My Teenager Won’t Go to School Because Of Anxiety

Key Takeaways:

  • School anxiety can keep your teenager from enjoying the best experiences in school.
  • Your teen can develop school anxiety from a wide range of causes, including bullying, drug abuse, trauma in school, and other negative social experiences.
  • You can support your teens who are going through school anxiety by giving them the right coping skills for their different experiences.
  • You should also seek professional help for your teens by contacting the Key Healthcare team for tailored interventions to help the teens overcome school anxiety.

When your teenager won’t go to school, it might be because of teen school anxiety or school truancy. As a parent, you naturally worry about how not attending school affects their mental health, future job prospects, grades, and self-confidence. In the U.S., a lot of teens feel school anxiety because of things like being cyberbullied, feeling pressured to do well, dealing with substance abuse, being scared of failing, facing sexual assault, or having issues with a teacher. Sometimes, it’s because of a learning problem or ADHD. It could even be because of something upsetting, like parents splitting up or the death of someone close.

“There’s no single reason why your adolescent has anxiety about going to school, but it’s crucial to figure out the specific cause so you can help them in the best way.” 

Hi, I am Ryan Blivas, co-founder of California’s top-rated residential treatment center for teens. If you notice your teen acting strange about going to school, it may indicate that they’re dealing with school anxiety. This needs proper attention and care to help them overcome teen school refusal and face them head-on.

Understanding Teen School Anxiety

Have you noticed your teen experiencing distress when you talk to them about school? The teen might be experiencing some anxiety surrounding the topic of school. School anxiety is a common occurrence among teens of the school-going age. 

It manifests as a strong negative emotion about every topic on school issues and could even keep your teen from attending school. These emotions can also affect your teen’s learning and the grades they get in school. 

Here are some of the common signs and symptoms of school anxiety you should be on the lookout for when interacting with your teen:

  • Refusal to participate in school activities
  • Regular truancy in school
  • Temper tantrums
  • False claims that they are sick just to miss school
  • Irritability
  • Sadness when talking about school
  • Physical symptoms such as stomach aches, headaches, dizziness, and sweating in intense situations

Reasons Why Your Teen Won't Go To School

Finding out why your teen’s school anxiety puts you a step closer to helping your teen go back to school. Here are some of the most common ones. 


Bullying is a prevalent problem in many schools. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, about 14% of public schools report high levels of bullying, which occur daily or at least multiple times a week. A teen who experiences these levels of bullying might end up using avoidance as a coping mechanism to avoid the distressing environment in school. This can lead to the teen missing school sessions regularly.

Performance Pressure

Teens who experience high expectations to perform well in school may develop anxiety when attending school. The anxiety can be even more severe in teens who have a hard time measuring up to the expectations of their parents, teachers, and peers and also have a fear of failure. 

Learning Disabilities

Students with learning disabilities like adolescent ADHD might struggle to navigate the school environment. The situation can become worse when the student has not received a proper diagnosis of their disability, as they can’t tell why school work is unnecessarily difficult for them. Such a feeling of helplessness can cause the teen to miss school regularly.

Likewise, if your teen also has ADHD, explore these expert tips on how to help a teenager with ADHD in school.

Mental Health Conditions

Mental health conditions like teenager depression, OCD, teen anxiety disorder, and stress can make school challenging for your teen. When this happens, your teen might avoid the uncomfortable school experience by skipping classes.

Substance Abuse

Teens who use substances such as drugs and alcohol might skip school because of the effects of the drugs or possible withdrawal symptoms. Others might skip school out of fear of being caught using these substances.

Traumatic Events

Traumatic events in your teen’s school or personal life can affect their ability to attend school effectively. At times, the teen might even associate the negative emotions of their traumatic experiences with school. This can cause them to skip their classes.

Physical Health Issues

It is important to keep an eye out for any physical health issues your teen is going through. Chronic conditions might cause physical pain and discomfort that can cause school anxiety.

Lack of Support

Teens need all the support they can get to navigate their school experience. If your teen is not feeling your support and that of their teachers, they are likely to develop feelings of anxiety around the school experience.

Transition Periods

Moving to a new school or starting a new academic year can be a source of stress due to the uncertainty and change involved. It is important to navigate the transition process strategically so that it doesn’t affect your teen’s experience in school.

Separation Anxiety

Do you remember a time in your past when you had to move away from close friends and family members? The period must have been quite uncomfortable for you. The same goes for teenagers in school. Teens who have a hard time separating from their parents, friends, or home environment might have some difficulty attending school as a result of separation anxiety.

What Happens When Your Teen Refuses To Go To School?

School refusal can have a wide range of long-term effects on your teen. Let’s uncover a few of them:

Educational Consequences

Teens who miss school regularly are likely to have a hard time catching up with the rest of their classmates. As a result, their grades are bound to suffer.

