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The Defiant or Misbehaving Child - Truancy

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Truancy: Unapproved absence from school, usually without a parent’s knowledge.
 
Also known as:
School refusal
Refusing to go to school
School avoidance
Skipping school
Cutting Classes
 
 



 




Children and youth who do not attend school regularly are often taking the first step toward a lifetime of problems. The average age of truant students is 15 years, but some children begin skipping school as young as young as age10. Boys and girls are equally likely to be truant.

Truancy isn’t a trivial problem. Most experts believe that truancy is one of severalpowerful predictors of later involvement in crime and violence. For example, the United States Department of Justicereports that:
·       80 percent of those in prison were truants at one time
·       The percent of juvenile offenders who started as truants is even higher, approaching 95 percent
·       Law enforcement agencies have linked high rates of truancy to high rates of daytime burglary and vandalism
·       Habitual truants are more likely to belong to gangs and participate in violent crimes and assaults
 
Similarly, Statistics Canada’s ongoing National Longitudinal Study of Children & Youth (NLSCY) reported in 1998 that truancy was one of several “negative school behaviours” associated with general delinquency among youth aged 12 to 15.  In 2005, the same ongoing study reported survey results showing that “liking school” and “being involved at school” protects young people from displaying aggressive behaviour, while those who are “not very involved at school” and “don’t like school much” were at greater risk for aggressive behaviour.  
Similar international research has found that truancy can predict serious antisocial behavior, especially among boys. Habitual truants are more likely to engage in antisocial behaviors such as gang membership, substance abuse, high-risk sexual behavior, smoking, suicidal behavior, theft, (no comma here) and vandalism. Truant girls are more likely to become pregnant and drop out of school.
 
Youth who report higher connectedness to school, however, are less likely to drop out, be absent, or exhibit behaviour problems. Research findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health in the U.S. indicated that the early stages of many adolescent risk behaviors (including emotional distress, suicidal thinking and behaviour, substance use, weapon-related violence, and early sexual activity) have been linked to poor connections to school.
 
As adults, habitual truants have more employment and marital problems.
 
Truancy is a complex and serious problem that seldom occurs in isolation. It often appears along with a raft of other school, community and home problems.
 
Instances of truancy are less likely to go undetected today compared to in the past, since most schools now have policies and procedures that go into effect when a child or youth is unexpectedly absent. Usually, whether it’s the first incident with a young student or the latest in a long string of incidents in a hardened adolescent, the parents are called. In cases where a student’s whereabouts is unknown for a long period of time, the police are called and the student is reported missing. This makes truancy far different from other forms of misbehaviour. In some jurisdictions however, a lack of staff may hamper the school’s ability to regularly and promptly inform parents, and this would result in truancy becoming more serious.
 
Watch for frequency and duration
Normally, decisions about whether behaviour is in the Green, Yellow, or Red Light zone are based on its frequency, duration, and intensity. But with truancy, the concept of intensity is not very meaningful. Therefore these determinations can be based only on frequency and duration.
 
Keep the context in mind
The frequency and duration of truant behaviour are meaningful only in relation to the overall rates of absence in any given school or community. This means that simply counting the number of days a student is absent, taken out of context, will not give a very good indication of how serious the situation is. We need to use judgment, taking community characteristics into account, to determine the colour zone that best describes a child’s or adolescent’s truancy rate.

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Almost all 3 to 5 year olds are absent from school on occasion, and in the vast majority of cases this is not truancy. In fact, given the definition, legitimate truancy is extremely rare in this age group, since it’s highly unusual for a child so young to be absent without the parent knowing. When children this age are absent a great deal, it is almost always with parental knowledge. Sometimes this can be a problem in itself, though technically it would not be considered truancy.
 
There can be many reasons why a parent would allow a young child to remain home from school, ranging from over protectiveness to manipulation by the child. Some of this is quite normal, for example where a child has been ill or was up late the previous night for a family event. But where absence rates become suspiciously high, parents will likely be contacted by the school for a thorough discussion of the issue, even though technically, it isn’t truancy.
It is important that parents are aware of the importance of school attendance, and the fact that frequent absence can lead to a great many problems, even at this young age. These include:
  • falling behind academically
  • weakening of the child’s social bonds with other children
  • slower development of communication skills
  • dislike of school
  • even more absence
 
If a child is frequently trying to avoid school, the parent should have a serious discussion with him/her about academic, social and emotional experiences at school, looking for anything that might suggest stress or unhappiness significant enough to cause him or her to want to stay home. Note that the end of a lengthy absence, no matter the cause, is a particularly high risk time for some children to experience extreme anxiety about returning to school. This may occur even after a summer or winter vacation.

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The factors that would move truancy from the Green into the Yellow zone would be its frequency and duration.
 
There are no clear guidelines with regard to these factors, but there is still useful information from the research.  
 
Frequency
At this age level, even one instance of real truancy (absence without the parent’s knowledge) should be considered serious enough to warrant categorizing it as Yellow Light zone behaviour. A truant child at any age could be in danger, and in early childhood the concern is even greater.
 
Duration
Research suggests that the longer a child successfully avoids attending school, the more difficult it is to get him or her back to school. Parents should be aware that after a lengthy absence it’s important to get the child back to school as soon as he or she is capable.
 
Actions observed
There is, of course, very little to actually observe when the child is not at school. (A parent might observe their child while at home. Do they seem to suddenly feel better as soon as the child knows that he/she is going to be avoiding school? Do they seem blasé’ about missing school?) When the classroom teacher becomes aware that the child is absent without parental knowledge, the situation is immediately reported to the office and the administrators in the school usually take over at that point.
 
However, when the student is in attendance, the teacher should observe his or her academic, social and emotional behaviour, looking for anything that might suggest stress or unhappiness significant enough to trigger an episode of truancy. The most common school-related problems known to potentially trigger truancy include:
  • bullying by other children
  • social isolation
  • anxiety problems (including school phobia)
  • depression
  • negative influences from older students
  • academic difficulties
  • boredom
  • traumatizing event at school
 
 
Important to Note
 
  • Bullying is the most common problem of those listed above.
  • School phobia  may not be actually a fear of school (is not actually a fear of school) but  rather an anxiety disorder involving fear of leaving the home or the parent, and is most common in Senior Kindergarten or grade one.
  • A traumatizing event to the child doesn’t always appear to adults as significant.
  • The period after a lengthy absence is a particularly high risk time for some children to refuse to attend school.
  •  
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The only factor that moves this particular behaviour from the Yellow Light zone to the Red Light zone is frequency. One instance of truancy at this age level is serious, but should it be repeated, or if there is a constant concern that a child might “run” at any time, the seriousness escalates.
 
The parents and the classroom teacher will undoubtedly feel considerable anxiety when a child this young has “skipped school” more that once. Both parents and the teacher will feel a need to be vigilant and watch for any sign that the child might repeat the behaviour. At school the teacher should be observing closely, looking for signs that the student is unhappy or upset to such an extent that he or she will skip the next day. At home, parents should also be looking for signs that the child might skip. These signs include:
  • any evidence that the child has experienced bullying or intimidation
  • evidence of teasing or ridicule by other students
  • association with much older students
  • a lack of friends
  • behaviour or comments suggesting boredom at school
  • depression
  • passive, detached behaviour
  • academic problems that result in significant despondency or frustration
  • anxiety problems (including school phobia)
  • concerns about problems at home
  • defiant or noncompliant behaviour
  • siblings who are truant.
  • Running away from school during recess or during a time of less adult supervision
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Across the broad age range of middle childhood, truancy becomes gradually more common as an occasional behavioural issue. By the time children reach grade five or six, being absent without parental knowledge, though still a serious concern, becomes somewhat more common. School personnel continue to react immediately, and usually parents are contacted by an administrator.
 
As with younger students, teachers should be observant with regard to classroom climate and social or academic issues that might cause a child to consider skipping school.
 
Children in the early part of this age range are absent from school on occasion, and in the vast majority of cases this is not truancy. In fact, given the definition, legitimate truancy is extremely rare in this younger age range of middle childhood, since it is highly unusual for a child so young to be absent without the parent knowing. When children this age are absent a great deal, it is almost always with parental knowledge. Sometimes this can be a problem in itself, though technically it would not be considered truancy. But where absence rates become suspiciously high, parents will likely be contacted for a thorough discussion of the issue, even though it cannot be considered truancy.
 
