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Why Kids Drop Out of School

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Development & Learning

In America’s big cities, the high school dropout rate is as high as 50% and it’s not much better in rural areas either. Even though education is important as the first step towards getting a job that pays a decent wage, half of the kids who start high school as ninth graders don’t finish all the way to the end of their senior year. Why not?

Here are the main reasons why kids drop out:

They are older than other kids in their grade, either because they started late, were held back a year or two, or failed courses they had to repeat.

  • They don’t have enough credits to graduate even though they’ve been enrolled in high school for four years. They failed courses, took the wrong courses, or skipped too many classes.
  • They don’t see the value of finishing because the best jobs in their neighborhoods are minimum-wage jobs they could get even without a high school diploma.
  • They’ve been kicked out of their homes or their families are homeless. Without a permanent place to live, only the most determined kids can finish school.
  • They don’t fit in. Socially, intellectually, or creatively they just don’t “get” high school and are happier out of it.

Some of these problems are within your control. You can help your kid figure out the credits he needs to graduate and make sure he gets those. You can help your child have high aspirations and realize that she can do great things if she just persists. You can make certain your teen feels welcome at home and do what you can to help him feel welcome at school.

Teens are short-sighted. They sometimes don’t see the value of high school and don’t realize how important a high school diploma might be in opening doors in the future. So you have to help your teen hang in there. But notice this: kids who drop out of school are not stupid. Instead, most dropouts are capable – even exceptional – kids, who needed more support than they got.

Kids who don’t complete high school aren’t necessarily doomed to the School of Hard Knocks. Hard work, pursuit of a passion, good social skills and a few lucky breaks can take a kid a long way.  Here are some famously successful people who dropped out of school:

  • Wendy’s franchise founder Dave Thomas
  • Singer Christina Aguilera
  • Musician Tom Petty
  • ABC News anchor Peter Jennings
  • Actor Johnny Depp
  • Virgin Atlantic Airways founder Richard Branson
  • Entertainment empire builder Walt Disney
  • Theory of Relativity creator Albert Einstein

But for every millionaire dropout there are a hundred who look back with regret. Deciding to stay in high school long enough to graduate is the first big decision most teenagers make, and they sometimes make the decision to drop out without really thinking. Do what you can to support and guide your teen.

Help your kid be a high school grad.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.