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Ask the Right Questions, In the Right Order

This week I received an email from someone who said she needed advice. She wrote: "I have a 15-year-old daughter who won't go to school. I am at my wits end. What shall I do?"

This is a very difficult and frightening situation. There is no easy answer but there is something this mother can do. The first thing is to start asking questions. You will have to become a detective to get the information you need to address this problem.

The first series of questions is designed to create a context.

"When did this behaviour begin? What was going on in the family at the time? Did she change schools? Did she start hanging out with new friends? Does she have a new boyfriend?"

Then the questions can start zeroing in on behaviours. "Have her eating and sleeping patterns changed? Has she changed her style of dress? Have there been changes in her personality? Is she staying out late and going to more parties? Is there a theme running through her conversations in the home?"

Take an inventory of the emo-tions that you have noticed lately. If you are not aware of her emotions, then start taking notice. Does she seem sad, happy, withdrawn, lonely, angry, agitated, worried, miserable, erratic, confused and so on? We all know that youth can be moody and aloof but if you pay attention you will detect one or more dominant feelings that may be a clue.

There are several possibilities when a youth does not want to go to school. She could be very bright and she is bored with the content- she is not challenged. She may be the victim of bullying, which is rampant in our schools today. Some of it involves technology, so if she has a computer at home, you need to monitor her activities and that goes for the cell phone, as well. She may have drifted into a new crowd and she wants to fit in by skipping school. Maybe she has started having sexual relations and this is consuming her thoughts.

There are some mental health issues that can cause a youth to stay away from school. Both anxiety and depression can be so debilitating that the individual cannot bear to stay in the school environment. As a parent, you may not recognize that your child is anxious or depressed. That is one of the reasons for the feelings inventory mentioned earlier.

The most obvious place to find out what is going on is to ask your daughter directly. You need to be open, supportive and nonjudgemental. If you don't succeed, keep trying.

Be proactive. Read articles, talk to friends and family, make an appointment with a counsellor at the Family Resource Association, and talk to the teachers and counsellors at school. Once you are informed, you can start addressing the issues.

Above all, don't get discouraged and give up. This is too important and it is your job as a parent to keep your child in school.

Deborah Joyce is the Executive Director of District 69 Family Resource Association serving children, youth and families in Oceanside. Contact her at 250-752-6766.


Have you got a question related to Family Life that you'd like Deborah Joyce to address in her column? Just call the FRA at 752-6766 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .