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Will Your Teen Drop Out?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Development & Learning

Fast-forward a few years. Will your middle-school child graduate from high school or will he drop out? How can you tell and what can you do to help your kid stay in school?

The time to think about this is now, not when your child turns 16. Although most states have compulsory attendance laws into the high school years, the dropout rate is virtually the same in states that say they keep kids in school to age 18 compared to states where kids can leave at age 16. Since earning a high school diploma is your child’s basic ticket to a promising future, helpful in going to college, joining the military, renting an apartment, and getting any job with the hope of advancement, doing what you can to get your kid through is important.

The fact is, though, that high school doesn’t suit every child. The child who marches to a different drummer – who is creatively or socially or intellectually distinctive from the mass of kids her age – may find high school too restrictive, too unpleasant, or too irrelevant to be a good use of her time. Take a good hard look at your middle school kid and at the high school she is destined to attend. If you sense there won’t be a good fit, there are things you can do, starting now.

  1. Treat high school as a job, not a social experience. Instead of imagining that high school should be a golden time of fun and learning, realize that your kid is just putting in his time as if he were stuck in a dead-end job for a few years. With that in mind, help your kid make his after school hours his real education. For many teens who will be successful in computer science, skilled trades, entertainment, sports and the arts, their real education happens outside of school. Get your kid involved in high-powered afterschool experiences that will feed his interests.
  2. Shorten the time. One of my sons left high school early, not because he dropped out, but because he finished all his necessary credits a semester ahead. Take a look at your district’s graduation requirements and get those accomplished as efficiently as possible. Don’t waste school time with , like driver’s ed, you can enroll him in during the summer. Instead of balancing the semester with “fun” courses along with core courses, help your child plan to get the core courses accomplished early.
  3. Look into high school-community college partnerships. See if in your area a student can earn college credit before finishing high school or take community college courses in place of high school classes. The more mature, targeted atmosphere of a community college may be the motivator your teen needs.
  4. Consider online high school. Doing high school online isn’t for everyone but for the student who is consumed by an interest not served in the high school curriculum, earning a diploma online can accomplish this key milestone while letting her do in her free time what she really is interested in.

The usual reasons why a student drops out of high school often are just indicators of a disconnect between the teen and the school. Reasons like frequent absences and tardiness, acting out to the point of suspension or expulsion, and failing so many courses that graduation is impossible can all be caused by larger societal issues, of course. But at the student level these common reasons for school dropout are indicators that high school is just not a good fit. Instead of nagging a child about his attendance, his homework, and his lack of interest in school, consider that your child might need something different.

Certainly, you want to do all the good parenting things, like providing your teen with a study space and becoming involved in school affairs. But remember that, to get your child through high school and off to a successful future, you may need to help her find alternatives ways to do exactly that.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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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.