How to Handle Teen Academic Problems

With the new school year upon us, many parents are concerned about how their teenagers will do in school. If your teen has had academic problems in the past, you might worry about whether he or she will be able to succeed this year. It is important to find out the root cause of your teenager’s academic issues: Some parents assume the problem is behavioral when it might be a learning disability, a mental health issue, or even a physical health issue to blame. Read on to discover some tips on how to handle teen academic problems.


Keep the Main Goal in Mind

Your teen might feel embarrassed or ashamed of poor grades, and this can lead him or her to get defensive when asked or confronted about school performance. Remember that you and your teen are on the same side; they should understand that you’re not the enemy. Work together to determine what the goal is: Is it to get on the honor roll? To pass math? While those are great achievements, they’re not the end-all-be-all of the entire situation.

Keep in mind that it’s not all about the grades: If your teen is struggling, chances are good that there’s something else going on, and that “something else” is what needs to be solved along with the poor grades or undone schoolwork. This is where various professionals might need to come together to help your teen face whatever obstacles are standing in his or her way.


Talk to Your Teen’s Guidance Counselor

Your high school student’s guidance counselor can be an invaluable resource when it comes to making sure that your teen is in the right classes commensurate with his or her ability and interest. In some school districts, this is not always done automatically, so a meeting with the guidance counselor can be a good way to get your teen switched into classes that are the right difficulty.

In addition, guidance counselors have a lot of experience helping young people overcome various teen academic problems. Your high school might also have a social worker on staff who can help if there are personal or family issues getting in the way of your teen’s school success. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the staff at your child’s school to get him or her the assistance they need so they can do well both academically and socially.


Take Your Teen for an Evaluation

There are many conditions that can cause academic problems in teenagers. These include learning disabilities, autism, ADHD, and mental health issues. Taking your teen to their primary care physician is a good first step toward ruling out or discovering one or more of these teen academic problems.

If a problem is found, you will likely be referred to a specialist of some sort. In addition, your teen might be eligible for special plans at school that will help them to succeed. These include the IEP and the 504 plan. You will likely need to advocate for your teen to be sure that they are getting the help they need if they do qualify for one of these special plans.


Common Reasons for Teen Academic Problems

Teenagers are not only under a lot of stress but they are also in the phase of life where they might develop learning disorders and mental health issues. Any of these issues can interfere with academic success. They include

  • Autism. While the vast majority of autism cases are diagnosed during early childhood, some teens, particularly those with Asperger Syndrome, or high-functioning autism, go undiagnosed. If your teen has always been “quirky” or has had trouble making friends and relating to others, an evaluation for autism is warranted.
  • Learning disabilities. Most learning disabilities are suspected and confirmed during the elementary school years, but teens with mild learning disabilities or excellent coping methods might not have been. The work gets more difficult and expectations rise during the middle school and high school years, so some children are able to succeed in elementary school even with learning disabilities only to find that once they get into the upper grades, the schoolwork seems impossible. A variety of processing disorders, vision issues (such as dyslexia) and other learning disabilities should be screened for during the teen years if academic problems are persistent. ADHD is another disorder that can affect teens and go undiagnosed for many years.
  • Behavioral issues. Some teens have disorders such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and anger management issues. These can affect school success and should be treated before adulthood.
  • Social anxiety. A teen who is avoiding school or feeling very anxious while in school due to social anxiety is not likely to have good grades. If your adolescent is reluctant to go to school, doesn’t have friends, or shows physical symptoms of stress when they have to speak in front of the class, they might have social anxiety.
  • Depression. Depression can cause a teen to completely lose interest in not only school but also socializing, sports, extracurricular activities, and their part-time job. A teen who is isolating him- or herself in the bedroom, not paying attention to personal hygiene, and crying or showing signs of sadness for two weeks needs an evaluation for depression.
  • Addiction. If your teen is using or abusing alcohol or drugs, they might have a tolerance or addiction to the substance. This often leads to failure in school. Addiction requires specialized care and may become a lifelong battle, so prompt treatment is necessary.


No matter what the reason is for your child’s teen academic problems, let them know that you are there for them. Work together to find the problem and the solution. It might require medical care, mental health counseling, and meetings with his or her guidance counselor. Knowing that you are on their side will help your teen face whatever is standing between them and good grades. It will also reassure them that you believe in them; this can raise their self-esteem and help transform them into a confident and productive adult. Talk to your teen’s doctor if you have concerns and go from there to find the appropriate treatment.


Further Reading

top Skip to content