What To Do If Your Teen is Thinking About Dropping Out of High School

high school dropoutIt can be devastating for a parent to hear their teen announce that they are considering dropping out of school. As parents, we know the hardships that typically come from lacking a high school diploma: lower-paying jobs, poorer health, poverty, and less opportunity. They are also at an increased likelihood of being unemployed or incarcerated.

Unfortunately, many teens follow this path. In 1970, the U.S. was ranked #1 in the world for the rate of high school graduation; today, we are ranked at #21. The Alliance for Excellent Education reports that 7,000 American students drop out of school EVERY school day, amounting to over one million students each year. Clearly, many of our nation’s youth are struggling.

Some teens face difficult life circumstances and either they feel their best option is to get a job right away or they feel overwhelmed and want to escape their problems. Either way, if your teen feels it’s time for them to leave school, it is your responsibility to tell your teen why he/she needs to finish high school. Here are some things you should do if your teen is thinking about dropping out:

Discover Your Teen’s Reasoning

The first step is to discuss the situation with your teen. Ask open-ended questions to see if you can find out why they want to drop out. Do they feel unsuccessful? Are they being bullied? Do they have a learning disability? Is a particular teacher frustrating them? No matter what your teen’s reasons are for wanting to drop out of high school, put your feelings aside for a minute and actively listen to them. Try to understand their situation from their point of view, even if you don’t agree. You may discover that your teen is simply being impulsive based on some minor difficulty, or that they have a struggle that can be remedied. It’s also possible that their desire to quit school is really a symptom of a mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety. It’s really important that you determine the root cause of their desire to quit, so that you can adequately address it.

Work Together Towards Solutions

Once you have determined the cause of the problem(s), it’s time to brainstorm ideas together. Throw out several possible solutions to your teen’s challenges. For example, if your teen doesn’t feel that they can pass their classes, suggest a tutor. If your teen is anxious and depressed, suggest a mental health counselor. If your teen doesn’t feel like they “fit in,” consider alternate schools with a different culture or extracurricular activities where they might meet people with similar interests. The key is to validate your teen’s feelings and open their eyes to possible ways to remedy the situation without quitting school.

Talk to the School

Do not leave the school out of the equation. Likely, the school has no idea that your teen is dissatisfied with their school experience. Schedule a meeting with your teen’s guidance counselor. The majority of high schools actually offer a variety of programs to help teens who are struggling, such as online courses, alternative education programs, or work-study programs. Investigate all options before a teen drops out of school.

Discuss the Consequences

Many times, teens have misperceptions, perhaps hearing a success story of someone who didn’t finish high school. Make sure you explain to your teen that there are rare exceptions, but lacking a high school diploma will most likely significantly impair their future. Most employers, training schools and the military require a high school diploma at a minimum. And, most high school dropouts end up living in poverty. Provide your teen with these facts from the study, “According to Frontline – PBS KET 2012 ‘By the Numbers: Dropping Out of High School’”:

  • The average dropout can expect to earn an annual income of $20,241, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s a full $10,386 less than the typical high school graduate, and $36,424 less than someone with a bachelor’s degree.
  • Dropouts, between the ages of 18 and 24, were more than twice as likely as college graduates to live in poverty, according to the Dept. of Education. Dropouts experienced a poverty rate of 30.8%, while those with a bachelor’s degree had a poverty rate of 13.5%.
  • While the national unemployment rate stood at 8.1% in August 2012, joblessness among those without a high school degree measured 12%. Among college graduates, it was 4.1%.
  • Among dropouts between the ages of 16 and 24, incarceration rates were a whopping 63 times higher than among college graduates.


Envision a Bright Future

Teens don’t always have a lot of confidence. They might need reassurance that their high school problems are only temporary or they might need a pep talk to get them excited about their future. Discuss dreams and goals they have, and talk about how finishing high school will help them achieve their desire.

What to Do If They Drop Out Anyway

If after all of that, your teen still decides to drop out, then try to remember the following:

  • Do not panic. This is not the end. Lots of young adults have been known to go back to finish their education. For example, students who get their GED and continue onto college have the potential to be as successful as those who graduate high school. Sometimes teens must learn life’s lessons the hard way in order to make a better way for themselves later.
  • Do not support them financially. If your teen lives at home, require that he/she pay you rent and cover their own car insurance and personal expenses. While this may seem cruel since we just said that most dropouts live in poverty, it is actually one of the best motivators for a young adult to return to school to improve their future prospects.
  • Be supportive. Find out what ideas your teen has for his/her future and help them formulate a plan for success. Give them your wisdom and every opportunity to achieve their dreams despite their lack of education. You are still your teen’s greatest teacher and it may be up to you to inspire your teen to become successful.

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