Factors of Poor School Performance in Teens

Has your teen always struggled in school, so you’re not surprised that his or her school performance is poor? Maybe you’re shocked because your child has always gotten good grades and now you’re seeing Cs, Ds and Fs instead of the characteristic As and Bs. When your adolescent isn’t performing well in school, there could be one or more of several factors involved. Take a look through this list and see whether any might apply to your teen. Getting a handle on poor school performance now could help your teen not only now but also well into the future.


Learning Disabilities

ADHD, dyslexia, high-functioning autism, and a variety of other learning disabilities usually present themselves during the elementary school years. Sometimes, however, a child can muddle through elementary and even middle school with these conditions because they find ways to adapt. They might be highly auditory learners, for example, and they might not let on that they’re having trouble reading. By the time high school comes, however, there’s no more squeaking by, and the teen’s grades reflect it.

If your teen has always struggled in school and hasn’t been diagnosed with any type of learning disability or another disorder, now might be the time to have him or her evaluated. Even if you think the problem is low motivation or laziness, you might be surprised to learn that your adolescent has been dealing with ADHD or high-functioning autism.


Anxiety or Depression

When a teen is struggling with a mental health issue, it can cause poor school performance, including declining grades. If your teen is dealing with the symptoms of either depression or anxiety, it’s natural that their first priority is not schoolwork.

The symptoms of depression include:

  • Sadness, hopelessness, or a feeling of constant discouragement.
  • Frequent crying or being on the verge of tears.
  • Anger and irritation.
  • Sleeping too much or too little.
  • Appetite changes.
  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family.
  • Fatigue and a lack of energy.
  • Headaches, stomach aches, muscular pains.
  • Suicidal thoughts or a suicide attempt.

The symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Feelings of dread or fear.
  • Difficulty focusing, preoccupation on one thing.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep.
  • Hypervigilance, pacing, the inability to sit down.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Avoiding situations that might trigger anxiety (such as going to school, riding on a bus, or interacting with people).


Grief or Family Issues

If your family has recently gone through a big loss such as a death or a divorce, your teen might be grieving or otherwise unable to get his or her schoolwork done. It’s important to understand the five stages of grief and to talk to your teen’s guidance counselor or school social worker about ways that he or she can be supported in school. Depending on the situation, your teen might need to take some time off or utilize a homebound or online school program while getting past the event that is causing the problem.



A teen who is being bullied might avoid going to school, skip certain classes, or be unable to concentrate on his or her schoolwork. Bullying is a rampant issue in schools today. Most schools have an anti-bullying policy, so if you suspect that your child is being bullied, it’s important to find out what the policy is and follow the steps outlined by the school or district. At a minimum, the school administration should be involved. No one should feel unsafe in school.

Cyberbullying, which is bullying that takes place over the Internet, through email, or via text, is less visible than physical bullying but every bit as harmful. Set reasonable boundaries on your teen’s online activities and be aware of behaviors that could indicate that he or she is the victim (or the perpetrator) of cyberbullying.


Physical Health Issues

A teen who is suffering from a physical health issue might have a hard time focusing on school, resulting in poor school performance. It could be as simple as the need for eyeglasses; in this case, your teen might not be able to see the materials the teacher is using to teach and might be getting headaches and eyestrain. More serious health issues that could cause trouble in school include:

  • Diabetes
  • Anemia
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

Mononucleosis is somewhat common in teenagers and can cause fatigue and the inability to do schoolwork. Even the common cold can cause some issues with schoolwork, though its duration is generally limited to a week or so.

Any physical symptoms reported by your teen should be checked by a doctor if they’ve lasted longer than a week or two. Treatment could make a big difference when it comes to how your teen is feeling, and this will likely improve his or her grades.


Substance Use, Abuse or Addiction

A teen who is dropping friends, losing interest in activities, and not doing schoolwork might be dealing with a substance abuse issue. If left unchecked, it could rapidly spiral into a full-blown addiction. It’s important to know the signs of drug abuse. They include:

  • A disheveled, dirty appearance
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Changes in appetite
  • Uncharacteristic hyperactivity
  • Lethargy

Physical signs of drug abuse include:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Nosebleeds
  • Digestive problems
  • Skin lesions

If you see these symptoms, talk to your teen. Any of these signs can indicate a problem other than drug use and they should be checked by a doctor. Make an appointment with your teen’s physician to rule out or confirm a wide variety of physical and mental health issues if your child does not admit to using drugs.



Dealing with poor school performance can be frustrating and stressful to parents. Keep in mind that in many cases, it will also be stressful for your son or daughter. They do not want to struggle in school. A meeting with your child’s guidance counselor can help; they might be able to switch your teen to less demanding classes or arrange for special education services if needed. Try to be patient and keep it all in perspective while encouraging your teenager to take the steps necessary to maintain acceptable grades and graduate.