“My teenager hates school, and I don’t know what I should do!”
Maybe this describes the situation you’re in.
Does your teen say that he hates school?
Does he complain about his teachers and classmates, and about how “useless” school is?
Or maybe your teen complains that the people in school are “fake”, and that it’s hard to make friends?
If so, I’m sure you feel concerned.
You want to help your teen, but whatever you’ve tried so far hasn’t worked.
Given that I work with students — the majority of whom are teens — for a living, I know how common it is for teens to dislike school.
Nonetheless, this is still an issue that must be addressed.
There are many powerful strategies you can employ to help the situation. In this article, I’ll outline 15 of them.
(Download the free bonus below to learn five more strategies.)
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Why do teens hate school?
As a parent and as a coach who works with teenagers, I understand how challenging it can be to see your child hating school.
You don’t want your teens to be miserable, but you also want what’s best for them in the long term.
While academics aren’t everything, doing well in school does lead to more opportunities for scholarships, higher education, and employment.
Here’s the thing…
Before you can motivate your teenagers to enjoy school, you must understand why they dislike school in the first place.
For many students, school is like a roller coaster — full of nerve-racking lows and exhilarating highs. Threatening or lecturing your teens won’t help them navigate the heart-pounding ride.
Instead, let’s explore a few answers to the all-important question: “Why do teens hate school?”
They feel like they have no control over their lives
The teenage years are a time when they’re discovering their identity: their motivations, interests, values, and goals.
Teenagers are also growing up, which means that they’re developing their independence.
So, your teens want to feel in control of their lives.
But the traditional school setting typically gives them few opportunities to exert this control, outside of setting academic goals.
Most teenagers have few options with regard to which classes they’re taking, so they don’t get to study the topics that genuinely interest them.
Add jam-packed schedules and strict rules to the mix, and it’s no wonder that teens find school frustrating and sometimes pointless.
If your teen hates school, it could be a lack of autonomy that’s driving this feeling of resentment.
They feel overwhelmed and stressed
Waking up early. High-pressure extracurriculars. Exams, homework, and projects.
Teens today are more stressed than ever before. In fact, nearly one-third of teens report feeling overwhelmed, a figure on par with adult stress levels.
These statistics are a cause for concern.
As American Psychological Association CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD says:
It is alarming that the teen stress experience is so similar to that of adults. It is even more concerning that they seem to underestimate the potential impact that stress has on their physical and mental health.
(If you’re concerned about your teen’s mental well-being, here are seven tips to support your child’s mental health.)
Help your teenager to manage stress effectively, and you might find that you no longer say that “my teenager hates school”.
They feel that school is just about getting good grades
Does your teen feel pressured to achieve outstanding grades?
Most students do. Yet academic success is about so much more than report cards and grades.
It’s important to show your teen that it’s not the outcome but the process that matters most.
Sure, it feels good to get excellent grades. But what’s more important are the valuable life skills your child gains along the way, e.g. critical thinking, organisation, planning, self-management.
If your teens feel the only purpose of school is to memorise facts and equations, they’ll struggle to find joy in the learning process.
They’re being bullied
Many parents don’t know when their teen is being bullied.
If you keep saying to yourself that “my teen hates school”, check in with your child to ensure that he or she isn’t being bullied.
Just because your teen hasn’t mentioned the issue doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
If there’s bullying going on, don’t blame yourself. Instead, support your child and empathise with him or her as you find a solution together.
What to do if your child hates school
As we’ve seen, there’s typically a reason why your child doesn’t enjoy school.
Now, let’s explore 15 proven strategies that will help anytime you’re wondering what to do about your child hating school:
1. Don’t assume that your teen is being defiant or rebellious
As children enter the teenage years, they crave autonomy. They’re also forming their identity, all while their bodies and brains are going through drastic changes.
As such, teens often exhibit rebellious behaviour.
But don’t assume that this is the only reason your teen tells you she hates school.
Many times, there are other issues at play, e.g. feeling overwhelmed, struggling to keep up with schoolwork, bullying, fear of exams.
2. Think about what you’ve been doing that may have contributed to the problem
Here are some questions to ask yourself when you find yourself saying “my teenager hates school”:
- Do I frequently nag my teen?
- Do I always talk about school-related topics?
- Do I talk as if my teen’s hobbies are a waste of time, or that they’re merely a distraction from her schoolwork?
- Do I compare my teen with her friends, cousins or siblings?
- Do I overemphasise the importance of performing well in school?
