School Problems: What to Expect During the Teen Years

Whether your teen struggled with school during his or her elementary school years or sailed right through earning high grades, you might be surprised and dismayed if school problems either begin or continue during high school. There are several reasons why grades might plummet (or fail to improve) during the teen years: Some teens take too heavy a course load, some are apathetic for various reasons, and others struggle with mental health conditions or learning disorders. It’s important to understand the root issue of problems with school. Read on to find out about some of these issues as well as what you might expect once the underlying problem is discovered

School Problems

Teens today might be under more stress than adolescents in previous generations which causes school problems to start with. First, they are worried about how they will get into and pay for college. Grades are competitive, and the most studious teens tend to take it to heart if they are falling behind. Most teens participate in school sports or other extracurricular activities. Many schools require adolescents to participate in community service hours in order to graduate. On top of those pressures, some teens are dealing with parental divorces, issues with friends, bullying, and even fears of violence in school. All of this can take its toll and cause stress overload.

If you suspect that your teen is suffering from anxiety and too much stress, you might need to have a serious talk with them about whether they can cut back. As a parent, you may even need to insist that they drop an activity or move from an AP or Honors course into regular college prep. If you believe that your teen is more anxious than his or her peers, you might consider seeking counseling for them. Some adolescents have anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other issues that can stem from stress, and therapy can help.

Depression and Other Mental Health Issues

Is your teen refusing to get out of bed in the morning? Does he or she seem not to care about schoolwork at all? If your teenager is isolating him- or herself, apathetic to school in general, and dropping out of extracurricular activities that they once enjoyed, depression could be the culprit. There are other mental health issues that could also cause a decline in school performance, including social anxiety and bipolar disorder. Many times, these conditions begin during the teen years and will directly cause school problems.

If you think that your child has depression, it’s important to have him or her evaluated by a medical professional. Their regular doctor can perform a depression screening to find out if they need to be referred to a mental health specialist. Catching depression early can help your teen in many ways; not only will his or her school problems start to disappear, but you could be warding off suicidal ideation and issues such as addictions.


Drug and alcohol use, abuse, and addiction can all lead to school problems. Teens might experiment with drugs and alcohol, which can cause dips in school performance. If the experimentation becomes a regular habit or if they become addicted, it’s likely that their grades will fall rapidly. It’s very difficult for a teenager to maintain a high GPA while also battling (or succumbing to) a substance addiction.

Addictions in teens take intensive counseling, group therapy, family therapy, and, in some cases, medication to treat. If you suspect that your teen is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Your teen might insist that he or she does not have a problem; this is the addiction speaking. Talk to your pediatrician or family doctor about how you can intervene and get your teen the treatment he or she desperately needs.

Learning Disorders

Some teens struggle with school during the younger years but only really begin failing once they hit high school. Many of these adolescents might be dealing with learning or developmental disorders such as ADHD, high-functioning autism, or dyslexia which add or create school problems. Parents sometimes feel shocked by this revelation, but some children are able to work around not being able to read well or not picking up on social cues. Once they hit the high school years, expectations are high and they might not be able to keep up or hide their struggles any longer.

If your teen has a learning disorder, they should see a specialist who can help them catch up. Some teens might only require tutoring, while others will need special accommodations via an individualized educational program, also known as an IEP. Most individuals with learning disorders that have gone undiagnosed until the teen years will be able to graduate from high school and go on to live independently; various therapies can help your teen catch up to his or her peers and/or work around any issues that will persist into adulthood.

Choosing a Path

Some teens who are not doing well in school are simply in the process of choosing a path to follow. For example, if your adolescent has been taking higher level courses and has decided that maybe they’d like to go into a trade rather than pursue a four-year degree, they might begin slacking back in their academics in an effort to figure out what they really want to do. This is common and can be short-lived. Talk to your teenager about what he or she is thinking about doing in the future, and encourage them to try a new path if that’s what they want to do.

Remember that in the grand scheme of things, what grade your high schooler gets in 10th grade English or Algebra II is not going to matter much after several years have passed. While it’s important to encourage your teen to do well in school, if there is a condition or a circumstance causing him or her to struggle, it’s more important to get to the bottom of the issue. Remember that the coping skills your teen learns now will serve him or her well into adulthood, so be supportive and encourage them to try their best while also taking care of their physical and mental health.

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