Truancy is a term used to describe any intentional unauthorized absence from compulsory schooling. Children in America today lose over five million days of their education each year through truancy. Often times they do this without the knowledge of their parents or school officials. In common usage the term typically refers to absences caused by students of their own free will, and usually does not refer to legitimate “excused” absences, such as ones related to a medical condition. It may also refer to students who attend school but do not go to classes.
Because of this confusion many schools have their own definitions, and as such the exact meaning of the term itself will differ from school to school and district to district. In order to avoid or diminish confusion, many schools explicitly define the term and their particular usage thereof in the school’s handbook of policies and procedures. In many instances truancy is the term referring to an absence associated with the most brazen student irresponsibility and results in the greatest consequences.
Many educators view truancy as something much more far reaching than the immediate consequence that missed schooling has on a student’s education. Truancy may indicate more deeply embedded problems with the student, the education they are receiving, or both. Because of its traditional association with juvenile delinquency, truancy in some schools may result in an ineligibility to graduate or to receive credit for class attended, until the time lost to truancy is made up through a combination of detention, fines, or summer school. This can be especially troubling for a child, as failing school can lead to social impairment if the child is held back, economic impact if the child drops out or cannot continue his or her education, and emotional impact as the cycle of failure diminishes the adolescent’s self-esteem.
What causes truancy?
The reason a student misses school will for different depending on the age and circumstances of each student. Sometimes a student will skip school because they feel unsafe at school or on their way to or from school. Other students may miss school because of family issues, financial demands, substance abuse, or mental health problems.
Factors contributing to truancy commonly stem from three core areas: school, family and community. Innate student characteristics and their experiences within all these areas will have a heavy impact on truancy rates.
One of the common causes of truancy and disruptive behavior in children is the influence of friends and peers. Many times these peers are seen encouraging truancy as a status-seeking activity or as a way of joining in or blending in. The child’s natural instinct to want to be a part of a larger crowd or group dynamic will take over, even if they are taught better habits. Often times this same dynamic is prevalent in the face of any resistance the child may put forth, prompting teasing or goading the child into truanting.
What is classed as truancy can depend largely on the school’s attitude to the ‘truant’ or their problems. Relationships with teachers, seen as lacking respect/fairness, play a large factor in truancy rates among children. Often times this inability to get along with teachers and/or students will result in disciplinary problems which may lead to suspension, or expulsion. Of course, being away from the school either voluntarily or at the school’s demand can have an adverse affect on the student’s academic performance, resulting in not being able to keep up with school work, getting poor grades, or even failing. A school may also be remiss in not notifying parents/guardians of absences.
This feeds into the larger school category as a whole, encompassing not only relationships with teachers and issues of fair treatment but also the content and delivery of the curriculum, seen as lacking in relevance and stimulus. At this point the factors coming together are often times consolidated into the “standard” excuse from children regarding school and truancy, namely that they don’t like school in general or that they don’t like the particular school they are attending. Compounding the problem is the ease with which some pupils slip away unnoticed and how their school systems do not have in place a method to deter them. For example inconsistent and ineffective school attendance policies, in conjunction with poor record keeping, may cause a school to inadequately identify a child’s special education needs.
Closely related to the issue of a child’s relationship with school is the matter of bullying. Bullying is a prime component in the making of an unsafe school environment; if a child does not feel safe at school, or on the way to/from school, they are much more likely to become truant. Bullying occurs for many reasons and it goes beyond the one isolated instance of harassment either because of teachers’ inability to control, or problems arising from the child’s own personality or learning abilities. A parent might say they’re keeping their child off school because they’re being bullied. The school might call it truancy.
Individual (personal) factors related to child truancy include: lack of self-esteem/social skills/confidence; poor peer relations; lack of academic ability; special needs; and lack of concentration/self-management skills. Professionals have identified that many chronically truant children had a job, had a family to support, or had trouble managing both school and work, thus forcing them to make a choice between personal life and school. For sure when a child gets married, gets pregnant and/or becomes a parent the risk of truancy increases. Often times the risky behaviors are further instigated if the child develops or has already developed an alcohol or drug problem.
Family factors that contribute to truancy in students are innately personal in nature. Parentally condoned absence is especially influential, as it reinforces the lack of consequences for irresponsible/unwanted behavior on the part of the child. Parental attitudes to education are crucial to schools success in keeping children in school; often times a parent’s condonation of truancy (albeit overt or tacit) is construed as the parent’s not valuing education. It is worth noting that many parents indiscriminately sanction an absence by sending a note or making a call. Schools should be able to enlist the support of parents when it comes to tackling truancy. When a parent doesn’t value education, wants their child to help them out at home or believes their child has good reasons for staying away, the task is altogether more challenging.
Many educators point to the prevalence of so-called ‘tourist truants’: like children who stay two weeks in the French Alps missing vital parts of their school curriculum. These kinds of trips give as negative a message to a child as a note for a fortnight off school for a mild cold. Many schools will only exceptionally agree to a child missing more than 10 school days for a family holiday or other reason during one year. Some schools may refuse to authorize any absence for holidays.
Does it matter?
Children who play truant from school very often select the classes they want to miss. Usually the subjects they skip are ones the student finds difficult or boring, possibly a clash with the teacher is to blame. One common pattern is for truants to attend school for morning and afternoon head counts, but somehow sneak out during most of the day. Missing lessons is bad news for any young person and truancy is likely to have a negative impact on their overall education and job prospects.
Children who constantly turn up late for lessons are disruptive to other students and the school’s learning environment, and truanting has a negative effect on school morale. It should also be noted that children who are truanting could be in physical danger or at risk from being drawn into criminal activity.
Truancy, known simply as skipping school in some areas, is defined by all states as unexcused absences from school without the knowledge of a parent or guardian. The fact is, juveniles who are school-aged are required by all states to attend school, whether that school is public, private, parochial, or some other educational forum. Truancy is, therefore, a status offense as it only applies to people of a certain age. The school age of a juvenile varies from state to state, with most states requiring attendance either from age six to age 17 or from age five to 18. There are a number of exceptions, such as Pennsylvania, which denotes school age as between eight and 17 and Illinois which denotes school age as between seven and 16.
Most local education authorities employ education welfare officers (EWOs), sometimes called education social workers, to monitor attendance and help parents fulfill their responsibilities under the law. Welfare officers often visit families whose children fail to attend school regularly. These visits are the start of a process which may, in the worst cases, end with the family being taken to court. Parents and care givers have a duty in law to ensure their registered school age children are educated. The local education authority may institute legal proceedings against parents whose children do not regularly attend school (unless the parents can prove they’re being successfully educated at home).
Is your teen missing or skipping many of their classes? Have you tried to talked with them and they are shutting you down? Maybe exhausted your local resources or tried having them speak with your friends or relatives? If your teen is on the verge of suspension or expulsion and you have reached your wit’s end, please contact us for more information on residential therapy.