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.

  • 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. Nov 15, 2013 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??
    – user21179
    Nov 16, 2013 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. Nov 16, 2013 at 21:09
  • My family have a good quote that we remind any younger members of: "A few years of work - suit for life. A few lazy years - boiler suit for life." Alternatively get the person refusing to go to school to repeat "Would you like fries with that?" As their best prospect is working in McDonalds.
    – ridecar2
    Mar 16, 2015 at 11:26

5 Answers 5


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.


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.


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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    I never found those sort of things motivating. For me, avoiding negative attention was important, so I did all and only what I had to to avoid negative attention. But that did not make me a good student, or a happy child. Find out what interests him particularly. Maybe he has interests that are not being seen and supported?
    – user17408
    Jun 9, 2016 at 21:22

Teenagers know everything about their life. Just ask them. They'll tell you you don't know them, that you're out of touch, don't understand them and their friends and the things they have to go thru everyday.

I've 5 kids. Everyone of them in middle school I've had to stomp such special snowflake tendancies just to bring them back to reality. I know this has worked for me because my 20 somethings aren't assholes and, like it or not, they understand their place in the world.

I suggest you do the same thing.

Tell him that not going to school is a legal issue. If you have made sure that he gets on the bus, and he is caught out somewhere, then HE will get the talking to by authorities. You'll get some too, but not as bad as otherwise. If you allow him to not go, then YOU will be the one getting the brunt of discussion from legal authority.

Second, here's my speech:

You're my kid, and in that way you're unique and I love you as my child, but understand something... You. are. not. special.

There is 350mn people in the US. Statistically speaking, all of the adults went to middle school, and all of the adults were 13. All of them battled with not being a kid anymore, weird hairs, funky new smells, wondering who is truly their friend and questioning how much school mattered to the real world. All of them sat at lunch and looked at the people at another table and wished they could have such good friends. The popular girl looked at the table of nerds and wished she could just have friends without all the baggage her friends have.

You don't think I know what's going on in your world? [here's where you relate a short anecdote of stupid shit from being 13]. I remember. And what I'm trying to do here is not as simple as telling you you're wrong. I'm trying to tell you what's best for you in 5 years when it's time to graduate high school and enter the real world.

Because the bottom line is this: Graduating high school gets you thru a doorway to the other side of a wall that cannot be passed if you don't graduate. You can get a GED, but employers and colleges see it much differently than a high school diploma. You can get to the other side, and into the real world, but not using that doorway by graduating HS will forever be a mark that people will see and think of you differently.

Of course, my speech is longer and more detailed, but this is the gist. You can fill it out as you need. But the thing that it needs from you is follow up, advice and wisdom on a regular basis. IOW it requires that you be an active parent, making sure that not only does the kid have direction, but they're getting answers to questions they didn't even know they had.

I believe that you'v tried all that you believe is possible or necessary. These were the palatable options. Conversely, it's still an option even if you don't like it. You're now left with solutions that will make everyone unhappy.

But if it means the difference between your 13yr old sitting in a Family Services office waiting for you to pick him up -- and the road that leads down -- or hating you for the next 2 weeks because you told him something he didn't want to or like hearing, yet he's in school, then which would you choose?


First of all, try talking to him and see why he doesn't want to go. Ask him what he plans for the future and make it clear that if he wants to pursue certain careers he unfortunately will have to go to school. The worst thing to do is to force him to do something, most of the time children will want to do the exact opposite of what their parents say/do. For example, if a parent is a total couch-potato and always saying that taking it easy is the best thing to do then the son is likely to try hard to get a better life, while if a father is a prestigious academic always talking about the benefits of academia the son will probably want to get more involved in the arts or something less academic.

If he doesn't want to go to school then tell him that unfortunately it is against the law until he is 16 but then let him not go to school, if he wants to pursue a career in the arts or such, his time would be much better spent practising said art and getting a name for himself rather than being stuck in school doing something he hates. Just talk to him about his other options, and make him realise he has to have some sort of a plan.

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    In the US, not going to school is illegal... children under 16 must have some sort of formal schooling, either at a school or in homeschool.
    – Catija
    Mar 14, 2017 at 20:33
  • Answers should answer the OP's question; edits are to improve the answer. Please use comments to ask for feedback on downvotes. Thanks. Mar 19, 2017 at 15:31
  • 1
    For Downvoters: Could you please tell me what you didn't like about this answer? Thanks. Mar 19, 2017 at 15:33
  • 1
    My DV was for "If he doesn't want to go to school then let him not go to school." Not terrifically helpful advice, and it's still there though toned down a bit. School doesn't stop being an important part of life on one's 16th birthday. Mar 19, 2017 at 16:59
  • @anongoodnurse OK thank you for the feedback. Mar 19, 2017 at 17:04

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