What to do if your teen son hates school

If your teen son hates school, he is actually part of a majority of students. The shocking truth is that more than 90 percent of 16-year-old or older students do not like being in school.

What might be even more shocking or surprising to parents is that those students are in fact innovators, visionaries, avant-gardists, educational revolutionists. The only problem is –nobody is listening.

But let’s start in the beginning

During my years as a public high school teacher, I explained to all of my students (hundreds of them) how the German school system worked at that time.

Until about the age of 10, all kids go to elementary school. Based on academic performance, teachers’ opinions, parents’ input, and a child’s desire – it is determined whether the student remains in high school, goes to a middle school, or goes to grammar school.

If a child stays in high school, he is done with high school at the age of 16. After graduation, students generally complete a 2-year apprenticeship during which they learn a craft, continue schooling related to the craft, and earn money working on the job.

If a child goes to middle school, he continues schooling until grade 10, so about the age of 17. Middle school offers more courses suitable for higher-level jobs.

If a child goes to grammar school, it means a rigorous academic program until grade 12 or 13. Grammar school and passing the rigorous “Abitur” examination is a must for any student wanting to go to a university.

The school system is not completely set in stone. If a student decides later that he should have gone to a higher or lower school level, it is not impossible to change. None of the schools cost money, so the decision on what to do is based on a child’s nature and academic interest.

What my high school students had to say

After presenting the German school system to my high school students, they completed a writing assignment describing their choice of school level – and why.

To my utmost surprise, more than 90 percent of all students wrote that they would choose the high school going to grade 9. The major reason that students provided for their choice was that they were tired of sitting in a school desk — and wanted to work with their hands.

During a classroom discussion, the students elaborated that it was not just about working with your hands. The students said that they wanted to learn a valuable craft.

The most unexpected comments came from my honor students. While I had expected that they would pick grammar school, they argued that after 10 years of being in school, they were tired of it and wanted to do something in the real world.

Fast forward 20 years

As part of the work at our Academy of Exploration International, we accepted high school students who had trouble in their regular high school. Whether the students’ challenges were dyslexia, ADHD, OCD, anxiety disorders, or behavioral difficulties – all but two of them succeeded.

The reason for not being able to succeed for those two students was due to their mothers not wanting their children to succeed. Once a son graduates, he will leave.

How our students learned not to hate school

Students, especially students at the age of 16 or older, have a brain. If that brain is allowed to function and express itself, the whole child is empowered.

The biggest challenge in working with older students was re-teaching them to use their brain.  “I don’t know,” was not quite an acceptable answer for us. “I don’t know” means not wanting to think.

Little by little, we retaught our students to think by exploring choices and possibilities.

In order to graduate, students need a specific amount of courses in several subjects. Our teen students learned what courses they needed and what options they had to complete those courses.

Some of our 16-year-old students decided to take the California High School Proficiency Examination (CHSPE) which provides students with the equivalency of a high school diploma. By passing the CHSPE, our students were done with high school and could continue to college.

Most of the students (who chose not to take the CHSPE) decided to take fast-track courses that were offered online or at our local college. High schools can contact junior colleges to find out what courses are available to high school students.

Once our students entered the world of a junior college, they discovered an amazing array of courses that they were interested in. From hands-on courses to some fun courses (lifeguard, kayaking, art, etc.) most colleges offer something for everyone.

Quite interestingly, just as my high school students had stated years ago, all of the teen kids decided to take at least some courses that taught them a craft and allowed them to do something with their hands.

In the process of exploring what choices and options were out there in order to fulfill graduation requirements, our teen students learned to be responsible for their education and their life. It was what they had needed in the first place.


After reading the above article, some parents asked what choices children with learning disabilities had in Germany. Depending on the severity and kind of disability, children could either pick any of the existing choices or go to a “Sonderschule” (special school).

Here is a graphic showing the school choices and the “Sonderschule.”

Graphic of German School System

As described above, the Grundschule covers grades 1 to 4. Germany’s “Sonderschule” is nothing like special education in the United States.

The major difference between the American special education system and the German special education system is that special ed children in Germany are taught life skills!  Those skills include some academic knowledge. However, the major focus is on learning a craft (working with your hands) to be able to be independent, to earn money, and to function in society.

Mentally or physically challenged children are transported (at no cost to the parents) from home to school and back , if appropriate. Older children can stay in residential facilities to be with their peers.

While there is little mainstreaming of kids in school, the major socialization for all children occurs in the community. Most (community, not school) clubs offer sports, music, or any other activity and fully integrate all children.

When speaking to parents in Germany, it is always heart warming to hear their stories of autistic children, handicapped children, or any other special ed children and how those kids positively stun the community with their amazing  talents and abilities.

If you have any more specific questions, please feel free to contact us.


Read also: How to graduate high school early: 4 ways to finish high school at age 16