Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

3 Common Reasons Why Your Teen Struggles in School

How to effectively help your teen maintain academic success.

For teens who struggle with symptoms related to attention deficit disorder, a recurring pattern emerges during the school year. In the beginning, they start out fantastic, with their syllabus, notes, and daily assignments organized by each class in their binders. Then slowly they start to get unorganized.

Either they start with forgetting to turn in assignments, or they neglect to do their assignments. By the time the school contacts you as the parent or guardian, things have taken a turn for the worse. Your son or daughter is several assignments behind and in some cases has given up on taking school seriously. This is usually revealed during the last quarter of the second semester.

In this post, we'll discuss three common reasons your teen struggles in school and how to effectively intervene.

They Are Easily Overwhelmed

The first reason your teen struggles in school may be because he or she gets easily overwhelmed. This is a common symptom with people who struggle with ADHD: They tend to think too fast and feel easily overloaded when they are faced with multiple obligations. A good example would be if your teen has homework in three classes due the following morning at school. However, he has his daily chores at home, and he is insistent on that he is going to get some quality time on his video game.

In cases like this, by the time he is done playing his game, he does not have enough time to attend to his chores and his assignments. Chances are, he or she will do the chores, as fast as possible to get you off his or her case and skip the assignments. Most parents in this situation are choosing not to get into a confrontation with their teen about assignments and will limit confrontation to chores, which are easy to observe. That is, until the parent is contacted by the school.

The solution is for parents to engage in strategic micromanaging. Typically, micromanaging of teenagers is a recipe for prolonged feelings of resentment from the teen. Therefore, strategic micromanaging is recommended. With strategic micromanaging, parents can set up a time with their teen, once a week, where the teen is supposed to come with all their assignments given for the week and for the following week. The parent will then take an inventory of what has been completed and what is due.

With this strategy, parents can keep a pulse of where their teen is in regularly meeting his or her academic obligations. It also works in keeping your teen honest.

They Have a Learning Disability

From dyslexia to dyscalculia, sometimes children can get by with self-improvised coping strategies they have developed over the years. That is until the work gets too complex to improvise. Which is usually by their teenage years. When this happens, your teen will have developed some pretty powerful defense mechanisms to keep anyone from discovering their learning deficit, which they are most likely ashamed of.

These defense mechanisms can range from outbursts to seemingly lethargic behavior when you approach the teen to help with his or her work. Some teens can be so committed to hiding their deficits that parents and teachers end up being focused on the defiant behavior, with the belief that the behavior is the real issue.

Now the obvious answer to a learning disability is getting your teen specialized help. Which is often provided through the school. Prior to this, the real challenge will be for parents to work their way through their teen’s defense mechanisms, in order to get to the real issue.

A tried and true strategy for this will be to adopt a calm and non-reactive response to any defiant behaviors your teen displays around schoolwork. This will be coupled with stern consequences of a loss of privileges while inviting your teen to work with you.

For parents who believe their teens will hold their breaths indefinitely on the issue, or that they have run out of privileges to take, there is another strategy. Create a reward, for your teen to sit with you once a week, while you both take an inventory of how he or she is doing in school.

They Have Poor Impulse Control

Poor impulse control isn’t often as extreme as it sounds; instead, it’s often subtle. Often what poor impulse control looks like, is being easily distracted in the classroom from taking notes, excessive daydreaming and simply engaging in other activities instead of schoolwork, at school or at home.

For parents with teens whose issues with impulse control are severe, they are lucky. This is because with severe impulse control, the behaviors are so severe, they demand constant attention from parents. Which inevitably leads to much-needed intervention.

However, for the more subtle types of poor impulse control, parents are not alerted to what’s going on, until the school year is almost over. Even then, these types of poor impulse control issues are so subtle that even if the teen is failing school, parents still don’t understand why, except for the fact that the teen is not doing his or her schoolwork.

The strategy for this is the same as the one given for teens who are easily overwhelmed: strategic micromanaging. Parents should schedule a meeting with their teens at least once a week, to perform an inventory of how they are doing in school. If your teen struggles with the subtle type of poor impulse control, you will recognize something is wrong by the fourth scheduled meeting.