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TEEN TALK: Handling anxiety and school resistance in teens

Posted at 12:18 PM, Aug 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-27 10:00:35-04

MIDWAY, Fla. (WTXL) - Many students are entering their second and third weeks of school across our area but at least one parent says her teen is experiencing anxiety, even refusing to go to school.

Family Therapist Jane Marks joined us in studio with advice on how to have that conversation.

Question: I have seen a resurgence of teen anxiety and school resistance in my fourteen year old. Can you talk to us about young teens refusing to go to school?

Answer: Teens who resist school are probably struggling in one of six specific areas:

1. The presence of peer problems, i.e., bullying or a previous traumatic school experience.

2. Academic Difficulties. If your teen has experienced academic difficulties regularly, they may have experienced humiliating and repeated failing experiences. If this is the case, they may not want to confront school.

3. Significant family problems can sometimes be the source of school resistance. Divorce or other family issues may trigger a fearful reaction of separation from the family.

4. The most common reason is the presence of some psychological or psychiatric problem. School resistance or refusal may be a direct result of an anxiety disorder.

5. The fifth reason may be that there are chronic physiological problems. For example, children with school resistance issues often experience chronic stomach aches, headaches and other somatic complaints that have indeed a clear-cut medical basis. What is interesting is that these symptoms most often appear the night before or school mornings but lessen as the day goes on.

6. Another hidden source is sometimes teens often feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the events happening in their classes and among friends. Also, the potential rejection of peers.

Establishing a plan of action for school resistance should include the following:

1. Contact the school and alert them of the issue if this problem persists over four weeks. 

2. Make an appointment with your primary care physician to rule out any physiological causes.

3. Contact a mental health professional to identify distress or any other psychiatric issues.

4. Not only are mental health clinicians able to provide therapy, they can also refer to psychologists, psychiatrists and other health care professionals to determine the source of school resistance. If learning disabilities or learning difficulties are part of the problem, then the strong school relationships become invaluable.

5. I cannot understate the value of having a strong relationship with your teen's school. They can provide safe havens if bullying is an issue or certainly a safe place to go if the anxiety becomes overwhelming once you get them to school.

6. Last, but certainly not least is the importance of taking good care of oneself. One of the keys to reducing anxiety is to make sure that your teen participates in healthy habits. Exercise is the key along with diet. We have talked repeatedly about the importance of getting enough sleep and eating well. All of this is a part of the plan to make sure that school resistance doesn't become the main focus. You want to make sure you embody all healthcare strategies along with building a good team. I think these together make a big difference in helping not only identify school resistance but resolving the problem for an effective school year.