School refusal - going with online school

Posted by: tillamook

School refusal - going with online school - 09/03/19 09:53 AM

My 16yo DS is going into grade 11 and has had school refusal issues now for about 6 years though he has enrolled and completed (barely) every year.

We have tried a few things - one was an alternative school (he hated it), and a mix of online and in person school. It seems to hit hardest in the Spring when it just gets too hard to cope with.

He had a bad bout of GERD last year and missed about a third of the school year but they allowed him to squeak through. Stomach issues ongoing.

We took him to counselling for needle phobia (he needed a number of tests for his stomach diagnosis) and it quickly turned to school anxiety counselling. It kept seeming like it was helping and then it would revert back to the same level.

This was all last year - grade 10. The next two years are very critical for admission to higher ed. He is, right out of the gate, saying he's not going to the local high school and wants to do online school full time. I know from past experience that cajoling, forcing, threatening etc. will only fail and damage our relationship.

We have had many conversations on the topic and had a big one yesterday. For some reason he is refusing to admit/acknowledge that the issue is social anxiety. The counselling he did recently focused on those issues. He is insisting that's not it and that he just hates the learning environment. I think the social aspect of school, even just in the classroom, creates an environment that makes it harder for him to focus on learning.

Another interesting aspect of what's happening with him is he seems to think the emotional issues he's facing - and always has - are not a part of him being gifted and he seems to think the whole "gifted" thing is just a silly label and doesn't mean anything. It's quite irritating. I just said, well, look it up yourself and see what you find.

So, I'm not against online school. I think it could be fine. He has done some courses online and his marks were good. I'm just concerned that he is withdrawing from the world and won't be able to face it when it comes time to launch. He could mature and gain confidence and face it with more strength given time. Or we could feel like horribly negligent parents if he's socially stuck and not able to be out in the world.

Some context, he has an older brother and socializes well with him and his (brother's) friends. He's great with his same age cousin and other friends of the family kids.

We are trying to discuss doing counselling again to help him with this while he does online school. He is, so far, refusing. And, again, refusing to acknowledge that anxiety is the problem.

Sorry this is so long. I'm too close to see this clearly. Any advice is welcome. My instinct tells me to: focus on him enjoying learning so online is fine with me, and to help him feel safe so his stomach issues can be cared for and so that he's not stressed.

DH is facing this with more anger/fear (I realize men deal with things differently and completely appreciate his perspective and what he brings to the table as a parenting style). It does create stress between us though as he sees my easy capitulation as weak (hasn't exactly said so but has implied). Of course it also creates stress between him and DS. He's not out of control angry just more confrontational and ultimatum forcing.

I've gone on even longer now. I'll stop. Advice please.
Posted by: aeh

Re: School refusal - going with online school - 09/03/19 12:18 PM

Perhaps it would be worthwhile to have a conversation about the need for balanced development--online school certainly can address many, if not most, of his academic needs, but it won't do much for his social development (which is a need that every young person his age has, regardless of the presence/absence of social anxiety). In-person school contributes, ideally, to both types of development, so if he wants to go to online school, he will have to find or agree to another mechanism for natural social development. E.g., a club, sport, community service, job, etc. But it won't have to be 5x6 hours, it will separate social interactions from academic learning, and it can be an activity/group of his choice, which might lower the stress level, and increase his likelihood of success.
Posted by: Kai

Re: School refusal - going with online school - 09/03/19 04:18 PM

What does he hate about school exactly?

If it's the social piece, then online school may be a workaround, but if it is the meaninglessness of the classes, online school could very well be worse.
Posted by: indigo

Re: School refusal - going with online school - 09/03/19 04:19 PM

tillamook, you've received great advice above.

I'll just add that in preparation for college applications, your son may benefit from doing far more than his required online coursework for high school graduation.

Depending on his interests, goals, and motivations, any of these might provide a spark that leads to opportunity to shine in an area of passion... these are just a few ideas, in addition to the importance of in-person activities, as mentioned by aeh...

1) Free online college-level courses (Khan academy, Coursera, etc)
2) Unschooling ("Self-Taught" documentary)
3) Congressional Award for Youth
4) Approaches, planning, and strategies mentioned in the book "What Colleges don't tell you..." by Elizabeth Wissner-Gross (2007)
5) Book on College-Essay-writing by Elizabeth Wissner-Gross (2009), including choosing a compelling topic

Hopefully your family will, through research and discussion, agree on a framework of goals and activities for moving ahead in a productive, supportive, and cohesive manner.
Posted by: puffin

Re: School refusal - going with online school - 09/03/19 08:04 PM

Maybe he needs a break from social immersion. It can be a bit like being thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggling to keep your head above water all day every day. It leaves you too stressed and exhausted to concentrate on academics or a social life outside school. Maybe if he has 6 months break just doing online school he can spend the next 18 months finding activities that he will enjoy and will meet his social needs into adulthood. Since most school activities finish at graduation this may leave him in a better situation socially.
Posted by: tillamook

Re: School refusal - going with online school - 09/16/19 03:21 PM

Thank you (everyone) for your comments and advice.

We have spent many years discussing the need for balance and social activities so I feel I can't get any deeper into that.

I think the social part of it is very taxing for him. It distracts him from learning and wears him out.

