Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sue Scheff: Teen Truancy

So how do you get your truanting teen back to school?

By Sarah Newton

Getting your truanting teen or pre-teen back to school can be a very challenging process. The government in this country is still fining and in some cases imprisoning parents if their child skips school. The question on everyone minds is – is this the right thing to do?

Fundamentally I think it is and this is not a stab in the dark. During my days as a police officer I was on a number of truancy patrols and about 80% of the parents I spoke to knew that their child was off school; some even encouraged it. Some used excuses such as, “I needed someone to look after her little sister”, or, “I needed someone to carry the shopping.” In extreme cases I have arrested children truanting who had been caught shop lifting and actually had lists of things to steal written by their parents, and others who took their child shoplifting so they could, if caught, shift responsibility to the child and therefore not be prosecuted. Some of these cases were extreme I know but I have to say not isolated and I saw, at most, four of these a week. Surely parents who turn a blind eye to, or even encourage, truancy should be punished?

So, let’s turn our attention to the other 20%. These are the parents who believe that their children are at school. The ones who see them off in the morning, only to have the child come in through the back door as soon as the parents back is turned, the ones who really have tried everything from dropping them off at the school gates to a host of other punishments. What do we do with them? These parents need support, they need a system that can work efficiently and easily.

Recently, a coach I was supervising who is trained in our approach had a client whose son was truanting. Using the system I am going to describe below, they had the child back in full time education within 6 weeks.

I offer then, as a suggestion and a plea, that when issuing fines to parents, we do have some consideration for those who are trying their absolute best to get their child into full time education.

1. Firstly – State your intention to the child and ask for their support

“Paul, I want you to go to school and enjoy it, I want you to feel happy to go to school and learn – how can we make this happen?”

We must first tell the child what we want for them in a positive way, and then ask them how we can do it. If we as the Parents decide the best way forward and don’t include the child then you can absolutely guarantee that the child will not buy in.

If the child refuses to listen, just daily keep repeating the same thing.

2. Listen – listen to what your child has to say and listen with your mouth shut – no “When I was a child …”or, “ I know how you feel…” or, “You’ll never get anywhere without a education!” Listen, truly listen, listen for their interpretation of the situation and listen for what they may not be saying. There may be a valid reason this child is not going to school, which you may have to sort out.

3.Take your focus on what your child is doing wrong and focus on what you want – your child to go to school and be happy. Notice when you are focused on what you don’t want and shift it to what you do want. Begin to notice all the qualities your child has and all the good things they do and acknowledge these. What you focus on is what you get, so focus as much as possible on the good behaviour.

4.Make an agreement – see what you and your teen can make an agreement on when it comes to school – can you make an agreement that they go to school every Tuesday or that they get up every morning and get ready? What can you make an agreement on with them? Tell your child that this is what you want for them and that you make an agreement with them - what will they be willing to agree with?

5.Ensure that the child sticks to the agreement. If the agreement is broken then discuss with your child a natural consequence for that.

Keep following these steps and you will begin to see results. Your job as a parent is to ask your child how you can support them to get them into full-time education.