Dropping Out of School is Not an Option

Dear Mr. Dad: Our 15-year-old son wants to quit school and get a job. He has struggled academically but we always assumed he’d graduate and go on to college. We’re trying hard to dissuade him from quitting, but he says he can always get a GED later. What can we do?

A: Having been in exactly the same spot as your son—and having a teenager of my own who’s talked about leaving school—I don’t think that most high-schoolers are mature enough to make decisions on their own about things that could affect them for the rest of their lives.

But, before you into that, you need a good handle on why your son is struggling in school. Is he lazy, bored out of his mind, or could he have dyslexia, ADD, or another undiagnosed learning disability? If you haven’t already done so, it’s critical that you speak to your son’s teachers and counselors and ask that he be tested. If he does have a learning disability, you’ll be able to get him the professional help he needs.

If, however, everything comes back normal, ask your son to tell you—in great detail—what’s going on at school. Are there specific classes he doesn’t like or material he can’t understand? If so, the solution could be as simple as finding a good tutor (again, something to discuss with his teachers). Or, is he having social problems, such as being bullied or shunned? Thousands of kids stay home from school every day—or want to quit altogether—because they’re afraid of their classmates or others.

Whatever his reasons, quitting school may seem like an easy way out to him. No more homework, tests, bullies, or annoying teachers! But chances are, he’s not thinking about the consequences of being a high school dropout. And that’s definitely not a pretty picture.

To start with, high school dropouts earn far, far less than grads–and that’s assuming he can get a job at all in this economy. So it’s important that you find some ways to open your son’s eyes to the harsh reality of eking out a living on minimum wage. Plenty of people—many of whom have years of work experience—are trying to do it, and making ends meet is a lot harder than it sounds.

There’s a good chance that your son has no idea how much money he’ll need to support himself. Make out a budget and show him–in realistic terms–what he’ll have to earn every week just to cover just his basic expenses such as taxes, rent, food, utilities, car insurance, and gas. Then add on perks like movies and whatever else he likes to do in his spare time. Once you tally it up, open your local newspaper or go online and look at the jobs that are available to dropouts and how much they pay. That could be enough your son needs to persuade him that he’d be better off staying in school. Be prepared, though: he probably won’t believe the gloom and doom scenarios if they from you, so consider asking the school guidance counselor to jump into the discussion.

Your overall goal here is to do what you can to keep your son in school so he can graduate with his class. Don’t even talk about college—he may find it too overwhelming right now. I’m usually a believer in doing as much advance planning as possible, but this is one of those situations where taking things one step at a time will yield better results.

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