It is important that parents are aware of the importance of school attendance, and the fact that frequent absence can lead to a great many problems. These include:
  • falling behind academically
  • weakening social bonds with the other children
  • slow development of communication skills
  • dislike of school
  • even more absence
 
When the child is at school, the teacher should observe his or her academic, social and emotional behaviour, looking for anything that might suggest stress or unhappiness significant enough to cause them to be staying home. Note that the period following a lengthy absence is a particularly high risk time for some children. This can even apply after a summer or winter vacation.

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  • The factors that would move truancy from the green into the Yellow zone are its frequency and duration. There are no guidelines with regard to these factors at this age level, but a student who is truant even as little as once per month is in danger of escalating this behaviour and should be carefully monitored.
 
As to duration, research suggests that the longer a child successfully avoids attending school, the more difficult it will be to get him or her to attend.
 
The old stereotype of students skipping school to go fishing or for some other happy purpose seldom holds true in the Yellow Light zone. Teachers and parents should try to observe the child’s everyday academic, social and emotional behaviour to try to gain some insight into the issues that are driving this worrisome reaction. Specifically, look for anything that might suggest stress or unhappiness significant enough to trigger an episode of truancy.
 
Signs that can indicate a child may be inclined to skip school include:
  • bullying by other children
  • lack of friends
  • anxiety problems (including school phobia)
  • negative influences from older children
  • boredom at school
  • passive, detached behaviour
  • depression
  • academic difficulties (including those resulting from learning disabilities)
  • traumatizing event at school
  • poor communication skills.
  
Important to Note
 
  • Bullying is the most common of the above.
  • School phobia may not actually be a fear of school (is not actually a fear of school)  but rather an anxiety disorder involving fear of leaving the home or the parent, and is most common in grade one.
  • A traumatizing event from the child’s point of view doesn’t always appear to adults as significant.
  • The period after a lengthy absence is a particularly high risk time for some children to refuse to return to school.
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The only factor that moves this particular behaviour from the Yellow Light zone to the Red Light zone is frequency. In this age range Red zone levels of truancy might involve several incidents each month, whether randomly or in any pattern over time. There may also be constant concern that the child might leave the school, or “run”, at any time.
 
The parents and the teacher will undoubtedly feel considerable anxiety. At home and when the child is at school, adults need to watch for any sign that the child is unhappy or upset to such an extent that he or she might leave without authorization or skip the next day. The old stereotype of kids skipping school to go fishing or for some other happy purpose almost never holds true in the Red Light zone.
 
Signs that can indicate a child may be inclined to skip school include:
  • aggression from other children, especially bullying or intimidation
  • teasing or ridicule by other children
  • association with much older children
  • lack of friends
  • depression
  • academic problems that result in significant despondency or frustration (including those resulting from learning disabilities)
  • boredom at school
  • anxiety problems (including school phobia)
  • concerns about problems at home
  • defiant or noncompliant behaviour
  • issues of anger, particularly if directed at the parents or school
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A minority of children in grades 7 and 8 will be truant on occasion, often partly as a result of peer pressure or to impress peers. It obviously needs to be dealt with any time it occurs, but a single incident with no prior record of truancy is unlikely to escalate in most cases.
 
Still, any time an incident of adolescent truancy has occurred, parents and school staff should monitor the situation. It’s important that the  adolescent (child) and the parents:
a) acknowledge the seriousness of the behaviour, and
b) commit to the behaviour never repeating.
 

As with younger students, teachers should be observant with regard to classroom climate and issues of a social or academic nature that might cause a student to consider skipping school.
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In early adolescence, truant behaviour moves into the Yellow Light zone by virtue of its frequency. Several students in any given class may be truant once a month or more. This behaviour could easily increase, and should be carefully monitored.
 
The old stereotype of students skipping school to go fishing or for some other happy purpose seldom holds true in the Yellow Light zone. Teachers and parents should try to observe the young person’s (child’s) everyday academic, social and emotional behaviour to try to gain some insight into the issues that are driving this worrisome reaction. Specifically, look for anything that might suggest stress or unhappiness significant enough to trigger an episode of truancy.
 
The most common problems known to potentially trigger truancy include:
  • bullying by other kids at school or in the neighbourhood
  • few friendships or social isolation
  • anxiety problems (including school phobia)
  • negative influences from older students
  • boredom at school
  • academic difficulties (including those resulting from unidentified learning disabilities)
  • humiliating or traumatizing event at school
  • concerns about problems at home, e.g., family conflict, including the youth having a lot of responsibilities in the home with younger sibs, etc.  
  • overly long hours at a job.
 
 
Important to Note
  • Bullying is the most common of the above.
  • School phobia may not actually be a fear… is not actually a fear of school but rather an anxiety disorder involving fear of leaving the home or the parent, and though most common in grade one, can occur in early adolescence as well.
  • A humiliating or traumatizing event  from the youth’s point of view  doesn’t always appear to adults as significant.
  • The period after a lengthy absence is a particularly high risk time for some adolescent’s (children) to refuse to return to school.
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The only factor that moves this particular behaviour from the Yellow Light zone to the Red Light zone is frequency. One instance of truancy at this age level is not necessarily serious, but should it be repeated, or if there is a constant concern that a youngster might leave the school, or “run”, the seriousness escalates.
 
The parents and the teachers will undoubtedly feel considerable anxiety. When the youngster is at school, the teacher should watch for any sign that the student is unhappy or upset to such an extent that he or she might leave without authorization or skip the next day. Similarly, the parents should look for signs of trouble at home. The old stereotype of kids skipping school to go fishing or for some other happy purpose almost never holds true in the Red Light zone.
 
Signs that can indicate a young adolescent (child) may be inclined to skip school include:
  • aggression from other young people, especially bullying or intimidation,
  • teasing or ridicule by other  students (children)
  • association with much older youth,
  • few friends or even social isolation,
  • depression
  • academic problems that result in significant despondency or frustration,
  • boredom at school,
  • anxiety problems (including school phobia),
  • concerns about problems at home, e.g., family conflict, excessive family responsibilities
  • overly long hours at a job,
  • defiant or noncompliant behaviour,
  • issues of anger, particularly if directed at the parents or school,
  • any evidence of serious problems such as gang behaviour or substance abuse.
 
Important to Note
 
  • Bullying and ridicule are the most common of the above.
  • School phobia  may not actually be a fear…is not actually a fear of school but rather  an anxiety disorder involving fear of leaving the home or the parent, and though most common in grade one, can occur in early adolescence as well.
  • A humiliating or traumatizing event from the youth’s perspective doesn’t always appear to adults as significant.
  • The period following a lengthy absence is a particularly high risk time for some childrento refuse to return to school.
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In this age range truancy is a somewhat more complex topic because in most jurisdictions school attendance is only mandatory up to age 16. Some jurisdictions however, such as the province of Ontario in Canada and some US states, this has been raised to 18 years of age, while in other countries it could be as low as 14 or even lower. As a result, a large number of factors come into play, including the family’s attitude toward education, the child or adolescent’s attitude and that of the peer group he/she is influenced by, as well as the resources available a the school, and many other factor(s).

In fact, since truancy is defined as absence from school without the knowledge or permission of the parent, the term has little meaning if the law allows (the child) youngster to make that decision without parental input. In some cases, the law goes even further and bars parents from accessing personal school information about their son or daughter (including attendance information) without the youngster’s written consent.

Given this context, the following section on truancy in Adolescence will not necessarily be completely meaningful for all parents. It is written under the assumption that the young person is “mandated” to be in school and the parents have both the authority and the desire to keep him or her there.

A minority of teens aged 15 to 18 will be truant on occasion, often partly as a result of peer pressure or to impress peers.Too much commitment to a part-time job is another very common cause of unexplained absence at this age level. Truancy obviously needs to be dealt with any time it occurs, but in most cases if there are just a few incidents with no prior record of excessive truancy, the situation is unlikely to escalate.
 
