Parenting Issues: "My 12-Year-Old Refuses School"
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Parenting Issues: "My 12-Year-Old Refuses School"

Age 12 is a difficult stage in life. How do we motivate a 12-year-old who has lost interest in going to school? First, we must try to understand him - get an idea of what is happening to his mind and body.
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"Our 12-year-old son suddenly stopped going to school. He stays at home and spends his time reading magazines. No amount of pleading, coaxing, or threatening could make him return. What should we do? How can we motivate him?"

Age 12 is a difficult stage in life. It is similar to the terrible twos and the frustrating fours. How do we motivate a 12-year-old who has lost interest in going to school? First, we must try to understand him - get an idea of what is happening to his mind and body.

Between kindergarten and ages five or six to high school, the child gradually emerges from babyhood. One of the most complicated processes during these years is the child's separation from his family - physical and psychological.

During the day his hours are spent either in school or with his friends. At home he wants to be treated no longer as a baby but as an equal, an adult. He enjoys belonging to a family yet at the same time, he desires to feel free of them.

It is during this period when parents are dethroned. Suddenly, the once dependent offspring becomes critical, disobedient, challenging, and defiant. Even the gentlest parent could react defensively and scold him for disrespect.

It requires an enormous dose of understanding to see this undesirable turn of behavior as an aspect of growth. The youngster is trying to break away from the helplessness of infancy. He is preparing himself step by step toward the next stage of life - adolescence.

What are the standard reactions of this age? The child removes himself from the sound of parental lectures, scolding, and advice. He becomes deeply absorbed in a magazine or a book. He shows indifference to parental ranting. He wears a look of remoteness, of superiority which says more plainly than words: You can lead a child to a sermon but you cannot make him listen.

During these years, school presents an extension of relationships and adjustments at home. The setup is his first exposure to adults who are not his parents. It offers a new orbit of people who are not family.

To succeed in school work, the child needs to be accepted and understood. The physical and psychological change from child-at-home to child-at-school cannot be absorbed overnight. It is important for parents to recognize the conflicts with which the child struggles in his approach to school. He is torn between wanting to act mature and being more independent but also clings to the pleasures of being young and helpless. Parents and teachers need to coordinate in easing the transition of encouraging his grown-up self and, at the same time, not shaming him for lapses into his childish behavior.

The following are recommended:

  • Make an appointment with the teacher and the guidance counselor of the school. They will be able to furnish you with your child's overall abilities and needs.
  • A friend solved a similar problem by confronting the child: "You can now start working to earn a living. You can shine shoes, sell newspapers, wash cars, or do any kind of work which will provide you with money to buy your needs."

Understanding the child does not mean giving him unrestricted freedom at home. When parents abdicate their responsibility to guide and control, the children tend to fall into chaotic behavior that is too much for the adults as well as for the child. They must learn to face the challenge of balancing freedom with guidance and control. The aim is to help the child build a healthy conscience and fit himself into social living. Only then can he find happiness and fulfillment in his adulthood.

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