Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

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When Your Teen Wants to Quit School

Scenario: The holidays are soon to be over, and the second half of another school year will begin, but your teenager announces that he doesn’t want to return to school …he’s sick of it, hates it, and wants to drop out. What do you do now?!

Most moms and dads would be panic-stricken if their youngster declared that she intended to drop out of high school. In today’s job market, not having a college degree can be a roadblock to many careers. Lacking a high-school diploma closes-off even more avenues. Overall, teenagers seem to understand the financial consequences of leaving school prematurely. 

The law mandates that kids must attend school until age 16. After that, neither the parent nor the school have any legal recourse to prevent them from dropping out. Some youngsters drop out to get married or because they’ve had a baby. Others are eager to get a head start on earning a regular paycheck. However, the vast majority are relieved to cut short their high-school years, which they often spent adrift, bored and socially isolated. For them, exiting the school doors may very well be the first step toward finding their direction in life.

If the truth be known, not everyone is academically-minded or meant to work at a so-called white-collar job. Other opportunities are available. “Drop outs” can learn a trade or cultivate a talent in the arts, athletics or some other endeavor, and go on to become as successful and fulfilled as their friends with diplomas.

Parents at this crossroads must assess their adolescent's strengths and weaknesses honestly. If the proper educational program or extra assistance were provided, could she raise her school performance to an acceptable level? Or would pressuring her to stay in school merely prolong a futile, and possibly damaging, situation?

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Tips for parents of teenagers who want to quit school:

1. Be supportive— but don’t support her financially! If she lives at home, insist that she pay for room and board as well as cover her car insurance and other personal expenses. This is important, even though the average high-school dropout earns just $270 a week. When moms and dads let an adult child live at home rent-free, they’re feeding the adolescent’s fantasy that she is independent and self-supporting. They’re also smothering any incentive for moving up, not to mention moving out. Mothers and fathers need to impose a reality check. The realization that her paycheck barely stretches far enough to cover necessities (never mind having money left over for recreation and luxuries) may be the impetus that motivates the teen to become one of the 750,000 or so grown-ups who earn a GED each year.

2. Discuss the ramifications of your adolescent’s actions. Instill in him that high school dropouts typically make 50% less than their peers who graduate and move onto college. Sometimes adolescents are very quick in their decision-making process and do not stop to think how it may affect their future. So, point out the widening gulf between the earnings of high school dropouts versus high-school graduates, and between high-school graduates and college graduates. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the median annual income of males who quit high school was just $13,961 in 1993. High-school graduates earned $20,870; males with some college under their belts, $23,435; and college grads, $32,708. Among females, the gap between median salaries for high school dropouts and college grads was even wider: $7,674 and $26,043, respectively. Females who only graduated high school earn salaries 5 percent lower than those who graduated from college.

3. Discuss the situation rationally – not emotionally. Does she want to drop out because she doesn’t feel as if she is succeeding, or is it something more serious (e.g., a bully)? Adolescents are NOT known for being rational in their thinking; rather, they are very impulsive and make spur-of-the-moment decisions.

4. Discuss your adolescent’s situation with a counselor at the high school to determine what options are available as possible alternatives to full-time school, as well as to understand any possible legal consequences for dropping out.  Also, work with school staff to improve your youngster’s school experience. Perhaps your youngster would be interested in a work-study program, which allows him to gain practical experience in a field that appeals to him while continuing with school. For example, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), located in Maryland, hires local high-school seniors to work 16 to 25 hours per week. The young people receive salaries, as well as sick leave and an option to participate in the NSA’s health and life insurance programs. Private companies, too, arrange similar programs with high schools. A member of the guidance-counseling staff should be able to route you to the individual in charge of coordinating work experience programs.

5. If you choose to let your adolescent drop out of school, help her formulate a plan for success. Write down what your adolescent’s plans are and continue to give her guidance as if she was still in high school. When your adolescent stops going to high school, your job as your adolescent’s greatest teacher does not end. It is still up to you to inspire her to follow through and become successful, even if it does not mean going to college.

6. If your adolescent expresses interest in taking the GED test, allow him to go that route (providing he follows through). Young people who get their GED and continue onto college have the potential to be as successful as those who graduate high school. Getting a GED does NOT have to be reason for parents to get upset.

7. Just because your adolescent chooses to drop out of school does not mean that she doesn’t have plans for the future. Allow her to explain her plan to you (assuming she has one). If you allow your adolescent to drop out, don’t panic. Sometimes adolescents need to learn life’s lessons the HARD way in order to find the RIGHT way.

