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How do I get my struggling 17-year-old son to stop skipping school?


​​My 17-year-old son challenges authority, skips school and apparently just had sex after skipping school when he just started back. I work full time and don’t know what to do with him anymore. He doesn’t listen. I assign chores and he halfway completes them over a course of weeks or not at all. I take his electronic devices for days, weeks, months even to discipline but nothing helps


skipping school

Reaching out for help is something that all parents find themselves doing at some point in time. Parenting is a tough job and seems to get tougher as our kids approach adulthood. We do wonder how close to graduation your son is. Is he in his senior year and on track to graduate before all this began, or is he behind in school because of the skipping in the past? The girl he is having sex with, is she on the same grade level and age as he is? Are her parents aware of her participation in this?  Does your son have a job and is he earning money? If not, he had better begin to think about and plan for this quickly since his activities could result in parenthood and supporting a family. Even with precautions in place, this is a possibility.

If given the opportunity to sit down and talk to him about this, we suggest rather than insisting this behavior stop – which you know he will resist and disregard any of your further suggestions – you focus more on what the costs to his future will be if he doesn't get that diploma and is faced with having to support himself and possibly a family. Talk about what independent living skills he already has and what ones he needs to learn to move into this next phase of his life.

You mentioned electronics have been used as negative consequences in attempts to change behaviors. We think that is an important and effective consequence simply because that is how young people connect with one another. A suggestion is he should not get them back unless he has a job and can pay for them himself. The same with a car and other privileges that he now enjoys at your expense.  

The reality of his desire to act like and be treated as an adult is that he recognize and experience the responsibilities that go with that status.  

We know you cannot control him and the only person you or any of us can control is ourselves and how we respond to what others say and do. So, we encourage you to respond to him with this approach. Rather than trying to MAKE him be respectful and responsible, offer to help him better prepare to live independently by requiring him to pay for the privileges and needs he will want to have in his future. You may want to find clinics in your community where he can get medical and dental care if his job as an adult doesn't provide him with health insurance. If he doesn't make enough money to feed himself and his family, you can help him learn where he can get food from local food pantries. Just let him know that you are being supportive of his desire not to comply with being your child and living within the expectations in your home.

Rather than the anger and frustrations you are now experiencing, we hope you will consider trying some calm reasoning with him. If he doesn't want to listen, take measures so he no longer has the privileges you provide him with. Don't threaten, just do.