Emotional and Social Impacts

Besides being a place of learning, school is also a great place for teens to develop emotional and social interactions. A wholesome experience at school involves many extracurricular activities such as sports and creative arts. Teens who miss school also miss out on these activities. This can negatively affect their emotional and social health.

Physical Impacts

Refusing to go to school has an indirect physical effect on teens. Let’s look at it like this: teens who miss school miss physical fitness classes such as PE and gym. This can lead to decreased levels of physical effects. Similarly, the stress that comes with falling behind in school work can cause physical problems such as headaches, fatigue, and irregular sleep patterns. 

Tips For Parents When Teens Refuse To Go To School Because Of Anxiety

When your teen experiences symptoms of school anxiety, which keeps them from going to school, helping them cope with the situation can ease these symptoms. Unfortunately, some teens resort to unhealthy coping habits that might make their school anxiety worse. These include drug and substance abuse, avoidance, and lashing out. That is why you need to teach them the best healthy coping skills. 

Lifestyle and Self-Care

Supporting your teen’s well-being through lifestyle changes and self-care can help your teen develop the willingness to attend school regularly. Some common lifestyle practices you can try out for your teen include:

  • Yoga
  • Meditating to alleviate anxiety
  • Self-care strategies include trying out a new hobby and spending time in nature.

Healthy Diet And Exercise

Nutrition and physical activity for teens are key when it comes to managing anxiety. The gut and the brain are interconnected – when your teen takes a healthy, balanced diet, their mental health may start to improve and relieve anxiety symptoms. 

Exercise can also be a healthy coping mechanism when dealing with stressful situations. As your teen exercises, they will experience a release of a hormone known as endorphin. This hormone, which is also referred to as the feel-good hormone, helps to lift your teen’s moods. As a result, your teen will develop a stronger sense of well-being and lower stress levels. The path from this to a comfortable school experience is short. 

Sleep and Stress Management

When it comes to managing stress and anxiety, sleep can work as a magic charm for your teen. Surprisingly, sleep and stress have a cyclic relationship. When your teen has high stress levels, they will have a hard time enjoying quality sleep. This, in turn, will increase their stress levels, and the cycle continues. You can help your teen sleep better to reduce their stress levels by promoting healthy sleep habits such as:

  • Developing a consistent sleep schedule for the teen
  • Reducing caffeine and other stimulants before going to bed
  • Taking meals at least 2 hours before bedtime
  • Limiting screen time before going to bed

Breathing Exercises and Relaxation Techniques

Simple breathing and relaxation exercises can help your teen get a handle on their anxiety. Some common breathing exercises for school anxiety you can consider include:

The Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise

To perform this breathing exercise, all your teen needs to do is to draw in a deep breath through their nose. As they take the breath in, your teen should allow their abdomen to rise for a few seconds. Then, the teen can let the air out through the mouth, letting the abdomen fall. 

The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique is a common technique your teen can use to relieve their anxiety as it progresses. The technique works in the following way:

  • First, your teen should sit in a comfortable position with their back straight
  • The teen should then take in a deep breath through their nose as they count to 4
  • Once the teen takes the breath in, the next step is to hold the breath for a count of 7
  • The teen should then slowly release their breath through the mouth for a count of 8 while making the whooshing sound.

For all these breathing exercises, the trick is to repeat the breaths as often as possible until the teen feels relaxed.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation techniques help teens focus on the positive moments in their lives. These teen meditation practices are key when it comes to reducing stress. Meditation allows a teen to reorganize his or her anxious thoughts. Ultimately, overcoming school anxiety and enjoying the school experience will be easier.

Art and Creative Therapies

Art and other creative types of therapy allow teens to convey their thoughts and emotions without verbal communication. Creative expression is a great way to navigate the harsh negative thoughts that come with school anxiety. The teen can healthily unpack these emotions by singing, playing an instrument, or painting on canvas. The beauty of art therapy is that the teen doesn’t need to be an artist; they simply need to enjoy the creativity.

Peer Support and Friendships

Teens need the support of their friends and peers to navigate tough emotional times. That is why you should allow your teen to spend time with their friends regularly. Peer support for anxious teenagers allows teenagers to understand that they are not alone in their struggles. This kind of support can also help teens develop a close community in school, which will make school fun for them. Remember, teens who have a strong community in school are less likely to skip classes.

Treatments For Teen School Anxiety

Coping strategies for dealing with school anxiety may work for a while. But if you want to nip the problem in the bud, then consider taking your teen for professional help. There are two main forms you can consider when looking for professional help for school anxiety: therapy and medication. Let’s first talk about therapy options.

Therapy Options

Psychotherapy or counseling is a type of intervention for teen school anxiety where the teen meets with a therapist to solve the underlying cause of their anxiety. The teen can opt for one-on-one sessions with the therapist or go for group sessions with family members or fellow teens. If you are looking for the right therapist for your teen, consider scheduling a call with Key Healthcare. The team at Key Healthcare can provide your teen with the following types of teen therapies to give them the assistance they need during these emotionally draining moments:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Teen cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that focuses on the negative thoughts that a teen might be going through. CBT is based on the idea that the thoughts a teen has could affect their well-being. Therefore, by addressing these negative thoughts and restructuring them into positive ones, teens can address many of the mental health challenges they may be going through. 