8. No matter what your adolescent’s reasons for wanting to drop out of high school, put your emotions aside for a minute and listen to him. You may find that the problem is skin deep and easily fixed. On the other end, you may have an adolescent that is adamant about dropping out of school with no remedy in sight.

9. Offer to hire a tutor or to help your adolescent yourself. If the problem is a bully or a group of teenagers picking on your adolescent while at school, the problem may run a little deeper.

10. Moms and dads need to understand that, with rare exception, employers hire GED graduates on the same basis as high school graduates. In fact, 1 in 7 young people who receive their high school diploma do so by passing the GED. That’s important for the discouraged parent to remember. Quitting school usually does not spell the end of the educational process. Through entering the workforce, your teen may discover a career that he enjoys, and decide to get his GED and a college degree in order to advance himself. According to the American Council on Education, 1 in 3 GED test-takers plan to enter a college, university, trade school, technical school or business school the following year.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents


Stephen said...

Mark, thanks for such an in depth article. It's an excellent resource for both therapists, teachers, and parents. Your statement that many teens, let alone teens with Aspergers, say and think things without considering longer effects is a good point to remember. And engaging them seriously in dialogue without emotions involved is another great tip.

Bridget said...

Son dropped out of high school in grade 10, returned in grade 11 and again drooped out.
He is unemployed, has no intention of looking for employment.
He says he has a plan!
He's been sitting around doing nothing for 6 months. Took him to a psychiatrist and he's diagnosed as ADD.
He was told he needs to be employed or going to school, he says he will do it...... But doesn't!
My son will say and do what you want to hear and see.

Unknown said...

This is very helpful for when your teen is 16 and up BUT I have a 14year old that started last school year to "dropout". He claims to "not feel good" every morning. I spent last school year eliminating the possible health problems through MANY specialists. He was put on meds for his complaints. He did great all summer with feeling fine and started this year motivated even though he is repeating 7th grade this year. Second day of school it was back to "not feeling well". He claims no problems at school as far as bulling or harassment. All his teachers last year said he did not struggle making a good grade when he was there and did the work. Attendance was his only problem and turning in his makeup work when not there. I'm so frustrated! I can't do this again this year like last year. I need advise PLEASE I love him and want him to do well in life. We have removed ALL electronics, phone, TV and anything that would pass the time when he doesn't go to school. I need advise please and thank you anyone that can help me with this.

Unknown said...

My son is an 18 year old Junior in HS that is dropping out. His educational experience has been a struggle for years, and the emotional roller coaster has been had negative impact on all family members from siblings to grandparents. Every morning is a struggle with 90 minutes of escalating arguing starting at 5:30 am. He just turned 18, and has announced that it's his choice. I am trying to convince him to take on-line school or GED. Thank you for advice to set contribution rules to family household. I have considered selling the home in about 2 years, and moving to a 55 and over community to re-inforce the need to support himself versus relying on a permanent room in my home. It's terrifying to see the statistics and I worry about his future. At the same time, I have to protect the rest of the family and our futures too. The guilt can be unbearable.

Unknown said...

This sounds like us. I hate it but can't let him know it. This just started 2 days ago. He is researching Unschooling. We are very traditional. No clue how to parent this.

J-Mo said...

I'm here looking for some wisdom to pass on to my 15 yr old who is waiting to turn 16 so he can drop out. He's had no academic problems. His science 10 teacher asked him which science he wants to continue in because it comes that easily and he surprised her by saying it's all boring and he wants to quit school. However, he has little experience, common sense or practical skills. I'm trying to get him to see how far he has to go without crushing his self-esteem.
I'm giving this all my attention but one resource that gave me insight and helped a lot is Temple Grandin's book about raising children on the autism spectrum. Nope, my son is not on the spectrum but is extremely introverted, and hyper-focused yet indifferent due to strong traits of Attention Deficit Disorder. I recommend her book even if your child-teen has no diagnosis.

Unknown said...

That is exactly my son too! will yes me then when time to do, its an issue...DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO ANYMORE

Unknown said...

I've been dealing with exactly same thing since my son was 12, probably earlier BUT by time 12yrs old, it became A REAL STRUGGLE to get him to go to school! He is now 16, will be 17 in May & its NO Easier now than was then. Although have made arrangements so he actually doesn't attend regular school only had to go for 3hrs a day & do work on his own with a few teachers there to help, when needed. BUT EVERYDAY IS STILL A STRUGGLE! I JUST WANT HIM TO GRADUATE!!But looking less & less likely??...

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone my 17 year old son has adhd and dyslexic
He was only a few weeks off doing his leaving cert .And dropped out he said it was affected his mental health after he dropped he did find two jobs but got fired because being late ‘ I really worry what future he is going to have 😰

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