Is your teen always saying that he hates school?
Does he complain about his teachers and classmates, and about how “useless” the lessons are?
Or maybe he complains that the people in school are “fake”, and that it’s hard to make friends?
If so, as a parent you probably feel concerned and frustrated.
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.)
Let’s get started.
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:
- 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 your teen hating 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
Avoid lecturing your teen. 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”?)
Besides, 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. When he 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 study effectively.
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 and study skills, they enjoy school more.
8. Acknowledge your teen’s progress and effort
One piece of feedback I get from a lot of 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 who hate school won’t share what’s on their mind. This will only make the situation worse.
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
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 rest of the strategies listed in this article, you’ll see improvements.
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!
No matter how dire your teen’s situation may seem, there’s hope.
I’ve worked with teens who have gone from being unmotivated school haters to being driven, focused, independent learners.
Of course, the change didn’t happen overnight, and required plenty of hard work.
(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.
Apply the strategies described in this article, as well as the bonus strategies. (Refer to the yellow box below to download your free bonus PDF.)
With your loving support and guidance, your teen can experience a transformation too!
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