Family Therapy

As a parent, you might experience a wide range of emotions, especially when you find out your teen is missing out on school because of anxiety. That is why you need to participate in teen family therapy sessions. Family therapy can help you understand what your teen is going through during these moments. These sessions can also equip you with the right skill set to help your teen overcome their anxiety and enjoy their experience at school.

Group Therapy

Group therapy for teens is a type of psychotherapy where the counselor offers interventions for a group of teenagers dealing with the same issue. Through group therapy, teens receive encouragement and support from other group members. These sessions can give teens the right set of skills they need to navigate their school anxiety effectively. What’s even better is that group therapy sessions are ordinarily cheaper than one-on-one sessions. So, if you are looking for a cheaper alternative that can still benefit your teen, then you should consider group therapy.

Medication Options

Anxiety medication for teenagers can be a viable option when dealing with school anxiety. Your teen can start on a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to improve their levels of serotonin. While medication for school anxiety can be effective in helping your teen get better, you should only use it on the prescription of a licensed practitioner. 

Moreover, familiarizing yourself with the process behind how antidepressants work is key.

Role of Parents and Educators To Encourage School Attendance

As your teenager recovers from school anxiety, encouraging them to return to school might be a good idea. Parents, educators, and institutions all have a role to play in this regard. Let’s first address the role of parents. 

For Parents

  • Parents can encourage their teens to go back to school as they deal with their school anxiety by regularly checking up on their school progress. 
  • As a parent, you should consider actively participating in PTA meetings, sports events, and other extracurricular activities. 
  • A kind word can also go a long way in helping your teen know that you support them in their school endeavors.

For Educators

  • Educators and teachers should figure out a way of connecting with at-risk students who might have a higher chance of missing school. 
  • Educators can also give rewards and presents for students who achieve high levels of attendance. School-Based Interventions
  • Schools and other educational institutions ought to work hand in hand with teachers and parents to find the best ways of improving school attendance. 
  • Schools are mandated to set up 504 plans for all their at-risk students. Students with disabilities that increase their school anxiety are less likely to experience such levels of anxiety with 504 reasonable accommodations in place.
  • Alternatively, schools can also consider providing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students struggling with learning under the regular curriculum. 

Additional Resources For Dealing With School Anxiety

Other than the structured support and treatment options available for teenagers dealing with school anxiety, you can consider looking for informal support structures for your teen. These include:

  • Local support groups and community
  • Online resources for parents and teens looking for assistance with school anxiety
  • Library books on dealing with school anxiety

Be sure to confirm all the information you get from informal sources with your professional therapist to ensure you give your child verifiable information alone.

How My Teenager Daughter Overcome School Anxiety

If you are curious whether your teen can recover from school anxiety, then the story of Marielle Cornes can help you understand that it is possible. Marielle moved to Mountain Brook from Baltimore and had to change schools. She had difficulty making friends at her new school due to her social anxiety. As a result, she constantly experienced a gripping anxiety when going to school every day. With the help of a therapist, Marielle was able to deal with the underlying causes of her struggle and ultimately succeed in school. 

Your teen, too, can enjoy the confidence that Marielle has and overcome school anxiety by working with a professional therapist. That is why you should not hesitate to contact the team at Key Healthcare teen treatment center to give your teen the chance to get better.

Parting Shot

School anxiety can keep your teen from experiencing the best time at school. This anxiety can come from a wide range of places, including bullying, drug and substance abuse, and traumatic events in school. As a parent, you have a crucial role in dealing with teen school anxiety. This starts with creating an open and honest channel of communication between parents and teenagers, ensuring support is available for the teen whenever needed.

Consider reaching out to the team at Key Healthcare for the best professional care your teen can get. Remember, school is crucial for the development of your teen. That is why you should address anything that keeps the teen from going to school as early as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Parents can support their anxious teenager by creating open communication channels, providing professional help, and encouraging the teen during the encounter.

Yes, school anxiety can affect a teenager’s long-term mental health. You should address your teenager’s school anxiety as soon as you can to reduce the chances of this happening.

Communicating with your teen about their anxiety can feel like an uncomfortable conversation. That is why you should approach it tactfully. It would help if you allowed your teen to speak on their own terms. Similarly, avoid using a judging tone, which might cause your teen to avoid the conversation. 

It is difficult to have a concrete timeline for how long it will take for your teenager to recover, as every teen has a unique experience with anxiety. All you can do is ensure you give your teen all the necessary support and be patient during the recovery process. Remember, recovery is a gradual process.

Your teens have a right to reasonable accommodations in school. These include 504 plans and Individualized Education Programs. These accommodations can help teenagers who need extra help navigating school life to have an equal footing with other teens when in school.