- Do I frequently force or coerce my teen into doing schoolwork?
- Do I sign my teen up for classes or programmes without first seeking her consent?
On their own, none of these behaviours will result in you having a disrespectful teenager who hates school.
But in combination, they’ll likely cause a power struggle between you and your teen.
Over time, your teen may develop even more negative emotional associations with school.
3. Use active listening techniques when talking to your teen about the issue
When you talk to your teen about why he hates school (and when you talk to him about other topics too), use active listening techniques such as the following:
- Give your teen your full attention
- Don’t multitask
- Don’t interrupt your teen while he’s talking
- Encourage your teen to keep talking, e.g. by saying “go on” or “tell me more”
- Empathise with your teen
- Seek to understand how he is feeling
- Don’t judge
- Don’t moralise
- As far as possible, don’t provide unsolicited advice
- Occasionally summarise what you think your teen has been saying and reflect it back to him, e.g. “It sounds like you feel as if your math teacher doesn’t explain the concepts well, so you dislike math.”
By using active listening techniques, your teen will be more likely to share with you what’s troubling him.
4. Don’t use threats
It’s tempting for parents to use threats to coerce their teens into behaving “correctly”.
Whether it’s threatening to reduce your teen’s allowance or take away her phone, it won’t work in the long run.
The use of power becomes less effective as children get older. By the time they’re teenagers, this approach doesn’t work, and tends to backfire instead.
In other words, it isn’t possible to threaten your teen into becoming a motivated and responsible student who loves going to school.
If your teen detests school, the root cause is probably emotional in nature. This is what must be addressed as a priority.
5. Don’t lecture
“My teen hates school — should I lecture him or her?”
Perhaps that’s the question on your mind.
I advise parents to avoid lecturing their teens. But if you really can’t help it, keep the lecture short.
Teens tell me that they start tuning their parents out about two minutes into the lecture. So you’ll be wasting your breath if your lecture lasts longer than that.
Your teen won’t respond well to you preaching about the importance of school. Nor will he start or stop performing specific behaviours because you told him that he “should” or “shouldn’t” do those things.
(When was the last time you started eating healthily just because a relative or friend told you that you “should”?)
Lecturing won’t help your teen’s anxiety either, if that’s something he’s struggling with.
Even students who have an intense hatred for school know that doing well in school is important. They don’t need you to remind them of that, because their teachers do that almost every day.
What does your teen need from you?
He needs you to listen to him, to understand him, to see things from his perspective – this is a parenting skill I encourage you to develop.
When your teen feels understood, he’ll change his behaviour and attitude.
6. Reduce your focus on school and academics
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t bring up school-related topics at all.
But many teens have told me that it seems as if school is the only thing their parents care about.
Make it a point to talk about topics that your teen is interested in, e.g. music, hobbies, gaming, social media.
When the conversations you have with your teen are more balanced, your teen’s attitude toward school will become more balanced too.
7. Help your teen to learn organisational and study skills
Many students who don’t like school feel overwhelmed by schoolwork, projects, tests, exams, etc.
Most of these students haven’t learned how to prioritise, plan, stay organised, manage their time, and focus when studying.
If this describes your teen, encourage – but don’t force – her to develop these skills. To do so, she can check out relevant resources and sign up for programmes.
When students develop the necessary organisational skills and apply effective study tips, they often stop hating school!
8. Acknowledge your teen’s progress and effort
One piece of feedback I get from many teens is that they’re discouraged.
They feel as if they’ll never be good enough to live up to their parents’ expectations.
Instead of focusing on your teen’s grades, focus on their effort instead. Whenever you observe her exhibiting positive behaviour, acknowledge it.
This simple act will mean a lot to her. It will also remind her that the reward is found in the journey itself, not just the destination.
By acknowledging her progress, she’ll be more likely to develop intrinsic motivation.
9. Talk to your teen’s teachers
Reach out to your teen’s teachers. Given that they interact with your teen almost every day, they’re likely to have insights into why he hates school.
All the teachers I know are insanely busy. So even if you’re only able to schedule a 10-minute phone call with your teen’s teacher, make the most of the opportunity.
10. Talk to the parents of your teen’s friends
On a related note, to get a better picture of what’s going on, talk to the parents of your teen’s friends.
These parents would have heard from their children about what’s been frustrating them at school. Based on this feedback, you’ll understand your teen’s concerns better too.
11. Ensure that your home is an emotionally safe environment
Teens frequently tell me that they don’t feel emotionally safe at home.
Why do they say this?
