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When my 13 year old son decides he doesn't want to go to school, it's difficult issue to negotiate, as I cannot force him to go to school. By this I mean, he is not a toddler and cannot be picked up and taken there.

I like natural consequences when disciplining my children, but in this case, it's difficult, as if he later fails a test because he has missed something, and I point this out, he shrugs it off. So a quicker consequence is being banned from his extra-curricular activities, but some of these are beneficial to his well being. For me it becomes a cyclic dilemma of how to best manage truancy.

I hope I have explained myself well enough.

I am wondering what some natural consequences could be, if he refuses to go to school.

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Depending on your location it may be a legal obligation for you to get your child to school provided they are not ill. Here [UK] consistent failures to get your children to school may result in legal action ranging from fines to a prison term. So, one way or another picking him up and taking him may be something you may have to consider. –  James Snell Nov 15 '13 at 23:58
    
@JamesSnell I understand, but this is a global community and this comment doesn't actually address the issue, as a child refusing to go to school is not necessarily concerned about the law, unless you wanted to include this as part of an answer in how to deal with this?? –  user4784 Nov 16 '13 at 0:09
    
Hence why it was just a comment and not part of an answer in it's own right @Skippy. I just meant to address for the wider audience that he may need to be taken like a toddler if other methods fail. Hopefully it shouldn't come to that. –  James Snell Nov 16 '13 at 21:09

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

If this is a new thing, I would start with trying to understand why. Refusing to go to school is not like deciding not to eat your carrots. It's a huge change in the daily routine. And what's more, it's not something he's doing sneakily, like setting off for school but not arriving and spending the day larking about, he's telling you he won't go. That's important information. Possible reasons include:

  • he is a nasty controlling brat who wants to tell you he's in charge and only a power struggle will make him obey (I think this is the least likely but I put it first because you are looking for ways to force him which suggests this is the reason you think is most likely)
  • something horrible is happening at school and he doesn't know how to tell you about it (bullying by other students, harassment by a teacher, blackmailing by a girl he dated, people accusing him of being different in some way such as being gay... it's hard being 13)
  • he is getting bad marks or not understanding the material and is frustrated and upset
  • he has options outside of school that appeal to him more
  • he doesn't think about long term consequences, only short term things like being tired and not wanting to get up now

For a few days, stop trying to make him go to school and work on finding out why he doesn't want to go. Contact the school and tell them what you're doing. If your work allows for it, have him come to work with you. This will give you three things:

  • he won't be able to do whatever might be more appealing, including sleeping, watching tv, being online or hanging with a bad crowd. You can think of coming to your boring workplace as a logical consequence of truancy.
  • you will get a chance to talk about what is on his mind and what is going on at school
  • you will get a chance to (subtly!) show him where education will take him and lack of it will not

Depending on the cause for his refusal to go, you will then do different things. But continuing to try to force him without understanding is unlikely to work. I don't think he's just an oppositional angry person who will no longer do anything you want him to, I think something else is up. Find out what.

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Sometimes natural consequences are too long term. In those situations, I consider a parent's job to be converting long term consequences into short term ones. The long term natural consequence of not being educated is a diminished earning capacity. If you want the short term consequences to match, reducing the amount of money you spend on him is a good start.

However, I agree with Chrys that you need to find the underlying reasons. Try to figure out ways to make school more relevant to him, or to make up for the school's deficiencies. If he's not getting enough time to socialize with his friends, see if you can rearrange his classes, or agree to host his friends at your house as long as he attends school. If he is bored in class, get him put into more advanced classes, or teach him ways to deal with it. I used to read or do homework from other subjects when lectures became boring.

If he is struggling to keep up, see if you can transfer him to a more appropriate subject, or do some tutoring. If he is getting bullied, there are ways to deal with that. If the kinds of subjects he's interested aren't offered, or are very limited, try to find extracurricular ways to help him get experience with those topics. If he likes art, for example, get him art supplies as rewards for school attendance. I realize it's not for everyone, but my son not fitting very well with school is a major reason we homeschool him now.

Not everyone fits the school mold. Figure out how to make it worth his while.

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To me an answer to this would involve sitting down and doing an inventory of all of the incentives that you have -- all the possible carrots and all the possible sticks.

Stick side:

-- taking away an ipod or an ipad

-- taking away extracurricular activities as you mentioned (I have to say, he might lose some value from this in the short term, but keeping his butt in school would probably outweigh that)

-- taking away a holiday, gift, allowance, visit... what are the things that make your son happy but are not his "right"?

and on the carrot side:

-- Tell him in advance about a trip you can go on this summer... visiting a friend etc... -- Tell him you miiiight get an electronic XYZ...

etc etc

An inventory of all those incentives would give a bit of an arsenal.

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