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Monday, December 28, 2015

FTM Advice Column: Ask Thomas

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FTM is partnering with Thomas Cox, Executive Director for Families Matters, to answer your tough family questions. If you have a question you'd like Thomas to ask, post in the comments section here, send a message to our Facebook or Twitter pages or shoot us a text at 859-379-5706. 

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Dear Thomas,

My 15 year-old son, Derek, is very much in danger of failing his sophomore year.

His biggest problem is he will not go to school. He misses at least one, sometimes two days a week. I wake him up every morning but then I leave before he does. Some days he goes back to bed, other days he leaves for school but just does not seem to make it there. Derek is failing everything. I cannot make him go to school; he just will not listen to me.

Derek’s father is no help, we’ve been divorced 5 years; he blames me for losing control and not being a good mother. I have tried everything but when it gets right down to it I can’t make Derek do what I tell him. He talks a good game but does not follow through.

He is not openly defiant but I admit I do not push him because I don’t want to force a confrontation I can’t win. How can I make Derek go to school and quit messing up?


Mom at Wits End

Dear Mom at Wits End, 

You can’t. 

I know that’s not what you want to hear but the reality is that Derek is doing what he wants. The question to answer is why, what is his plan? Instead of forcing a confrontation, initiate a discussion, a conversation over dinner, someplace public. 

Present your concerns and ask him what his plan is. Your goal is not to fight with him, you want to know that he knows what he’s doing. Be prepared for “nothing”, “I don’t know”, “I’ll be ok”, assure him you have confidence in him, you simply need to know his plan so you can prepare. Might help to pay a visit to the parent portal on the internet your school uses so you’re current on his academic progress.

Conversationally ask open-ended questions about the state of his grades and attendance; and he needs to recognize that the courts are holding parents accountable for truancy. Legally you have the right and the obligation to expect your child to go to school; surely he can understand you protecting yourself legally. Make sure the school is aware of your efforts and that it’s not a matter of you not making any effort. Please be open those efforts might include involving the juvenile court that your son is not going to school against your wishes and best documented efforts.  He can then present his plan to them. All done conversationally, no confrontation, no anger or yelling… Practice first!  

If you get no satisfaction try having the conversation with a third party involved, either someone from the juvenile courts or a family mediator.


Thomas Cox has been a youth and family mediator for almost 30 years. In that time he has been a family minister, been in private practice, run a school for at-risk kids, been the family counselor for an alcohol and drug treatment program and run an Intensive Outpatient alcohol and drug treatment program.

Thomas is a single parent with three kids, with an 18 year-old senior still at home, and three grandchildren. He is also an award winning professional comedian and motivational humorist, having performed in comedy clubs, schools, and been the keynote speaker for various social, community, and professional organizations.

Currently Thomas is in private practice offering problem solving services and is the Executive Director for Families Matter offering services to children, adolescents, parents and families.


  1. why has the school not filed truancy charges on ths juvenile? Is mom providing excuse notes to the school? Talking with a Court Designated Worker will give her some insight as to how to proceed. A mental health counselor would also be a good beginning. There may be some issues he is not willing to talk to his mother about, but would talk to a third party.

    1. Eventually the school will file truancy charges, I encourage mom not to wait for that, be more proactive. I do recommend third party intervention but it's a process that should begin at home, if that's possible. CDW would be very helpful but parents are often reluctant to engage the court for fear their kids be labeled criminals. I am a fan of counseling but I prefer starting with a family mediator, personal/professional preference!! ;)