Ask Jessi: My Teenager Hates School

May 13th, 2010by Jessi Arias-Cooper

A reader asks:

How do I get my 16-year-old daughter to appreciate the importance of a quality education? She says that “school isn’t for everyone” and refuses to apply herself to anything remotely academic.

Jessi says:

I can see why her nonchalance is frustrating for you, but take heart, it‘s not a lost cause.

There is hope.

She’s still young. Sixteen is a confusing age for every young woman. A teenage girl is being pulled in so many directions, it’s easy to lose focus and perspective.

A simple truth about the human condition is that nobody wants to fail.

The most important thing to do is identify why she’s resisting her schoolwork.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Has there been a major change or loss in her life (i.e. a break-up, death of a loved-one, move to a new town, parental divorce) ?
  • Does she have some sort of learning barrier that is making her work more challenging than it is for her peers?
  • Has she taken on a job that is monopolizing her time?
  • Is she hanging out with other kids that don’t value education?
  • Did she suffer a blow to her self-esteem (for example: being criticized publicly by a teacher)?
  • Is there sibling rivalry involved? Does she have a sister or brother who makes achievement look effortless?

Once you’ve explored these questions on your own, open up a dialogue with her that is more personal than school-related. Ask simple questions and be prepared to give her support and examples of how you have personally overcome some of these challenges (but only if she wants them).

If you don’t have personal experience with whatever she’s dealing with, help her find someone reliable who does. There are many options both online and in your community.

If you start to sense tension, back-off. Resist the urge to dig your heels in on the issue. Nothing will make a teenager shut down and become uncooperative faster than feeling like she is being backed into a corner.

Once the two of you have reached an understanding about the cause of the barrier, then you can formulate a strategy to deal with the issue, together. Find local resources that can shed light on the specific problem, whatever that may be. Ask her permission to contact the school counselor for a list of people that can help.

If you work through it together, you’ll not only find a solution to the problem, but also empower your daughter and teach her a more positive way to cope with issues as they arise.

This process may take a little time, but the end result will mean a new beginning for both your relationship and her education (and beyond).

Jessi Arias-Cooper is the senior writer and an editor for She is a work-from-home mother of 3 boys and has been married for 10 years. Jessi co-owns Profitable Prose, with her husband, Brock. If she had time for hobbies and interests outside of parenting and keeping house, they would be jewelry making, baking, watching bad B-movie horror flicks and creative writing.

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