In the 2013-14 school year, over 6 million students missed 15 or more days of school, equating to 14% of the student population. Chad Smith, Shelterwood’s Program Director, is proactively addressing “chronic absenteeism” at both the student and community level.

Across the nation, struggles with mental and emotional health are driving student absences in school. Smith is creatively tackling the issue by inviting schools to collaborate with Shelterwood. He is exploring ways to not only get kids back in school, but thriving in the classroom.

“Over the years,” says Smith, “we have seen kids that have problems with going to school and staying in school. There are problems academically, but also problems with bullying. But something that’s come to the forefront is kids refusing to go to school due to emotional issues. Kids will say, ‘It’s too overwhelming’ or ‘I’m too anxious’ or ‘the teacher does not like me’ so what starts out as one or two missed days turns into something chronic.”

Some school districts, Smith notes, try and cater to students who refuse to leave the house, but that option presents challenges as well.

“There are resources like home-bound type lessons, where licensed teachers meet with students a couple times a week. There are also online options where students are self-paced. But those options can cause huge amounts of stress on that student’s family. The preferred method is getting kids back in school to constructively work through issues and find victory in a classroom setting – that is where long-term success develops.”

Smith and his team invited school counselors to Shelterwood last Spring to discuss the issue, and hope it leads to breakthroughs in getting to the root of local school absences – which could then model success for a struggling national community.

“We had all the high school counselors and social workers from two area high schools come to Shelterwood, and they all mentioned several high-anxiety students who refuse to go to school.”

At such a gathering of professional educators and counselors, sitting down and talking about the epidemic helped get to root issues.

“The general sense of anxiety a student experiences is in response to a need of theirs; to be seen and heard,” says Smith, “Often, students overreact and over-respond because they don’t think they’ll be heard any other way.”

Smith knows the problem isn’t always centered on kids. Parents, unfortunately, can play a role in perpetuating teen anxiety.

“Sometimes, parents exacerbate that situation – responding with threats and harsh tones. But if a student feel heard and validated, if you can sit down and have a beneficial conversation with them, then they’re more likely to be open to suggestions about working through school.”

Smith and his team are engaging in constructive, open conversation with counselors, parents and teachers — all centered around empowering students.

“It’s going to be different with every student,” says Smith. “If a kid struggles with homework, you don’t threaten him with ‘you need to do homework every night,’ you need to validate him or her when they complete one or two nights of homework. Once you validate them, then you make a connection and can positively move forward.”

If your teen is struggling, Shelterwood offers real hope and real restoration for struggling teens. Teens come to Shelterwood burdened with anxiety and reenter the classroom with renewed perspective, focus and real heart change.

Have questions about teens refusing to go to school, or how Shelterwood can help? Please contact us today.

More resources for ways you can help your teen.