Teen Anxiety and School Refusal

If you are a parent, chances are you have heard your child complain about not wanting to go to school. Your child may fake being sick or try and come up with an elaborate reason why they shouldn’t go to school that day. While this happening on occasion is often nothing to worry about, regular complaints about going to school or even straight-up school refusal can be a signal of a much greater issue.

If your teen refuses to go to school, it could be a sign of mental health challenges or other complex issues that require professional help and treatment. Being able to identify and properly understand the reason or reasons behind teen school refusal is important for any parent so that they can seek out alternative options like our residential treatment center for teens at Ridge RTC.

What is School Refusal?

Simply put, school refusal is when a child or teen regularly avoids attending school or experiences significant distress related to attending school. This may be because they are struggling with their classes or even because they currently experiencing or have previously experienced a traumatic event in school.

How to Recognize School Refusal

It’s important for parents to recognize potential signs of school refusal so that they can properly address the situation. Some signs to be on the lookout for include:

  • Frequent complaints of physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, particularly on school days
  • Unexplained and prolonged absences from school
  • Extreme resistance or refusal to go to school, accompanied by intense emotional distress, tantrums, or clinginess
  • Excessive worry or fear about academic performance, social interactions, or specific situations at school
  • Reluctance to engage in activities or discussions related to school
  • Noticeable drop in academic performance or engagement

It’s also important to note that teens can experience many of these symptoms even if they do go to school. They may be late to school regularly due to anxiety or dread they are experiencing thinking about going to school. They may also try to or even leave school early often or visit the school nurse either daily or even multiple times a day.


Common Reasons for School Refusal

There are a number of reasons why a child or teen may not want to go to school. Some may be innocent enough such as they forgot to do their homework or study for a test. Sometimes though, a child’s reasoning for not wanting to go to school can be much more significant and severe and may signal a much larger issue that needs to be addressed.

Some of the more common reasons a teen may refuse to go to school include:

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Bullying or Peer Issues
  • School-Related Stress
  • Mental Health Disorders
  • Traumatic Experiences
  • Learning Difficulties
  • Family Problems

Anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, or specific phobias can contribute to school refusal. Teens may feel overwhelmed by academic pressure, social interactions, or fear of failure and not want to go to school. At Ridge RTC, we offer help for school refusal-related anxiety. Our teen anxiety treatment program can help your child get back on track.

In addition to school refusal or avoidance, some other signs that your teen may be suffering from an anxiety disorder include:

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating patterns
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent and unexplained physical ailments
  • Avoiding certain people or places that may trigger feelings of anxiety
  • Struggling academically

Negative experiences such as bullying, exclusion, or conflicts with peers can lead to school avoidance. Teens may be preoccupied with what they may experience the following day if they go to school and want to avoid it.

In addition to bullying, teens may experience unwanted sexual advances or harassment in school. This could come from other students or even adults at the school. According to a survey conducted by the American Association of University Women, 48 percent of middle and high school students said they were sexually harassed at least once, typically by their peers.

Academic challenges, excessive workload, high expectations, or a negative school environment can trigger school refusal. If a child or teen feels as though they are metaphorically “drowning” at school they will be less likely to want to continue to keep going to school as they may feel that no matter what they do they can’t get ahead.

Suffering from a mental health disorder can often make even performing basic tasks a challenge, including going to school and getting through a school day.

Some examples of mental health disorders that can negatively affect a teen’s academic performance and may result in them not wanting to go to school include:

Trauma, such as the loss of a loved one, abuse, or witnessing a distressing event, can result in school refusal as teens struggle with emotional distress.

Additionally, if there are issues happening at home, that may also keep a child from wanting to go to school. An example of this is a teen wanting to stay home if one of their parents is ill. Another example is a teen not wanting to go to school as a result of their parents fighting and they feel as though they need to stay home to help with that.

Ridge RTC Can Help Teens and Their Families

Located in New Hampshire, the Ridge is a mental health residential treatment facility specializing in helping teens who need therapeutic assessment and additional support. Our program prioritizes therapy, increased structure, higher levels of supervision, and fewer distractions to empower our residents to develop the critical strengths they need.

While Ridge RTC is a short-term residential treatment center (RTC), we do offer a wide range of treatment options and services for those teens who may be struggling including:

  • Stabilization: Ridge RTC provides a safe and supportive environment where teens can receive stabilization to manage their emotional distress and anxiety.
  • Assessment: A comprehensive assessment is conducted to understand the underlying causes of school refusal and identify any co-occurring mental health issues so that a treatment plan can be created
  • Clinical Help: Ridge RTC offers evidence-based therapeutic interventions, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, experiential therapy, and more to address the unique needs of each individual. For instance, in our teen depression rehab program, we offer a continuum of therapeutic help for the teens in our program.
  • Academic Support: Ridge RTC recognizes the importance of education and provides access to academics if the teen is ready and willing to engage in academic activities. Our boarding school is available to those in grades 9-12 and is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
  • On-Site Psychiatry and Medical Care: Ridge RTC has a psychiatrist available five days a week to provide psychiatric evaluations, medication management, and support. Additionally, a family nurse practitioner and a registered nurse are available to address medical needs and ensure holistic care.


Q: Is Ridge RTC only for teens with school refusal, or do they treat other mental health conditions as well?

A: While Ridge RTC specializes in addressing school refusal, they also provide treatment for a wide range of mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, depression, trauma-related issues, and more.

Q: Will my insurance cover the cost of treatment at Ridge RTC?

A: At Ridge RTC, we believe all teens and young adults deserve the highest quality treatment. That’s why we have partnered with several insurance providers to make treatment as accessible and affordable as possible. Should you have any questions pertaining to your insurance coverage you can reach out to your insurance representative or you can fill out our insurance verification form. We will take a look at your policy and let you know what is and isn’t covered before your teen begins treatment.

Q: What happens after my teen completes the program at Ridge RTC?

A: Upon completion of the program, Ridge RTC will work closely with the teen and their family to develop an aftercare plan, which may include outpatient therapy, continued medication management, and ongoing support.


Get Help With Teen School Refusal at Ridge RTC

If your teen refuses to go to school it can significantly impact not just their academic success but also their overall well-being. School refusal is often a sign of a much larger mental health issue that, when left unaddressed and untreated, can lead to long-term issues. That’s why it is essential for parents to recognize the signs of school refusal and seek appropriate support.

If your child or teen is refusing to go to school and you think it may be the result of a larger issue, we are here to help. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help both you and your teen work through their issues so that they can go on to live a happy and healthy life.

Scroll to Top
Skip to content