Still, skipping classes for any reason can turn into a more serious problem over time, so whenever an incident of adolescent truancy has occurred, parents and school staff should monitor the situation. It’s important both that the teen and the parents:
a)  acknowledge the seriousness of thebehaviour, and
b)  commit to the behaviour never being repeated.
 
The parents and all of the youngster’s teachers should be observant with regard to social or academic issues that might cause him/her to consider skipping school. For example:
  • if the youngster associates with others who are frequently truant or who have dropped out of school;
  • if there is criminal behaviour, especially if there is gang involvement;
  • if the family’s economic situation is challenging, especially where the youth becomes a major breadwinner;
  • if there is illness at home and the youth has to fill in with excessive adult chores and responsibilities
  • if the young person’s academic progress is poor.
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In adolescence, truant behaviour moves into the Yellow Light zone by virtue of its frequency, or the duration of any individual instance of truancy. Several young people in any given class may be truant once a month or more. This behaviour could easily increase, and should be carefully monitored.
 
The old stereotype of teens skipping school to go fishing or for some other happy purpose seldom holds true in the Yellow Light zone. Parents and teachers should try to observe the student’s everyday academic, social and emotional behaviour to try to gain some insight into the issues that might be driving this worrisome tendency to miss school. Specifically, look for anything that might suggest stress or unhappiness significant enough to trigger an episode of truancy.
 
The most common problems known to potentially trigger truancy include:
  • bullying by other youth, at school or in the community
  • few friendships or even social isolation
  • anxiety problems (including school phobia)
  • negative influences from older youth or gangs
  • boredom at school
  • depression
  • academic difficulties (including those resulting from learning disabilities)
  • humiliating or traumatizing event at school
  • significant economic issues faced by the young person and/or the family.
  • concerns about problems at home, e.g., family conflict
 
 
Important to Note
  • Negative peer involvement, especially bullying or gang issues are the most common of the above.
  • School phobia may not be a fear of school ( is not actually a fear of school) but rather an anxiety disorder involving fear of leaving the home or the parent, and though most common in grade one, it can occur in adolescence as well.
  • A humiliating or traumatizing event from the youngster’s perspective  doesn’t always appear to adults as significant.
  • The period following a lengthy absence is a particularly high risk time for some young people to refuse to return to school.
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The only factors that move this particular behaviour from the Yellow Light zone to the Red Light zone are frequency and sometimes the duration of one specific instance of truancy. One brief instance of truancy at this age level is not necessarily serious, but should it be repeated, or if there is a constant concern that a young person might leave school property at any time, the seriousness escalates.
 
The parents and the teachers will undoubtedly feel considerable anxiety. Both parents and teachers should watch for any sign that the young person is unhappy or upset to such an extent that he or she might leave without authorization or skip the next day. The old stereotype of kids skipping school to go fishing or for some other happy purpose almost never holds true in the Red Light zone.
 
Signs that can indicate a teen may be inclined to skip school include:
  • aggression from other students, especially bullying or intimidation
  • teasing or ridicule by other young people
  • association with much older youth
  • few friends or even social isolation
  • academic problems that result in significant despondency or frustration (including those resulting from learning disabilities)
  • boredom at school
  • depression
  • anxiety problems (including school phobia)
  • concerns about problems at home, especially economic issues or family conflict
  • overly long hours at a job
  • defiant or noncompliant behaviour
  • issues of anger, particularly if directed at the parents or school
  • any evidence of serious problems such as gang behaviour or substance abuse.
 
 
Important to Note 
  • Negative peer involvement, especially gang issues, bullying or ridicule are the most common of the above.
  • Economic or job-related issues are also a common cause for truancy among adolescents.
  • School phobia may not actually be a fear (is not actually a fear) of school but rather an anxiety disorder involving fear of leaving the home or the parent, and though most common in grade one, it can occur in adolescence as well.
  • A humiliating or traumatizing event  from an adolescent’s perspective doesn’t always appear to adults as significant.
  • The period following a lengthy absence is a particularly high risk time for some adolescents to refuse to return to school.
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Inherited traits
Personality or temperament, which are inherited characteristics, can clearly make a youngster (child) prone to worrisome behaviour such as truancy. These characteristics are affected by different environments, experiences or parenting styles, and may not lead directly to truancy. Nevertheless, they could make certain children and youth  more at risk for truancy in certain circumstances. Aggressiveness, excessive introversion or extraversion, high sociability, and low tolerance for frustration, are a few examples of the many inherited characteristics that might influence the likelihood that a child or teen  will be at risk for truancy.
 
Health factors
Mental and physical health factors could possibly play an indirect role. According to the United States Department of Education's 1996 Manual to Combat Truancy, skipping school is a cry for help and a signal that the child or youth  is in trouble. Psychiatrists consider truancy one of many symptoms of serious mental health difficulties, especially when truancy begins before age 13. Some common mental health difficulties include anxiety and depression.  
 
Physical health issues known to affect behaviour include hearing or speech problems, asthma, allergies, serious illnesses such as cancer, and many others. It is important to note that none of these would cause a specific behaviour problem such as truancy. Rather, the interaction of these conditions with the individual’s (child’s) temperament, the parents’ reaction, the school and community environments, and so on, will likely determine the impact on behaviour.
 
Another example would be sleep problems, especially in adolescence. These may or may not have a physical basis. Some youth stay up very late on their computers, watching TV, listening to their MP3 players, etc. But there also could be health related issues interfering with sleep patterns.
 
As well, adolescent experimentation with drugs and/or alcohol can also have an impact on overall physical and mental health, sleep patterns, etc., and may lead to truancy.
 
Finally, any health problem that results in a significant number of missed school days can result in a child or teen falling so far behind academically that depression or discouragement sets in. This almost always causes youngsters (children) to simply tune out and stop trying, and some will react with a strong desire to avoid school. In the adolescent years, as youngsters become more oriented toward the adult world of work, this kind of academic weakness is one of the primary factors that can lead to truancy. The young person simply stays at work putting in longer hours, until eventually dropping out of school entirely in order to work full time.
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Family breakdown
This refers to situations where the students (children) are being raised by a single parent, usually the mother. Research has found that almost half of all truants live in such single-parent households headed by women. The evidence is clear that this family structure is a risk factor, particularly since it is frequently accompanied by low socio-economic status or even poverty. In such cases, an adolescent’s earnings from a part-time job could be of such importance to the family that the parent might even be indirectly encouraging the truancy.
 
Poverty
Of course poverty, even in intact families, is a factor that has implications for truancy. Children who live in poverty often have emotional issues related to security, self- esteem and anxiety, as well as more basic concerns such as hunger, appropriate clothing and general deprivation. As well, parents caught in poverty are significantly less likely to value education than their middle class counterparts, and therefore may not see truancy as a serious risk factor. And again, an adolescent’s earnings from a part-time job could be of such importance to the family that the parents might even be encouraging the truancy.
 
 
Parenting practices
Generally poor “parenting” is another family issue that relates to higher risks for truancy, especially parenting practices that are too permissive. Parents who fail to monitor their adolescent children’s whereabouts, as well as who they might be with, often find that their children are skipping school. On the other hand, parenting practices that lead to significant parent-child conflict can result in truancy due to emotional issues such as anger, low self-esteem or even a desire for revenge.
 
Mother’s depression
Children and teens of depressed mothers are significantly more likely to exhibit challenging behaviour and to have difficulty relating to adults. Some will appear depressed themselves, while others try to replace their mother’s attention with peer attention, becoming vulnerable to negative peer pressure that encourages behaviour such as truancy. Adolescent children, especially girls, might also feel intense pressure to take the place of the depressed mother in caring for siblings and generally running the household, leaving little time for school attendance.
 
Disturbed family histories
Finally, those children who exhibit the most disordered behaviour of the “Red Light” variety often have extremely disturbed family histories. In addition to one or more of the factors noted above, they frequently struggle with other issues such as abandonment, physical and/or sexual abuse, substance abuse, incarceration of one or both parents, frequent changes in caregiver, and so on.As a result, many such children and youth exhibit early antisocial behaviour, which is a significant risk factor for later problems. Unless they have a markedly resilient temperament, these youngsters (children) will likely exhibit a range of disordered behaviours including truancy.
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With the exception of a few rare brain abnormalities, disabilities or differences seldom if ever cause truancy directly. Instead, behavioural difficulties usually result from the interaction between the disabled or “differently abled”  youngster (child) and other factors such as (the child’s)  temperament, the way others (especially peers and caregivers) react to the disability or difference, the supports available to the individual ((child) and the family, delete comma and the culture of the school.
 
