'Hang in there' principal advises parents of sleepy children after couple fined for teen's no show at school

The longstanding principal of a large New Zealand high school is advising parents to "hang in there" if they're struggling with tired children in the morning, following the case of two parents who were fined because their teenage son wasn't attending school. 

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Shirley Boys High School Principal of 23 years, John Laurenson, gives his thoughts. Source: 1 NEWS

The parents of a 15-year-old student were recently fined $50 each by the Dunedin District Court for their child's absence from an Otago high school. The parents said they couldn't get him out of bed. 

John Laurenson, headmaster at Christchurch's Shirley Boys' High School for 23 years, has one piece of advice for parents who're battling with their tired and unenthused kids in the morning.

"All I could really say is hang in there," Mr Laurenson told TVNZ1's Seven Sharp.

"Adolescence is a turbulent period. And for the vast, vast majority of young people they come right over a period of time. If you chip away at it, get them out of bed, then things fall into place," he said.

Parents or guardians are legally responsible for ensuring that their children are enrolled at school from ages six to 16.

They can be prosecuted if they fail to do so and fined up to $3000.

But it's also a rarity for truancy to get to court. The latest instance is only the fourth in six years, and the first since 2017.

On the idea of a later start to the school day, Mr Laurenson said, "if your community are ok with that why not".

But with both parents going to work from many households, he wouldn't be keen on leaving an adolescent at home to start school at, say, 10am.

"I'm very much an old school person. Early to bed and early to rise is the best way in my opinion. A boy or a girl languishing in bed beyond, let's say, 7am is to me anathema."

Mr Laurenson said in most cases truancy occurs because the right things weren't done when the child was born. 

"It's all about routines and management and involvement. If you try and address a problem that's entrenched over 10, 12 years, and you try and address that when the child is 15, it's not going to work."

There are parts of New Zealand where truancy is certainly a problem, often in areas with social and economic deprivation, Mr Laurenson said. 

"It's also true that we're trying to keep children at school longer. And that also creates a problem if there's disaffection with the child themselves."

But the seasoned educator said, without having statistics at hand, he'd like to believe truancy is "no worse now than what it was when I was a kid".