a decline in academic motivation does frequently occur during the teenage years, it’s not the only possible answer.
If your teenager simply lacks the motivation to put any effort into their school work, there are many strategies to help them succeed. However, your teenager may hate school for many other reasons unrelated to lack of motivation.
Mental health issues
Mental health issues such as depression or social anxiety are among the reasons teenagers might hate school. Moreover, studies have shown that they also impact academic achievement. If your teen is dealing with a mental health problem, they may find it difficult to care about school and be around other people.
Conflict with another student or a teacher
As adults, we understand how uncomfortable it can be to be around someone you’re in conflict with. Whether your teen has an issue with another student or doesn’t get along with one of their teachers, conflict is one of the sure reasons why they will avoid going to school.
Bullying is a major concern, especially during the teenage years, and it’s one of the main reasons why some teens end up hating school. Studies have shown that bullying can often lead to mental health issues and substance use in some cases. If your teenager is the victim of bullying, they may not feel comfortable bringing it up on their own, but it’s important to consider it as one of the possibilities.
Poor academic performance
Another reason why teenagers hate school is simply that they’re struggling academically. When they know their grades are slipping or they’re falling behind, they may think it’s easier to try and avoid the problem instead of asking for help.
Undiagnosed learning disability
It’s normal for teenagers to struggle in school sometimes, but if your teen continues to struggle even after seeking help, it’s possible their frustration stems from an undiagnosed learning disability. An undiagnosed learning disability may have your teen feeling like they’re not smart enough or capable of learning when really they just need extra support.
It may not always be the case, but more often than not, if your teenager claims to hate school all of a sudden, there could be more going on than just boredom and lack of motivation. In fact, lack of motivation may be a symptom of an underlying issue, and it’s up to you to find the root cause.
Strategies that work
Whatever is causing your teen’s sudden hatred for school, it can be frustrating to deal with as a parent. Here are some strategies to help your struggling teen and to figure out what’s behind their change in behavior.
1. Give them the benefit of the doubt
There are many different reasons why teenagers hate school, and it’s not always a lack of motivation or laziness. Sometimes there may be an underlying issue, such as social anxiety or a conflict with classmates.
If your child feels like they don’t have any close friends or positive social interactions at school, they’ll hate going. In order to figure out what’s happening with your teen, give them a chance to explain before you make assumptions.
2. Find out what’s changed
If the behavior your teenager is displaying seems very sudden, it’s important to find out what’s changed in their life recently. Start off with what’s going on at home. Try asking yourself the following questions:
- Has anything changed at home?
- Has there been any added stress in our household recently?
- Have I been putting a lot of pressure on my teen to perform well academically or in extracurricular activities?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you shouldn’t feel shame about it. Being able to recognize what may be causing extra stress in your teenager’s life is a step in the right direction.
3. Communicate with their teachers
One of the best ways to figure out what’s going on at school is to speak to those who spend time with your child there. If your teen’s behavior has changed at school as well, it will be beneficial for you to see if they’ve noticed anything.
Don’t wait for their teachers to reach out to you. Although your child’s teachers are doing the best they can, most middle and high school educators teach over 100 students every day. They may not have noticed any behavior changes, but if you let them know what’s going on, they’ll be able to keep an eye on your teen and even speak to them about how they’re feeling.
4. Practice active listening techniques
Getting your teenager to open up and speak to you about what’s going on can be a challenge. Active listening techniques are a good way to encourage them to talk to you and help them feel comfortable sharing their feelings.
Active listening is a set of techniques that helps the person you’re speaking with stay engaged in the conversation and interact with you in a positive way. These techniques can include giving both verbal and non-verbal feedback, listening without judging, and clarifying by asking questions.
5. Give them space
If your teenager isn’t responding to your attempts to find out what’s going on, you may need to give them some space until they’re ready to open up. Let them know you’re there when they’re ready to talk and let them come to you.
Although there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with teenagers, sometimes they have to process what they’re going through on their own before they’re ready to ask for help.
6. Get them the help they need
As previously mentioned, there are many reasons why teenagers hate school, and getting help for them may look different in each circumstance. If your teen is struggling in school or dealing with conflict, you might consider setting an appointment with their school’s guidance counselor.
Another avenue to explore if your child is struggling is to assist in finding a mentor who can help them get back on track. This could be a coach, a godparent, or another adult friend who can be a positive influence and offer some perspective. If you think your teen may be struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, be sure to talk to their doctor and mental health professional to ensure your child gets the help they need.
If you believe your teenager to be a victim of bullying, or if they have opened up about someone bullying them, it’s important to take action. The first thing you need to do after speaking with your teen is involve other adults. Reach out to their teachers, guidance counselor, and any member of the administration who may be able to help.
Hearing a teenager constantly declare “I hate school” can be frustrating for parents and everyone else in the household. Sometimes it may feel like this negative attitude towards school came out of nowhere, and you’re not sure how to handle it. Overall, the best thing you can do for your teen is listen to them without judging and try to find the root cause of the problem. Once you figure out what’s behind their change in behavior, you can guide them towards succeeding and eventually help them have a positive experience at school again.