Unlike physical disabilities, learning disabilities can contribute to truancy issues directly as students with average intelligence struggle to achieve at an acceptable level and find school unrewarding or even humiliating. In many jurisdictions unidentified learning disabilities may become more common as school budgets shrink and resources for psychoeducational assessments become less readily available.
 
Other differences may negatively impact a youth’s social interactions at school, such as being gay/lesbian, being significantly overweight, having scars/birth marks that significantly alter appearance, clothing or hair styles that are significantly different that the norm at a specific school, etc.  As well, coming from another culture which may clash or at odds with the dominant culture may lead to truancy. All of these characteristics may result in lower self-esteem and may leave a youth vulnerable to ridicule and bullying.
 
Although all of these factors interact in complex ways, one of the most important is probably the temperament of the child or teen, since it will determine his or her attitude. For example, individuals (children) who are optimistic, determined and high in self-esteem are likely to cope better with a disability or difference and tend to get a great deal of satisfaction from the school experience. On the other hand, those (children) who are easily discouraged, pessimistic and low in self esteem will likely be prone to depression, giving up easily and finding school life unsatisfying. Although these characteristics are generally inherited, they may still be modified through “retraining”, especially optimism and self-esteem if properly qualified professionals are available. (to the child.)
 
The important point here is that truancy is a learned reaction to the interaction between the child or youth’s personality and the way others view those (the child’s) challenges. It is not an inevitable result of the challenges themselves.
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With the exception of a few rare brain abnormalities, disabilities or differences seldom if ever cause truancy directly. Instead, behavioural difficulties usually result from the interaction between the disabled or “differently abled”  youngster (child) and other factors such as (the child’s)  temperament, the way others (especially peers and caregivers) react to the disability or difference, the supports available to the individual ((child) and the family, delete comma and the culture of the school.
 
Unlike physical disabilities, learning disabilities can contribute to truancy issues directly as students with average intelligence struggle to achieve at an acceptable level and find school unrewarding or even humiliating. In many jurisdictions unidentified learning disabilities may become more common as school budgets shrink and resources for psychoeducational assessments become less readily available.
 
Other differences may negatively impact a youth’s social interactions at school, such as being gay/lesbian, being significantly overweight, having scars/birth marks that significantly alter appearance, clothing or hair styles that are significantly different that the norm at a specific school, etc.  As well, coming from another culture which may clash or at odds with the dominant culture may lead to truancy. All of these characteristics may result in lower self-esteem and may leave a youth vulnerable to ridicule and bullying.
 
Although all of these factors interact in complex ways, one of the most important is probably the temperament of the child or teen, since it will determine his or her attitude. For example, individuals (children) who are optimistic, determined and high in self-esteem are likely to cope better with a disability or difference and tend to get a great deal of satisfaction from the school experience. On the other hand, those (children) who are easily discouraged, pessimistic and low in self esteem will likely be prone to depression, giving up easily and finding school life unsatisfying. Although these characteristics are generally inherited, they may still be modified through “retraining”, especially optimism and self-esteem if properly qualified professionals are available. (to the child.)
 
The important point here is that truancy is a learned reaction to the interaction between the child or youth’s personality and the way others view those (the child’s) challenges. It is not an inevitable result of the challenges themselves.
 
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In the vast majority of cases, one could say that no cultural or religious factor would directly cause truant behaviour. Instead circumstances that surround these factors, and the reaction to them, might move a child or adolescent toward worrisome behaviour such as skipping school. A possible exception to this, however, might exist with recent immigrants from cultures where girls are not expected or encouraged to become educated, the family repeatedly keeps them at home, and sometimes even prepares them for arranged marriages while still an adolescent. Aside from this exception, however, truancy would invariably be a byproduct of reactions to a student’s culture or religion.
 
An obvious example is children or teens who are newly arrived in the country and not yet comfortable with the language and customs. If the school culture is not welcoming or accommodating, the potential for truancy would be understandable.  Students (Children) in these circumstances might find themselves taken advantage of, bullied or ignored by the other  students (children) in the school, and react by simply not attending. Or they may fall so far behind academically that they become discouraged. The truancy is triggered by the school’s or the community’s reaction to the youngster’s (child’s) culture or religion and not by the culture or religion itself.
 
Children whose families were persecuted for their religious beliefs in their home country might be particularly sensitive to any references to their religion, no matter how innocent. The young person ( child may) feel threatened and, depending upon age, temperament, gender and so on, the reaction might be to simply not show up.
 
In a small number of cases, truancy could be a result of being raised in a country of origin that is beset by lawlessness, anarchy and corruption. Immigrants who have experienced such an environment sometimes take time to adjust to a culture where the rule of law is paramount, and social order, mutual consideration and even politeness are valued. People who have always lived in a stable environment often underestimate the impact of moving virtually overnight from a culture focused on survival of oneself and family, to one of relative peace and prosperity. Youngsters (Children) caught up in that transition may continue to distrust others, even school officials, and be reluctant to come to school, especially if they did not attend regularly in their country of origin. In discussing the youngster’s (child’s) educational background with the teachers, parents should be open and realistic about the nature of the educational system in the country of origin.
 
As well, in some cases, the family may be residing in the country illegally, and the children or teen may be kept at home by the parents or be truant because of fear of discovery.
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Children who arrive from very turbulent or even violent circumstances in their home country could be at risk for truancy. Often, these children and their families have been traumatized in the course of their relocation, and may still show signs of the trauma. Some of these signs, such as anxiety, poor concentration, easily triggered startle response, fear of leaving home and what appears to be daydreaming (actually a sudden re-experiencing of traumatic events), could totally debilitate a young person (child) and make the school environment seem overwhelming.
 
However, it’s far more likely that children or teens with behaviour problems related to trauma have either been abused (physically or sexually), or have witnessed the abuse of their mother. Almost all such children and youth will show some effects of this in their behaviour at school. In concrete terms it appears that on average, in every Canadian classroom there are as many as 6 students (children) who have witnessed the abuse of their mother, and in every elementary school there are as many as 70 girls and 35 boys who’ve been abused. Clearly this is a major traumatizing factor affecting behaviour, and the results often include some truancy, particularly in older youth.
 
Canadian research has found that serious emotional and behavioural problems are 10 to 17 times more common in youngsters (children) from violent homes that in those (children) from nonviolent homes. The most commonly reported behaviour problems in these children and teens are aggression toward peers, and sometimes toward female teachers, noncompliance, defiance and destructive behaviour. Also common are depression, anxiety, school phobia, low self-esteem and social problems. Truancy would not be unexpected.
 
Children and teens who have suffered a significant loss might also resist a return to school. Children and teens who have been relocated have suffered the loss of friends, a familiar school and neighbourhood, and adults they relied on, such as teachers and after school caregivers. But of course, the loss most of us think of first is a death. There has been a good deal of research on youngsters (children) who have experienced the death of a friend or loved one. Much of their behaviour following such a significant event is what we might expect – sadness, depression, concern about the future, and so on. Some grieving youngsters (children) also harbour strong anxiety about returning to school after the death of a family member for fear of being rejected socially. Although this can occur at any age level, it seems to be particularly concerning with early adolescents. Although less likely, prolonged serious illness, alcoholism or drug addiction of a parent or other family member may have a similar traumatizing impact.
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Successful programs to deal with truancy are seldom if ever limited to the classroom alone. The home and the community are at least as important as the school in battling this problem. Communities in which anti-truancy programs have been successful use a combination of incentives (rewards) and sanctions (negative consequences) to keep students in school. Programs that feature ongoing collaboration between parents and the school are more likely to successfully reduce truancy. Sometimes these programs also lead to helpful resources for the family as a whole.
 
 
For example, in one successful American program, five key factors are defined for minimizing truancy.
 