Because they feel that when they’re at home, they can be nagged, criticised, blamed, reprimanded or lectured to at any time. They feel as if they can be “attacked” without forewarning.
It’s only natural that they withdraw, locking themselves in their room if possible.
If the home environment isn’t emotionally safe, teens won’t share what’s on their minds. This will only make the situation worse, and you’ll keep wondering why your teen hates school so much.
When parenting teens, do your best to cultivate a home environment that’s full of appreciation, respect and kindness.
Emphasise that there are standards that must be upheld, but that every family member will always receive unconditional acceptance.
12. Determine if there’s something more serious going on
If your teen says that she hates school, it may be a sign of something more serious, e.g. depression, panic disorder, anxiety disorders.
Here are some symptoms to look out for:
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Poor concentration
- Feeling worthless
- Feelings of self-hatred
- Changes in appetite
- Persistent sadness
- Thoughts of suicide
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Change in sleep habits
- Frequent crying
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Loss of motivation to study or do schoolwork
If your teen is exhibiting several of these symptoms, seek help right away.
13. Ensure that your teen’s life isn’t overscheduled
Sometimes, teens who hate school are simply worn out. They feel overwhelmed by the demands of school, extracurricular activities, etc.
They may be physically exhausted and sleep-deprived. This affects their mood, which makes them more likely to perceive situations negatively.
Teens need time to think, reflect, explore and dream.
Do what you can to ensure that your teen’s life isn’t overscheduled. Over time, you’ll see improvements in his attitude toward school.
14. Be patient and encouraging toward your teen
No matter how old we are, we’re all on a journey of learning, growing and maturing.
It’s a process for your teen to change her mindset, so be patient with her.
Encourage her. Support her. Empathise with her. Listen to her. Remind her that you’ll be with her every step of the way.
As you implement the other strategies listed in this article, you’ll see improvements such that you no longer think to yourself that “my teenager hates school”.
15. Help your teen to find a mentor
Teens who detest school need some perspective on their situation.
It’s hard for teens to develop this perspective because their problems seem so overwhelming.
From their point of view, the situation might even appear hopeless.
Furthermore, teens spend the majority of their waking hours surrounded by their peers, who have a similar worldview. This makes it even more challenging for teens to view their situation through a different lens.
Parents have a difficult time getting through to teens. This is because parents’ guidance is often perceived as nagging or lecturing.
Your teen is just one mentor away from making the most of his potential!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is hating school normal?
While I’m not fond of the term normal, I will say it’s common for teens to dislike things related to school.
Just remember, most teenagers aren’t rebellious for the sake of it. There’s likely a good reason for their frustrations, so it’s crucial to apply the tips in this article to get to the root of the issue.
What can I do if my teenager refuses to go to school?
It’s tempting to scold and lecture your teenagers if they refuse to go to school.
But nagging your teens won’t work. More often than not, it will exacerbate the problem.
The good news is that there are tactics you can use to deal with challenging teenagers. Read my top 10 tips for dealing with disrespectful teens here.
How do you motivate an intelligent but unmotivated teenager?
Do you feel like your teenager doesn’t work hard enough or plan for the future, even though you know he or she is intelligent?
Or maybe your teen lacks motivation and gets distracted easily?
If so, you’re not alone. There’s a huge number of parents trying to figure out how to motivate a teenager to study and perform better in school.
I have good news for you…
I’ve spoken to and worked with more than 20,000 students around the globe. I’ve discovered that the vast majority of unmotivated teenagers want to do well in school. They simply lack the necessary mindset and skills to do so.
That’s why I wrote a free e-book to help parents learn how to motivate their teens. Discover my 16 keys to motivating teenagers here.
Do most teens hate school?
While I’m hesitant to say that most teens hate school, many do.
I know it’s frustrating to see that your children dislike school. But if you work with them day by day — by implementing the tips in this article — to embrace a new attitude, you’ll start to see improvements.
Conclusion: Huge changes occur one tiny step at a time
No matter how dire your teen’s situation may seem, remember that there’s always hope.
I’ve worked with teens who have gone from being unmotivated school-haters to being driven, focused, and independent learners.
Of course, the transformation to become happy, successful students didn’t happen overnight.
(I went through my own transformation as a teen, which you can read about here if you’re interested.)
But change is possible.
As is often said, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
In the same way, huge changes occur one tiny step at a time. So apply the strategies described in this article, as well as the bonus strategies you can get access to at the end of this article.
With your love, support, and guidance, your teen can experience a transformation too!
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