As a society we have evolved beyond absolutes and that is great, but it doesn’t make the job any easier.
It is as if we have become clear on what we are not sure of and confused by what we are certain about. Truancy is something that was easier to deal with in our parent’s day. Consequences for what the dictionary calls ‘the act or condition of being absent without permission’ were standard. A good lashing helped clear up any doubt as to the relevant authorities’ feelings on the subject. Now, for better or worse, corporal punishment is out. And, lets face it, it was pretty primitive, but how delightfully unambiguous. The dichotomy of crime and punishment regarding our teens has now assumed a more nuanced relationship. Once again, the more we know about the implications of acts of disobedience — emotional, symptomatic and psychological — the murkier it gets. Because it is no longer acceptable to beat sense into errant teens, even the notoriously delinquent ones that defiantly thumb their noses at the educational system, we are forced to look at the action of truancy more closely. And what we see is what we see when we look at the causes of all aberrant behavior in these teenage barometers of society.
What we see is, more often than not, a symptom of something needing attention. That’s the thing about parenting. There is just no substitute for attention, not the best schools, not a great set of wheels, not satisfying every material need. Severe discipline is seldom successful either. It seems that truancy – like smoking, drinking, drug taking – is a cry for help. The U.S. Department of Education states in its Manual to Combat Truancy that truancy “is the first sign of trouble; the first indicator that a young person is giving up and losing his or her way”. The manual, published in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice, hits the nail right on the head.
When your child decides to skip school, not just once, but chronically, this normally means that society, the custodian of the child, is somehow not serving this one individual. Truancy can be broadly divided into two categories: those teens that skip off school once in a blue moon and those that are away from school more often than they are there. Truancy is often a standard response to trouble at home. The disintegration witnessed by the child in his or her domestic environment ripples out to include absenting oneself from the very thing that provides a bona fide escape from an otherwise hopeless situation. Few teens who are truants are sociopaths that simply do not care. Statistics show that the percentage of these kids is less than 2%. The rest of the apparent troublemakers are living breathing symptoms of something profoundly awry.
Some experts cite bullying at school as a significant cause of truancy. Here the desire to escape ongoing exposure to torture causes the victims to take the matter into their own hands. When you scratch the surface of many incidents of truancy in teens you come up with actions that are sometimes appropriate or at least understandable responses to inappropriate circumstances. Because chronic truancy is potentially the beginning of a profound disjunct with society as a whole, it must be treated as serious. Because it is rarely purely plain antisocial, taking it seriously means opening communication, not shutting it down with threats and punishments. Communication needs to be your first response. Before you bring the school into the picture you need to do some serious emotional detective work. Your teen is probably not going to volunteer information. By this time the child is probably hiding away somewhere within him or herself. You will have to practice patience and perseverance if you want to get to the root of the real issue.
If you as a parent become impatient and cease communication know that the consequences of this kind of societal sidelining often results in a long unhappy life lived outside of the comforts of community and a sense of worth. How you deal with the situation is crucial. If your child is unable to speak to you don’t be discouraged. In fact don’t give up, no matter what. Engage a good therapist. Your teen may find it easier to open up to a stranger. This is not necessarily a reflection on you or your relationship but a quite common circumstance, so don’t be put off. Ideally you and your child should have formed a united front when consulting with the school about damage control.
Your teen’s naturally should be the parent. Be firm but be approachable and always stand by him or her. Never ever lose sight of the inherent goodness in your child. This is real faith and it is catchy. It is never too late to repair chasms in your relationship with your child. When at a loss, chose loving and leave judgment to the legal institutions.