Five Factors to Minimize Truancy:
1.    Parents must be involved in truancy prevention.
2.    Schools must provide firm consequences for truancy.
3.    Parents must take responsibility for keeping their children and teens in school.
4.    Find and address the root causes of truancy.
5.    Schools partner with law enforcement, juvenile court, family court, employers and social services agencies.
 
1.    Parents must be involved in all aspects of truancy prevention
This requires that the school notify parents promptly of their child's or adolescent’s absence on the day the absence occurs. Schools therefore must have an efficient attendance-tracking system and must alert parents immediately when a child or teen is absent. Equally important, parents must cooperate by providing reliable information for contacting them directly and easily, at home, at work or elsewhere.
 
 
2.    Schools must have firm consequences for truancy
Many schools are fairly lenient in delivering consequences for truancy, but such consequences are an important part of any plan to reduce the problem. Not only should there be consequences, but all students should be aware of them. These consequences need not be severe, but should be consistent and might include detentions, loss of privileges, notes home to parents, etc. The Province of Ontario, Canada, is considering linking truancy in teens over 16 years of age to the ability to obtain a driver's license and indeed some U.S. states have found that this effectively reduces the problem. Other states have instituted a daytime curfew, allowing police to question any young person not in school during school hours.
 
3.    Parents must take responsibility for keeping their children and adolescents  in school
In some jurisdictions, parents of truants can face fines or even jail terms. School districts vary in how aggressively they hold parents accountable, but more are becoming tougher. For example, in 2003, one suburban Philadelphia, US school district with 14,000 students sent 10 parents to jail for the student’s (or children's) failure to attend school. While this is far more severe than many jurisdictions would support, it illustrates the lengths to which some school districts have gone in their attempts to solve this problem.
 
Alternatively, some American jurisdictions are investigating the use of incentives or rewards such as linking eligibility for public assistance to lack of truancy as a way to encourage parents to keep their children in school. Another positive incentive provides increased access to family services if the children or youth attend school regularly, including parenting courses, family counselling, and mediation for returning the student to school.
 
Although there are no foolproof approaches that work for every student, (child), research has consistently shown that parental attitudes toward school are important, as is cooperation with school staff. As well, it is paramount for parents to act at the youngest age possible rather than wait for the child to get older before taking truancy seriously.
 
4.    Find and address the complex and varied root causes of truancy
School administration should examine the reasons students are truant, and attempt to address them. For example, if students have concerns about bullying or violence at school, the administration will need to examine their anti-bullying programs. Canadian school districts have become particularly active in adopting these programs, and the website of the Canadian Initiative for the Prevention of Bullying (CIPB) cites several successful examples. On the other hand, if students stay away from school because of academic issues, tutoring programs would clearly help.
 
 
            5. Schools partner with law enforcement, juvenile court, family court officials, employers and social service agencies
In some communities in the US, the police patrol neighborhoods where truant youth are likely to “hang out” during school hours. Many Canadian jurisdictions have a long history with this type of community policing approach, with officers assigned to particular schools where they spend time and become familiar to the students.
 
School contact with employers is another helpful approach, and many businesses that employ students are willing to co-operate. It isn’t difficult to make the case that keeping young people in school is good for the student, good for the family, good for the community and ultimately good for business.
 
On the other hand, the social service side of the coin must not be forgotten. There is considerable research evidence indicating that truancy in children and young people is often a symptom of significant family dysfunction. Very often, broad-based family support and counselling can be very effective in helping to keep the children and teens in school. Back to top

Much of what parents can do with children this age is really the prevention of truancy later on. Communication between parents and children is a key piece here, since it’s so important that the children feel free to tell their parents about bullying, teasing or social difficulties they are encountering at school. Listening, and then following up, politely but persistently, with school staff, is the key to defusing these often hidden problems that so often are linked with truancy in older children.
 
Another important factor here is for parents to show their young children that they value school and see it as important. Children whose parents appear to care little about school, or worse openly express strong negative feelings about it, should not be surprised if their children mirror those feeling and show little desire to attend as they get older.
 
As well, parents can show they value school attendance by showing strong interest in what their children are learning, and how they spend their day. Asking questions and showing enthusiasm about the various subjects, demonstrates that you are interested and concerned. Involvement in the children’s homework or school projects is also important and again illustrates that you see school as an important part of their lives.
 
Also, talking with your children about why school is important can support their attendance. Emphasize that they not only learn important skills and increase their knowledge, but they also learn how to learn, how to make friends and keep friends and resolve conflicts
 
It might also be beneficial for parents to spend some time exploring the topic of bullying, since it appears to be the number one cause of truancy in younger children. Bullying prevention programs are readily available in most school jurisdictions, but it would also be important to reinforce some of the basics at home. It’s important for parents and children to understand the following facts:
  • bullying encompasses a broad range of behaviours varying from teasing and leaving others out, to physical violence;
  • bullying involves an imbalance of power between the bully and the target, and is actually an abuse of physical, social or emotional power;
  • although slightly more boys that girls are involved, both can be seriously affected by bullying;
  • bullying is unacceptable, and will result in consequences at school.
 
Try to create a home environment where everyone feels accepted and valued. Comment on the importance of children playing well together, supporting one another, treating each other and adults with respect, and showing empathy.
 
Children and need strong, positive relationships with teachers and other adults at school. In addition, they need strong and healthy relationships with other children their age, and these can be a motivator for attending school.
 
Try to maintain good relations with teachers, and arrange a meeting right away if your child shows any signs of academic, social or emotional distress. Laying a solid foundation for good home-school relations, might later serve to protect the child against the temptation to engage in truancy.
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At this young age even one instance of truancy would move the child from the Green Light to the Yellow Light zone. If a child in the early school age range has in fact been absent without the parent’s knowledge, the school administrator will need to be involved and handle any consequences.
 
The parent should focus on trying to discover exactly what prompted the child to skip school. Have a calm non-threatening discussion with the child, and try to answer questions such as:
  • Has the child been bullied, ridiculed or teased by classmates?
  • Has the child been bullied, ridiculed or teased by other students in the school or community, or even by siblings?
  • Does this child have friends in the class?
  • Does this child have acceptable clothing/ materials for school?
  • Is he or she accepted vs. ignored, left out or excluded?
  • Is this child progressing academically?
  • Does he or she seem to be under stress?
  • Is this child comfortable enough with adults to ask for help with academic or social difficulties?
  • Has this child experienced a traumatic event at school such as a toileting accident, social humiliation, or public ridicule?
 
 
It would also be helpful to meet with the teacher to explore how he/she sees the issues in the school setting. Many parents are more comfortable discussing problems in the home with the teacher rather than a Principal, Vice Principal or mental health worker at the school. Don’t hesitate to ask the teacher to attend any meetings with administrators if having the teacher in the room makes you more comfortable.
 
Note: When students are truant, it is often just a sign of broader difficulties in the home or community environments. Teachers are prepared to offer some advice to parents, if asked. Here are a few helpful points for parents to consider:
  • It is always a good idea to consult with school staff any time a child seems reluctant or afraid to go to school, especially if this is not typical for that child;
  • Unless the child is legitimately ill or has some other compelling reason to stay home, it is important to get him or her to attend school; Your actions will demonstrate to him/her the value that school attendance has for you and your family.
  • If a child has missed school, legitimately or not, it is important to get him or her back to school as soon as possible;
  • Parents who develop a routine at home that includes time for the children to talk about their day at school often become aware of problems before they become serious.
 
As well, teachers and other professional staff at the school are usually aware of local community agencies that may provide free or cost adjusted family counselling, and they are usually prepared to assist parents in contacting these agencies if appropriate.
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Red Light levels of truancy at this young age will be exceedingly rare. The school administrator will probably handle most aspects of the situation, including contacting the parents and managing consequences. There may well also be police and community agencies involved.
 
