When Your Teen Just Really Hates School

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My son was always very social and enjoyed being around people, so elementary school was great for him. He was a very average student, though, and was only curious about certain things (like saving the polar bears when they learned about climate change in first grade, or when they made race cars in shop class while he was a sophomore in high school).

When he reached middle school, even his social life wasn’t enough to keep him interested in school — and as soon as he hit high school, I was afraid he wasn’t going to graduate.

Each semester was torture for him. He hated school with a passion. Sitting in class listening to teachers talk didn’t seem like something he could handle, and I was constantly going into school to have meetings with his teachers to see what we could do to get him through these years.

We tried everything. He sat on yoga balls. He was in supported study halls. I was on his ass every minute of every day about getting his work done. And yet, he wasn’t able to get motivated. He never seemed to care if he did a good job, or handed assignments in late. He told me one day he hated school so much, he didn’t care if he graduated or not.

I hid this from my family and friends for a few years. I felt that I was failing as a mother and I wondered why he wasn’t able to stick with it for these years, since I kept reminding him it was temporary.

I’d see other kids make the honor roll or put a ton of effort into a school project, when my son would take the easiest route every single time and didn’t seem to care what the outcome was.

Then I realized my son wasn’t thriving in school. It wasn’t his thing. I stopped bugging him so much and we sat down one day and had a heart to heart about it. “I know you hate school,” I told him. “I know you hate spending all your time there and then coming home to do work. I know how hard this is for you, and I’m sorry.”

Instead of hounding him, I was empathizing. I wasn’t a fan of school myself and was always an average student. However, I knew I wanted to graduate and go to college and I had to accept that my son did not have those same plans.

During his sophomore year, he failed history and just barely passed on to be a junior. I didn’t say much, except that I knew he was going to do his best and that he would figure out how to get through his junior year. He was beyond frustrated because he had to take the history class over again.

I got him a tutor. I let him have an after-school job because he couldn’t wait to work. I supported all the other things he wanted to do and realized that school, for him, was a huge burden in his life and hovering over him all the time only made it worse.

His junior year started and he told me he would graduate and just pull through. I promised him I wouldn’t say anything to him about his grades as long as he passed. He knew I’d support him and that I understood where he was coming from — and then things changed, but not in the way you might think.

He only passed his junior year by the skin of his teeth, but he was happier because he knew I now understood the weight that high school was for him. He was not like the kids who took it seriously and put the effort into their school, and I no longer got frustrated at him for it.

Our kids have so many gifts, and they don’t all show up in the classroom. We need to normalize this. Our society has led us to believe there is great power in our academic careers and grades, and it’s just not true for everyone.

One size doesn’t fit all and we need to accept our children for their strengths and their weaknesses.

I was getting my hair done by the best hairdresser I’d ever been to the summer after my son’s junior year. I was telling her about him, that he just wanted to get through this and be done with school forever.

She told me that she dropped out of high school and got her GED her senior year. “I was so much happier because I hated school so much and I never wanted to go back.” She then decided she wanted to cut hair and went to school for that, opened her own salon at 20 years old, and has made an amazing living for herself. Her salon is stunning, it’s her own, and she is living her dream.

I’m not saying a high school education isn’t important — it is. But I am saying that there are kids out there who don’t want to be at school at all and it’s a huge struggle. You can do everything right as a parent and still have a child who refuses to do their work. It’s more common than we realize because nobody wants to talk about how much their child may be struggling.

We got through my son’s senior year (just barely) and I was so proud of him when he walked across the stage to get his diploma. I know it was a really hard run for him and he pretty much hated every second of it.

Our kids (and our parenting) is not defined by how well they do in school and we all need to remember that.

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