My 17-year-old has said she won’t be going back to school

I have told her she’s mad for leaving now . . . but she won’t listen to anything I have to say

“She wants to do a course come next September, but a lot of courses require a Leaving Cert.” Photograph: iStock

Question: My daughter is 17 years old and I am very upset. She announced last week that she won't be going to school anymore. This is her Leaving Cert year. We have spoken and fought about this. She won't budge.

She has said she is fed up with school and teachers and even other schoolmates. I have been to the school to tell them. I know kids can leave the school system when they are 16, but I fear for her future as she has no experience of the real world or work. She has no qualifications either.

She thinks she will just fall into a job no problem. She wants to do a course come next September, but a lot of courses require a Leaving Cert. I don't know what to do. I have told her she's mad for leaving now, when she's nearly finished anyway. Everyone I have spoken to thinks its madness what she is doing, but she won't listen to anything I have to say. I don't know what to do.

Answer: It is so difficult for you to watch your child give up on her schooling so close to the end of a long Leaving Cert cycle and know that it will reduce her chances of gaining entry to many educational and employment opportunities. However, she is now 17 and as such cannot be forced to do something that she has her mind set against.


I wonder if you can try to work with her on her plans for her future and let her come to some conclusions on her own, eg her desire to do a course next September. If she does her own research, she may find that she will need a Leaving Cert to apply for a course or for employment. Many courses and employers will look for a Leaving Cert to demonstrate that the person has a history of completing something difficult and therefore could be expected to stay the pace of future courses or work.

That she is tired and fed up is understandable at this stage of the Leaving Cert process but this is something she will encounter many times in her life and she will need more options rather than giving up. Growing the capacity to do what we do not like or want to do is a great asset to us in our lives as there are many things we have to do which we do not want to. For example, we do not want to exercise, study or eat sensibly but we know that if we can develop the self-discipline to do these things our lives will improve.

Difficult times

If she wants to pursue a particular course, there is no doubt that she will have to find a way of making the entry requirements and then complete whatever exam or assignments that go with this so exactly the same issues will face her then. Having the capacity to endure through frustrating and difficult times will stand to her for her whole life and surprisingly it will offer her success and self-confidence in the long run.

Is there someone in her life that she admires or will listen to? She fights with you and therefore expects opposition but she may be more open to talking to someone else about her future. It might even be a friend or fellow student who has most influence with her and this might be a way forward. However, do not go behind her back as this is likely to make her more angry and upset but tell her that you will back off if she agrees to talk to two people you can both agree on.

If at the end of these conversations, she continues on her path of leaving school, then tell her you will do your best to support her in whatever she chooses. It may be that she needs to experience life and work before she decides her future and if she desires to return to education at a later stage, there are many adult education paths to this.

You sound very upset that your daughter is opting out of education and perhaps you too need to manage your emotions around this difficult topic.

At 17, our children are young adults and cannot be forced to follow our wisdom. It sounds as though you are not being heard about your concerns and there may be an opportunity for you here. When we want someone to listen to us, the best option is for us to fully listen to them first; when the other person feels understood in all aspects of their dilemma, then they are prepared to hear our position.

So, listen fully to your daughter and all her reasons and feelings for leaving school and only then, voice your concerns. This may take many conversations and a lot of patience on your part.

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