The classroom teacher should be available to provide support. As in the Green and Yellow Light areas, attempting to learn what exactly prompted the child to skip school is important. A calm, non-threatening discussion with the student, may help to gain insight into questions such as the following:
  • Has the child been bullied, ridiculed or teased by classmates?
  • Has the child been bullied, ridiculed or teased by other students in the school or community, or even by siblings?
  • Does this child have friends in the class?
  • Is he or she accepted vs. ignored, left out or excluded?
  • Does the child have appropriate clothing/materials for school?
  • Is this child progressing academically?
  • Does he or she seem to be under stress?
  • Is this child comfortable enough with adults to ask for help with academic or social difficulties?
  • Did this child experience a traumatic event at school such as a toileting accident, social humiliation, public ridicule? 
It would also be helpful to meet with professional school staff to explore issues in the home or the neighbourhood that might have played a role in the truancy. Many parents are more comfortable discussing problems at home with the teacher rather than a principal, vice principal or police officer. Even just having the teacher in the room during the discussion can make some parents more comfortable, and in that case make sure to request that the teacher attend such meetings. Back to top
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Given the broad age range included here, truancy concerns will vary considerably. At the youngest age level, the information under Early Childhood will likely apply very well. By grades five and six, children’s attitudes toward truancy might well have changed, and, truancy in some circumstances might seem daring and exciting.

Much of what parents can do with children at the youngest part of this age range is really preventative of truancy later on. Communication between parents and children is a key piece here, since it’s so important that the children feel free to tell their parents about bullying, teasing or social difficulties they are encountering at school. Listening, and then following up, politely but persistently, with school staff, is the key to defusing these often hidden problems that so often are linked with truancy in older children.

Another important factor here is for parents to show their children that they value school and see it as important. Children whose parents appear to care little about school, or worse openly express strong negative feelings about it, should not be surprised if their children mirror those feeling and show little desire to attend as they get older.

As well, parents can show they value school attendance by showing strong interest in what their children are learning, and how they spend their day. Asking questions and showing enthusiasm about the various subjects, demonstrates that you are interested and concerned. Involvement in the children’s homework or school projects is also important and again illustrates that you see school as an important part of their lives. Also, talking with your children about why school is important can support their attendance. Emphasize that they not only learn important skills and increase their knowledge, but they also learn how to learn, how to make friends and keep friends and resolve conflicts.

In the Green Light zone, the focus should be on building a home environment that is inclusive, welcoming and safe. As well, the home should be a place where each child can experience success at his or her own level and enjoy a sense of accomplishment.

It might be helpful to spend time at home exploring the topic of bullying, since it appears to be the number one cause of truancy at this age level. Bullying prevention programs are readily available in most school jurisdictions, but with basic discussions at home you could ensure that your children understand the following facts:
  • bullying encompasses a broad range of behaviours varying from teasing and leaving others out, to physical violence;
  • bullying involves an imbalance of power between the bully and the target, and is actually an abuse of physical, social or emotional power;
  • (though more boys that girls are involved), though the pattern for boys and girls differs, both can be seriously affected;
  • bullying is unacceptable, and will result in consequences at school;
  • every child has a right to feel safe at home, at school, and in the neighbourhood.

Be vigilant regarding instances of bullying, and apply consequences in a consistent, firm manner. Keep in mind that any effort that reduces bullying behaviour will reduce truancy in the long run.

Note that children need strong, positive relationships with teachers and other adults at school. In addition, they need strong and healthy relationships with peers, and these can be a motivator for attending school.

Try to create a home environment where everyone feels accepted and valued. Children should be praised for interacting appropriately, treating each other and adults with respect, being polite and showing empathy.

Maintain good relations with the teacher, and try to meet with him/her early on if your child shows any signs of academic, social or emotional distress. Laying a solid foundation for good home-school relations might later serve to protect the child against truancy.
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At the younger age levels included in this broad range, even one instance of truancy would move the child from the Green Light to the Yellow Light zone. For the older children, say grades five and six, each case will need to be judged on its own merits since these children vary a good deal in their attitudes and values regarding truancy. For some of these children, it may be a repeated pattern of truancy that moves them into the Yellow Light zone.

When a child has been truant, the school administrator will likely be involved, dealing with parents and handling any consequences. The classroom teacher’s role will probably be one of support.

The parent should attempt to learn what exactly prompted the child to skip school. Through calm non-threatening discussion with the student, try to answer questions such as the following:
  • Has the child been bullied, ridiculed or teased by classmates?
  • Has the child been bullied, ridiculed or teased by other youngsters in the school or community, or even by siblings?
  • Does the child have friends in the class?
  • Is he or she accepted vs. ignored, left out or excluded?
  • Is the child progressing academically?
  • Does he or she seem to be under stress?
  • Is the child comfortable enough with adults to ask for help with academic or social difficulties?

It would also be helpful to meet with the school staff to discuss relevant issues in the home. Many parents are more comfortable discussing problems in the home with the teacher rather than a Principal or Vice Principal. Even just having the teacher in the room during the discussion can make some parents more comfortable, and if that’s the case don’t hesitate to request that the teacher be present.

Note: When children are truant, it is often just a sign of broader difficulties in the home or community environments. Teachers and other professional school system staff are prepared to offer some advice to parents, if asked. Here are a few helpful points that parents should be aware of:
  • It is always a good idea to consult with school staff any time a child seems reluctant or afraid to go to school, especially if this is not typical for that child;
  • Unless the child is legitimately ill or has some other compelling reason to stay home, it is important to get him or her to attend school;
  • If a child has missed school, legitimately or not, it is important to get him or her back to school as soon as possible;
  • Parents who have developed a routine at home that includes time for the children to talk about their day at school, often become aware of problems before they become serious.

As well, teachers and other professional school system staff are often aware of local community agencies that may provide free or cost adjusted family counselling, and are prepared to assist parents in contacting these agencies if appropriate.
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Red Light levels of truancy will be exceedingly rare at the young end of this age range, but may be fairly common at the older levels. The school administrator will probably handle most aspects of the situation, as well as dealing with the parents and managing consequences. There may well also be police and community agencies involved.

The classroom teacher should be available to provide support. As in the Green and Yellow Light areas, it’s important to try to learn what exactly prompted the child to skip school. Try a calm, non-threatening discussion with the child to gain insight into questions such as the following:
  • Has the child been bullied, ridiculed or teased by classmates?
  • Has the child been bullied, ridiculed or teased in the school or community, or even at home by siblings?
  • Does the child have friends in his/her class?
  • Is he or she accepted vs. ignored, left out or excluded?
  • Is the child progressing academically?
  • Does he or she seem to be under stress?
  • Is the child comfortable enough with adults to ask for help with academic or social difficulties?
  • Did the child experience a traumatic event at school such as a toileting accident, social humiliation, public ridicule, being in a fight?

It would also be helpful to meet with the teacher and/or school system mental health staff to explore issues in the home that may have triggered the truancy. Many parents are more comfortable discussing problems at home with the teacher rather than a principal, vice principal or mental health professional. Even just having the teacher in the room during the discussion can make some parents more comfortable, and if that’s the case, don’t hesitate to ask the teacher to attend the meeting.
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In early adolescence, truancy concerns will vary considerably. Most children will still regard truancy as serious and outside the range of normal behaviour. A minority may see truancy in some circumstances as daring and exciting.

With early adolescents, just as with younger children, communication between parents and children is a key piece, since it’s so important that the children feel free to tell their parents about bullying, teasing or social difficulties they are encountering at school. At this age, however, children vary considerably with regard to how much they will disclose to parents, especially if there hasn’t been a longstanding tradition of such discussions in the family. Nonetheless, if an early adolescent does confide in his parents about social problems at school, the parents should listen, and then follow up politely but persistently, with school staff, to defuse(ing) these often hidden problems that are so frequently linked with truancy in these older children.

Another important factor here is for parents to show their children that they value school and see it as important. Children whose parents appear to care little about school, or worse openly express strong negative feelings about it, should not be surprised if their children mirror those feeling and show little desire to attend as they get older.

As well, parents can show they value school attendance by showing strong interest in what their children are learning, and how they spend their day. Asking questions and showing enthusiasm about the various subjects, demonstrates that you are interested and concerned. Involvement in the children’s homework or school projects is also important and again illustrates that you see school as an important part of their lives.


