Fear of school is a growing problem for youth


Many students complain about going to school because they may not have gotten enough sleep, finished their homework, or simply find their classes boring. But have you ever noticed students not showing up or committing to the social environment around them?

It may be because they fear coming to school.

School phobia, also known as school refusal, is a real and growing problem for young people today.  It is often caused by anxiety, depression, or behavioral issues induced by the fear of attending school.

Some teenagers have permission from their parents to stay home. They spend a day trying to repress, and by the time they have to go to sleep, the symptoms disappear, only to reappear the next day when they have to attend school.

Sometimes, a student may refuse to leave his or her house and their parents may give in. But there are also parents who send their children to school anyway.

There are many symptoms of school refusal, some more distinct than others. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “common physical symptoms include headaches, stomach aches, nausea, or diarrhea. But tantrums, inflexibility, separation anxiety, avoidance, and defiance may show up, too.”

If a student starts to develop this problem, they may go to the nurse more often, ignore responsibilities like homework or classwork, or skip school or class.

Each individual has their own reason for not wanting to leave their home. The start of a new school year may cause stress, especially during a transfer to a new school. Depressing thoughts or events that may have happened in the past or present can also cause an individual to avoid wanting to socialize with others or commit to new responsibilities.

Amy Kamm, the GHS school adjustment counselor, explained that it is usually not the students that confront their problem. “Generally kids don’t knock on my door,” said Kamm. “Usually behaviors are flagged because of attendance change or new issues, so as a school we try to help these students.”

Over time family members, friends, or other acquaintances may notice something changing in the student’s absence, behavior, etc, so they are the ones who reach out for help.

Often, there is a higher percentage of students with this fear in elementary and middle school, but for some, it can occur at any point. According to Physiology Today, 25 percent of students are affected.

Here at GHS, they do not capture specific data based on the topic, but according to Kamm, it happens very frequently. The average amount of students absent 10 or more days last school year was 53.5, which compared to the state is 33.3. Students chronically absent at GHS last year was 25.8, while the state average was 13.5. So overall our school average last year was higher. How much of this is related to school anxiety is unclear. 

Refusal doesn’t always just happen at school, it can happen anywhere at any age. It is sometimes caused by attending new places or trying new things. Fear of change can cause this to occur.

According to Kamm, it is best to solve these problems as soon as possible.

“The sooner we can intervene the better,” said Kamm. “Sometimes these patterns may be visible before high school.”

Often, students who are of average or above-average intelligence develop school anxiety. But if this fear takes over, social or educational problems may develop because their main focus is wanting to leave.

Some parents become fearful that their children will drop out because of how often they refuse to attend. School refusal is different from truancy because students who are truant would rather do something else than be at school. But the problem is not that these students want to do something else, they just believe that missing school will help them function better.

Why this is caused can be different because each student presented with this problem has their own reason.

Recently, a new program called  “The Bridge Program,” was started at GHS for post-hospitalization of students struggling with mental health or medical conditions, which may result in disruption of education. Students join this program to catch up on everything they have missed.

Overall, it is important to solve these problems as soon as possible, because the longer students may avoid a problem, the stronger it can become. For example, if a student becomes anxious, and tries to avoid how they are feeling, their anxiety can accelerate over time.

Intervention strategies may vary according to the problem of the student.

“We all keep an open mind,” said Kamm. “Every approach has to be individualized.”