Parents of students at Adrian High School in Michigan will face stiffer penalties if their teen skips school this year. The city's commissioners approved an ordinance last week that could potentially punish parents of absent teens with a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail.
Michigan is not the only state using legal avenues to crack down on truancy. In Illinois, excessive absences—nine unexcused absences or more—are considered a form of child neglect, a misdemeanor that can carry a penalty for parents of up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. The law was updated last year to reduce the number of days a student could miss before truancy courts step in.
Skipping school can mean serious consequences for teens, too. High school students deemed truants can have their driving privileges revoked in some states, and many districts ban truant students from participating in school sports or extracurricular activities.
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If the threat of fines or jail time isn't enough to prompt parents to address truancy, research suggests that teens who regularly skip school are more likely than their peers to drop out of school or experiment with drugs and alcohol.
Keeping track of your teen during the school day can be difficult when juggling work and other family obligations, so parents should take note if their teen starts falling behind in school work, changes his or her school-day routine, or spends a lot of time with friends who aren't in school—all possible signs of truant behavior according to the Bellevue School District in Washington.
Parents who discover their teen is truant, or in danger of being classified as truant, should make an effort to uncover why their student is avoiding school.
"A lot of times, when children are missing school it's because there's a problem," says Renee Jackson, manager of school relationships and diversity with the National PTA.
Talking to your teen's teachers can give you insight into any bullying or personal issues prompting them to miss school. Establishing that relationship before issues arise by attending parent-teacher conferences and school events is key to heading off any attendance issues, Jackson adds.
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"Don't just be there when things are going bad," she says.
Although physically checking in on students often isn't possible, parents can make sure their teens get to school and stay there for the day by calling the school's main office or checking in with their teachers via E-mail. Many school districts have online portals so parents can monitor their student's progress and even check their attendance records.
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