It might also be helpful to spend some time discussing bullying, since it appears to be the number one cause of truancy. Bullying prevention programs are readily available in many (most) school jurisdictions, but parents and children should understand the following facts:
  • bullying encompasses a broad range of behaviours varying from teasing and excluding others, to physical violence;
  • bullying involves an imbalance of power between the bully and the target, and is actually an abuse of physical, social or emotional power;
  • (though slightly more boys than girls are involved) though the patterns differ for boy and girls, both can be seriously affected;
  • bullying is unacceptable, and will result in consequences at school.

At home, parents should be vigilant regarding instances of bullying, and deal with it in a consistent, firm manner. Keep in mind that any effort that reduces bullying behaviour will reduce truancy in the long run.

These young adolescents need strong, positive relationships with teachers and other adults at school. They also need strong and healthy relationships with peers that provide common learning and social experiences and can be motivators for attending school.

Try to create a home environment where everyone feels accepted and valued. Young teens should be praised for interacting appropriately, treating each other and adults with respect, being polite and showing empathy.

Parents should maintain good relations with teachers, and contact them promptly if their teen (children) shows any signs of academic, social or emotional distress. Parental involvement and support is important for laying a solid foundation for good home-school relations, which might help protect the young person against truancy.
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  • In early adolescence, the number of instances of truancy required to move a student from the Green Light to the Yellow Light zone will vary considerably. Each case will need to be judged on its own merits since these youngsters vary a good deal in their attitudes and values regarding truancy. For some of these young people, it may be a repeated pattern of truancy that moves them into the Yellow Light zone.
 
When a young adolescent (child) has been truant, the school administrator will need to be involved and deal with the parents and handle any consequences. The classroom teacher’s role will be one of support.
 
Try to learn what exactly prompted the student (child) to skip school. Through calm, non-threatening discussion, try to answer questions such as the following:
  • Has the young person been bullied, ridiculed or teased by classmates?
  • Has he/she (the child) been bullied, ridiculed or teased by other students in the school or community, or even by siblings?
  • Does the youngster (the child) have friends in the class?
  • Is he or she accepted vs. ignored, left out or excluded?
  • Is the youngster progressing academically?
  • Does he or she seem to be under stress, anxious or fearful at school?
  • Is the young person (the child) comfortable enough with adults to ask for help with academic or social difficulties?
  • Does the young person have part-time job, and if so how many hours per week is he or she working?
 
It would also be helpful to meet with school staff, such as an administrator, counselor or mental health professional to explore issues in the home. Many parents are more comfortable discussing problems in the home with the teacher rather than a principal or vice principal. Even just having the teacher in the room during the discussion can make some parents more comfortable, and if that’s the case don’t hesitate to ask that the teacher also attend the meeting.
 
Note: When teens (children) are truant, it is often just a sign of broader difficulties in the home or community environments. School staff is prepared to offer some advice to parents, if asked. Here are a few helpful points that might be discussed:
  • It is always a good idea to consult with school staff any time a youngster (child) seems reluctant or afraid to go to school, especially if this is not typical for that child;
  • Unless the young person (child) is legitimately ill or has some other compelling reason to stay home, it is important to get him or her to attend school;
  • According to research findings, part-time jobs have the potential to interfere with school attendance and performance if work hours exceed 20 per week.
  • If a youth (child) has missed school, legitimately or not, it is important to get him or her back to school as soon as possible;
  • Parents who have developed a routine at home that includes time for the adolescent (children) to talk about their day at school, often become aware of problems before they become serious.
 
As well, teachers and other school system professionals are aware of local community agencies that may provide free or cost adjusted family counselling, and can assist parents in contacting these agencies if appropriate.
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Red Light levels of truancy may be fairly common at this age in some schools. Many young teens whose truancy is in the Red Light zone are also having significant difficulties in the community. The school administrator will probably handle most aspects of the situation, as well as dealing with the parents and managing consequences. There may well also be police and community agencies involved.

Communication between parents and children is a key piece here, since it’s so important that the teens (children) feel free to tell their parents about bullying, teasing or social difficulties they are encountering at school. Listening, and then following up, politely but persistently, with school staff, is the key to defusing these often hidden problems that so often are linked with truancy in older children.

Another important factor here is for parents to show their young adolescent children that they value school and see it as important. Adolescents (Children) whose parents appear to care little about school, or worse openly express strong negative feelings about it, should not be surprised if their teens mirror ( children mirror) those feeling and show little desire to attend as they get older.

As well, parents can show they value school attendance by showing strong interest in what their youth are (children are) learning, and how they spend their day. Asking questions and showing enthusiasm about the various subjects, demonstrates that you are interested and concerned. Involvement in the young person’s (children’s) homework or school projects is also important and again illustrates that you see school as an important part of their lives.


The classroom teacher should be available to provide support, as part of the team working with the student and family. As in the Green and Yellow light areas, it’s important to try to determine what exactly prompted the youngster to skip school. Try a calm, non-threatening discussion to gain insight into questions such as the following:
  • Has the teen (child) been bullied, ridiculed or teased by classmates?
  • Has the youth (child) been bullied, ridiculed or teased by other students in the school or community, or even by siblings?
  • Does the young person have friends in the class?
  • Is he or she accepted vs. ignored, left out or excluded?
  • Might the young person be involved in gang related behaviour?
  • Is he/she progressing academically?
  • Does the youngster appear bored in school?
  • Does the young person have a job, and how many hours a week does he or she work?
  • Does he or she seem to be under stress?
  • Is the teen (child) comfortable enough with adults to ask for help with academic or social difficulties?
  • Did the youth (the child) experience a traumatic event at school such as a public humiliation, public ridicule, being in a fight, etc.?
It would also be helpful to meet with school staff and/or school system mental health professionals to explore issues in the home. Many parents are more comfortable discussing problems at home with the teacher rather than a principal, vice principal or mental health professional. Even just having the teacher in the room during the discussion can make some parents more comfortable, and if that’s the case don’t hesitate to ask.

Research on older students in high school has found that the best predictors of student attendance include:
  • Rewarding students for improved attendance.
This had an impact on both improved school attendance overall and the reduction of chronic absenteeism. Various rewards included special recognition, certificates, letters to parents, and opportunities to attend special events.
  • Assigning a “truant officer” to students and families with attendance problems.
This was not perceived to be effective by students and their families, but the long-term results show that it does actually increase attendance rates. (This may not be effective with chronic truants.)
  • Conducting family workshops focused on school attendance.
  • Referring chronically absent students to counsellors.
  • Connecting parents with school contact persons with a particular emphasis on outreach to diverse families.
  • Making home visits.
This targets chronic absenteeism only, and does not have as much effect on overall attendance rates.

It is difficult to judge whether these strategies would be effective at the late elementary school level, but they might be considered if truancy is a significant problem.

On a separate point, however, this is clearly not a problem that can be solved easily, or by the parents or school alone. As can be seen from the above, research has clearly shown that a team effort involving the home, the school and community agencies is required to overcome Red Light levels of truancy and prevent this from evolving into a school drop-out situation. Not all school jurisdictions or communities have the resources required to mount such a coordinated effort, particularly if large numbers of youth are involved. In some situations, parents might best direct their energy toward lobbying their local governments for resources and supports to make such coordinated efforts possible.
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In this age range there are complicating legal factors in jurisdictions where young people (children) can legally leave school at age 16 or younger. Some of these factors are discussed at the beginning of the Adolescent section under “Actions Observed”, and it would be helpful to read that section now if you haven’t already done so.


In adolescence, truancy concerns will vary considerably. Most teens will not regard occasional truancy as serious or outside the range of normal behaviour, and a minority may even see it as cool, exciting or daring.

As with younger children, communication between parents and adolescents is a key piece here, since it’s so important that young people feel free to tell their parents about gang issues, bullying, teasing or social difficulties they are encountering at school. Listening, and then following up, politely but persistently, with school staff, is the key to defusing these often hidden problems that so often are linked with truancy.

Another important factor here is for parents to show their adolescent children that they value school and see it as important. Adolescent children whose parents appear to care little about school, or worse openly express strong negative feelings about it, should not be surprised if their children mirror those feeling and show little desire to attend once they reach High School.

As well, parents can show they value school attendance by showing strong interest in what their teens are learning, and how they spend their day. Asking questions and showing enthusiasm about the various subjects, demonstrates that you are interested and concerned. Being available to help with homework or school projects is also important and again illustrates that you see school as an important part of their lives.

