Future is grim for dropouts

By on March 26, 2013

Dear Kathleen,

I hate school, and I’m just barely passing every class except math, which I’m failing. I’m almost 16 and I told my parents that I want to drop out right now. My mother cried and my father yelled. They both say that I will have a hard life but my dad never finished high school and he does okay. Please tell them to let me drop out because I really can’t stand going back to school. It’s so boring.
– Andrew

Dear Andrew,
You’re barking up the wrong tree by asking me to give you permission to drop out of high school. I’m a champion of realizing one’s full potential and this is almost impossible without education or training for a career that will allow you to express yourself as well as pay the bills.

You make it clear that you don’t like school and don’t do very well in your classes, but there may be some good reasons for this challenge, so let’s look at some solutions before I offer some information that might change your mind.

Many students drop out because they don’t like school and, like you, find most of their classes to be boring. To be sure, some teachers are more animated and entertaining in their presentation of subject matter, but even a boring teacher may be offering you some interesting information.

Often students enter high school with deficits in some important skills — such as reading comprehension — that negatively affect their performance in almost every subject. So by the time they’re high school freshmen, they are playing a hard game of catch-up. Is this the case for you, Andrew? Do you need some extra help from teachers or a tutor to get you on track in your classes?

Many students get behind because they lack focus or good study habits. If this is a problem for you, your parents and teachers can help with this by checking assignments with you and offering their support for structure that helps you get your assignments done and turned in on time. I know several young people who actually complete most of their homework, but forget to turn it in. That’s just . . . well that’s just goofy. Do you do that, Andrew? If you do, get a notebook or planner or smart phone that will remind you to turn your stuff in, especially if you’ve gone through all the hard work of doing it in the first place.

Have you been tested for any kind of learning disability that may make learning frustrating or overly difficult? If not, talk with your parents about this. There are many solutions to learning or attention problems, but first you must know if you’re dealing with one.

Many students at high school age make poor decisions about school. Skipping with friends may seem more desirable than heading to Language Arts class, but in the long run, most discover that this wasn’t a very good choice.

In the past, there were plenty of blue-collar factory jobs that allowed people without much formal education the opportunity to earn a good living if they were willing to work hard. Perhaps, this is why your father was able to support your family even though he didn’t complete high school. But those kinds of jobs are almost gone in America, and the ones that still exist are more often asking for a minimum of a high school diploma in order to apply.

In today’s world, education and training are the only way to create a career path that will offer you a decent standard of living.

Here are the facts: In spite of legislation such as the No Child Left Behind Act, groundbreaking studies show an alarming problem with high school students. Nearly a third of high school students don’t graduate on time. Among blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, this rate is almost half. Research has shown that high school dropouts earn an average of $9,200 less a year than those who graduate. And the discrepancy in income is getting worse. Statistics compiled in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2000 Kids Count Data Book back this up. From 1973 to 1999, the average hourly wage (adjusted for inflation) of high school dropouts fell 24 percent.

Over the course of a lifetime, the gap in earning potential between a high school dropout and a high school graduate is $260,000. The average shortfall in lifetime earnings for a dropout, when compared to a student who goes on to complete college, is well over a million dollars.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, high school dropouts are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to need government assistance, and are at an increased risk to end up in jail (about 68 percent of prison inmates are high school dropouts).

Interestingly, a survey conducted in March 2006 found that a whopping 81 percent of dropouts said they now believe that graduation from high school was important to success in life. In other words, from this adult perspective they regretted their decision to drop out.

Andrew, please don’t make a decision now that you will regret in the future. Talk with your parents and your teachers. Get some extra help if you need it. Learn how to focus, study, and prepare. You will need those skills throughout your life unless you want to settle for a menial, repetitive job.

If you have other problems, like with drugs, alcohol, or dysfunction in your family, talk with your school psychologist or guidance counselor. The decisions you make today, will dramatically affect your future. Think long and hard about that.

Send your personal coaching questions to kathleen@fullpotentialliving.com or call 473-4004. Kathleen is a personal and executive coach, clinical psychologist, and writer. (©2012 Kathleen Brehony. All rights reserved.)

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