He has enjoyed learning and was much more self directed before grade 9 (not a great year for focus for boys in my experience). Also, years of conflict, cajoling, worry etc. between us over the topic (and heaps of bending over backwards to find a good solution) is making the whole area of topic hard on all of us. Perhaps we should step back and get out of his way.

He's currently letting his sleep shift way out of whack which keeps him out of our sphere of influence (as we go to bed at a normal hour). Again, much conflict (reasoned discussion, confrontation, cajoling etc.). He wavers back and forth between getting it and working on it a bit and then sleeping like Rumplestiltskin.

He is sinking his teeth into his pre-calc. Just don't see him keeping up with the course schedule we mapped out. Perhaps that's not as important as getting him healthy and happy again.

I've taken note of the list of supplemental things he could look into (thanks indigo!). I'll look into them myself too.

Thanks again. If you (or anyone else) thinks of anything to add please feel free - all advice welcome.
Posted by: Wren

Re: School refusal - going with online school - 09/17/19 03:44 AM

Originally Posted By: tillamook


I think the social part of it is very taxing for him. It distracts him from learning and wears him out.


DD is in 10th grade. The social stuff can totally distract her. She has gone from a 5 on one math test to a 2 on the next due to social stuff in the past. From middle school into last year. But she seems to have gotten a grip on it last year. All the drama, heartache, etc. found a balance, but going through it. Now she is totally focused. She has always done online math and did precalc last year. Did get a 4 but there was distraction in the middle but "pulled up her socks" and finished diligently. I think the social stuff can really weigh on some kids. I think he needs something that 1. keeps him active 2. gives him some social group. DD quit ballet since it was taking up too much time and now goes to the gym. Which I think is great for any high school kid. She has a longer day than public school 9-4, comes homes, and gets 45 minutes in the gym across the street to clear her head. But she also does competitively sailing. A small social group. Though DD is quite social at school and has found a real balance this year. She had a harder problem with the girls than the guys. She is witty and the guys like to talk with her. Though she doesn't date yet. I have pushed to wait and I think it helps on the social. Though everytime a guy asked her out and she said no, he wouldn't talk to her for months. But this year her friendships with girls is stronger. It has been a real process. Good luck. Some kids need the social interaction more than others. And maybe you just have to get your older son to help him through it.
Posted by: tillamook

Re: School refusal - going with online school - 09/19/19 03:02 PM

Hi Wren,

Thanks for your comments. Yes, each kid is different. It sounds like your daughter is actually doing quite well - active, social to a fairly large extent and pretty disciplined. Girls can be so mean. I have sons but I remember it well.
I can't seem to do anything with him at the moment. Sigh. Feeling a bit defeated. Too close to be objective and have been battling the same issue for so long.
Posted by: aeh

Re: School refusal - going with online school - 09/19/19 06:06 PM

Originally Posted By: tillamook
Perhaps that's not as important as getting him healthy and happy again.

Just want to affirm that this is the most important measure of your decisions about his situation. You are a good parent.
Posted by: tillamook

Re: School refusal - going with online school - 10/08/19 11:37 AM

aeh - thank you! We'll have to keep reminding ourselves that this is the priority.

So hard to reconcile that with helping/guiding him along the path to his future. This in literal terms is making sure he's on track with school.

The sleep battle carries on. He had shifted to a 4 to 6am sleep time with a 3 to 4pm wake time. That's insane.

Making someone wake up or go to sleep is like pushing string. We're now at a point where we've said wake at 10am and working by 11. Four hours of school work (which is proven to be all the focus anyone has to offer to their work) OR all devices removed for the rest of that day. Every day a new chance to get it right. We're on day 2. He did well yesterday but went to bed at 4am and is suffering and blaming me for how miserable he feels. Not rational. Give me strength.

If teens need 10 hours of sleep and need to do 4 hours of work that gives you 10 hours to eat and play. That's quite a lot of time. It's just that he really wants those 10 hours to include midnight to 3am.

Okay, I'll stop going on and on. Sigh. Hopefully if we can stick to this he'll have a much healthier sleep rhythm.
Posted by: aeh

Re: School refusal - going with online school - 10/08/19 06:25 PM

I think you are right to work on goals like sleep hygiene first. (And remember, it takes a good two weeks to shift a sleep schedule, even when working very consistently and strictly on it.) So much is easier to manage when one's body is properly rested.

One step at a time, my friend!
Posted by: toothpaste

Re: School refusal - going with online school - 10/18/19 03:53 PM

Originally Posted By: tillamook


This was all last year - grade 10. The next two years are very critical for admission to higher ed.


Late to the party here. I'd just like to single out this comment. I'd suggest not worrying about admission to higher ed. The anxiety that the New York Times and status-oriented parenting ratchets up about college admissions just doesn't apply to most Americans. There will be routes to college for your child. He doesn't have to go when he's 18. He can go to the open-admissions state university. He can take courses at community college when he's ready and get recommendations that will help him move to a four-year school--when he's ready to achieve.

The rest of it, especially the sleep and the school refusal, sound so hard. But if you take college admissions out of the equation you can focus on what matters to him now.
Posted by: sunnyday

Re: School refusal - going with online school - 10/20/19 05:07 PM

In that vein, I found this book very soothing when it comes to anxieties about "is my child's education serving him for the future." https://www.amazon.com/Rethinking-School-Charge-Childs-Education/dp/0393285960