In the green light zone, the parent’s actions will be mostly preventative. The focus here should be on building a home environment that is inclusive, welcoming and safe. As well, the home should be a place where each adolescent child can experience success at his or her own level and enjoy a sense of accomplishment.

Continue to discuss the topic of bullying, since it appears to be a major cause of truancy even in High School. Bullying prevention programs are available in most school jurisdictions world wide, particularly in Canada, Australia, the United States, Scandinavia, Western Europe and parts of Africa, but it’s important that every parent and student understands the following facts:
  • bullying encompasses a broad range of behaviours varying from teasing and excluding others, to physical violence;
  • bullying involves an imbalance of power between the bully and the target, and is actually an abuse of physical, social or emotional power;
  • while more frequent and typically more violent in boys that girls, both can be seriously affected;
  • bullying is unacceptable, and will result in significant consequences at school.

Parents should support the teacher and the school administrator in dealing firmly with instances of bullying, and applying consequences in a consistent, firm manner. Keep in mind that any effort that reduces bullying behaviour will reduce truancy.

Adolescents need strong, positive relationships with teachers and other adults at school, as well as strong and healthy relationships with peers. These healthy, supportive relationships can be a motivator for attending school. Changing the school program to something more suitable for the student might improve the pattern of truancy.

Try to create a home environment where everyone feels accepted and valued. Young people should be praised for interacting appropriately, treating each other and adults with respect, being polite and showing empathy.

Although it is substantially more difficult at the High School level, parents should nonetheless try to maintain good relations with teachers. Communicate early and often with them if your adolescent children show any signs of academic, social or emotional distress. The youngsters themselves may resist it, but parental involvement and support will lay a solid foundation for good home-school relations, and might help reduce the likelihood of truancy.


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In adolescence, the number of instances of truancy required to move a student from the Green Light to the Yellow Light zone will vary considerably. Each case will need to be judged on its own merits, since these young people vary a good deal in their attitudes and values regarding truancy. For some of these adolescents, it may be a repeated pattern of truancy that moves them into the Yellow Light zone.
 
When a young person has been truant, the school administrator will need to be involved and deal with the parents and handle any consequences. The classroom teacher’s role should be one of support.
 
When truancy has been discovered, try to learn what exactly prompted the youngster to skip school. Through calm, non-threatening discussion, try to answer questions such as the following:
  • Has the young person been bullied, ridiculed or teased by classmates, by other students in the school or community, or even by siblings?
  • Does teen have friends in the class?
  • Is he or she accepted vs. ignored, left out or excluded?
  • Is the youngster progressing academically?
  • Does he or she seem to be under stress, anxious or fearful at school?
  • Is the youth (child) comfortable enough with adults to ask for help with academic or social difficulties?
  • Does the teen have part-time job, and if so, how many hours per week is he or she working?
  • Does the adolescent have a lot of responsibilities in the home, caring for a sick or elderly parent, or younger sibs etc.?
 
It would also be helpful to meet with the school system staff such as an administrator, counselor or mental health professional to explore issues in the home. Many parents are more comfortable discussing problems in the home with the teacher rather than a principal or vice principal. Even just having the teacher in the room during the discussion can make some parents more comfortable, and if that’s the case don’t hesitate to ask that the teacher also attend. Changing the school program to something more suitable for the student might improve the pattern of truancy.
 
 
Note: At this age level, privacy legislation, becomes a significant factor in many different jurisdictions, especially in North America. Parents should be aware of how such legislation might impact on what they can be told without express consent from their adolescent child.
 
Note: When older adolescents are truant, it is often just a sign of broader difficulties in the home or community environments. Teachers often might offer advice to parents, if specifically asked for help. Here are a few helpful points for parents:
  • It is always a good idea to consult with school staff any time a young person seems reluctant or afraid to go to school, especially if this is not typical for that young person;
  • Unless the teen is legitimately ill or has some other compelling reason to stay home, it is important to get him or her to attend school;
  • According to research findings, part-time jobs have the potential to interfere with school attendance and performance if work hours exceed 20 per week.
  • If a youth has missed school, legitimately or not, it is important to get him/her back to school as soon as possible;
  • Parents who have developed a routine at home that includes time for the children to talk about their day at school, often become aware of problems before they become serious. This approach is easiest to establish when the children are young, but it’s never too late to try to establish or improve communication between parents and children, even in the teen years.
 
As well, teachers may be aware of local community agencies that provide free or cost adjusted family counselling, and may assist parents in contacting these agencies if appropriate. Again however, in many jurisdictions youngsters in this age range have rights regarding privacy and the decision to participate in counselling or not. They may also have the right to decide whether their parents are involved in the counseling or whether they want their parents informed about any issues arising during their individual counseling.
 
Parent support groups may be (are also) available in many communities, and these may be helpful to parents regardless of the nature or outcome of counselling efforts.
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Red Light levels of truancy may be fairly common at this age in some schools. Typically, adolescents whose truancy is in the Red Light zone are also having significant difficulties in the community. The school administrator will probably handle most aspects of the situation, as well as dealing with the parents and managing consequences. There may well also be police and community agencies involved.
 
 
The classroom teacher should be available to provide support, as part of the school team working with the child and family. As in the Green and Yellow Light areas, it’s important to try to learn what exactly prompted the teen to skip school. Try a calm, non-threatening discussion to gain insight into questions such as the following:
  • Has the young person been bullied, ridiculed or teased by classmates by other students in the school or community, or even by siblings?
  • Might this older adolescent be involved in gang related behaviour?
  • Does the young person have friends in the class?
  • Is he or she accepted vs. ignored, left out or excluded?
  • Is the youngster progressing academically?  Would the student be better suited in a different program?
  • Does he/she appear bored in school?
  • Does the youngster have a job, and how many hours a week does he or she work?
  • Does he or she seem to be under stress, anxious or fearful at school?
  • Is the older adolescent (child) comfortable enough with adults to ask for help with academic or social difficulties?
  • Did the young person experience a traumatic event at school such as a public humiliation, public ridicule, being in a fight, etc.?
 
It would also be helpful to meet with school system professionals to explore issues in the home. Many parents are more comfortable discussing problems at home with the teacher rather than a principal, vice principal or school psychologist. Even just having the teacher in the room during the discussion can make some parents more comfortable, and if that’s the case, don’t hesitate to ask the teacher to attend.
 
 
Note: At this age level, privacy legislationbecomes a significant factor in many differentjurisdictions. Parents should be aware of how such legislation might impact on what they can be told without express consent from the student.
 
 
Research studies involving these older high school students have found that the most effective methods of improving student attendance include the following:
 
·        Rewarding students for improved attendance.
This had an impact on both improved school attendance overall and the reduction of chronic absenteeism. Various rewards included special recognition, certificates, letters to parents, and opportunities to attend special events.
 
·        Assigning a “truant officer” to teens with attendance problems and families.
This was not perceived to be effective by the teens and their families, but the long-term results show that it did actually increase attendance rates. (This may not be effective with chronic truants.)
 
·        Conducting family workshops focused on school attendance.
 
·        Referring chronically absent students to counsellors.
 
·        Connecting parents with school contact persons with a particular emphasis on outreach to diverse families.
 
·        Making home visits.
This targets chronic absenteeism only, and does not have as much effect on overall attendance rates.
 
As in the Yellow Light situation,family or individual counseling is always an important option to consider.
 
Clearly this is not a problem that can be solved easily, or by the parents or school alone. As can be seen from the above, research has clearly shown that a team effort involving the home, the school and community agencies is required to overcome Red Light levels of truancy and prevent this from evolving into a school drop-out situation. Not all school jurisdictions or communities have the resources required to mount such a coordinated effort, particularly if large numbers of youth are involved. In some situations, parents might best direct their energy toward lobbying for resources and supports to make such coordinated efforts possible. Such lobbying of course requires time and energy, and can be frustrating, but in the long term it can be both rewarding and helpful.
 
Again, self-help groups or parent support groups may often be helpful for parents with chronically truant children, and these are often accessible through school personnel or may even listed in the phone book.
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