Truanting usually happens among older children who feel they can make decisions for themselves. It could be missing school lessons or skipping co-curricular activities (CCA), which is compulsory for all secondary students.

Schools take attendance and punctuality seriously. Getting that call from teachers and learning that your child is truant can be very stressful and upsetting.

But before you jump to punish your child, consider first why your child chose to skip that class. It could be a cry for help and signs of a bigger problem you should not ignore.

Mdm Helen Neo, mother of 2 sons aged 22 and 15 years, strongly believes that children only truant because they are unhappy with the circumstance they find themselves in.

“I often check in with my children to find out if they are happy in school and hear them out when they face any problems,” she says. “When they enjoy what they are doing, they won’t be truant. It only happens when they are trying to escape, for example, maybe when they fell out with a friend so they stop attending tuition.”

Gwendolyn was a truant student when she was 13 years and just entered Secondary School. Looking back, she let on that her parents going through a divorce and having gotten into an argument with friends in school made her disinterested in school.

However, her lessons became more engaging when they took her beyond the classroom and she found friends she could draw support from and began to develop an interest in school, even becoming a team leader in the process.

Mdm Lim, who is teaching upper secondary school students in Singapore, agrees that parents should first find out why their teen is missing class. “Are they facing some difficulties in school? Perhaps a difficult friend, teacher or is it the subject? Or could it be that they are avoiding something? Maybe it is just because they lost interest in an activity when they chose not to attend their CCA session.”

Mdm Lim shares that all schools would have at least one counsellor where teenagers can speak to when they have problems.

For Kevin, then 16 years, that school counsellor changed him, setting him on a course to clock 10 hours every day to prepare for his second try at the N levels and qualify for entry to a polytechnic course. Yet he used to hate secondary school, having failed many subjects, which led him to truanting and even blocking the school’s number on his mother’s phone to prevent his teachers from reaching her.

“Every child wants to succeed, and affirmation of his or her efforts is important. We have to teach students to do the right things (values-based) instead of just doing things right (performance based)...” shared Mr Paul Jeremiah, Allied Educator (Teaching & Learning) in a Secondary School.

For parents, understanding why your teen chooses to truant is key to changing this behaviour and will motivate your child to do even better once you remove his/her ‘stumbling block’.

Teenagers truant to avoid an issue. Truant teens can change and can be motivated to attend school, once the underlying issue is addressed.

If the problem revolves around their studies, discuss how you can help them manage the subject better. You can seek out their teachers’ help to pay more attention to them and address specific issues. If you need greater help with your teen, speak to the school counsellor or principal to see how you turn this around.

If the problem is about peer pressure or involves their friends, lend them a listening ear and help them work through their issues.

Keep in mind that your child is now a teen and interfering where you are not invited could embarrass them instead. Respect your child’s opinions and let them know the actions you are taking and people you are speaking to.

If you have a truant teen, don’t lose hope. All it takes is understanding, encouragement and guidance from the people around them.