Teen Academic Issues and Mental Health

Your teen might be struggling at school academically or socially, and this article will address some tips to support your child make it through the challenges of junior high and high school.


However, first, let’s face it.  There are a lot of stressors for adolescents to manage.  In addition to the normal psychological tasks such as reaching for their independence, their uniqueness, and the role they will play in life, there is also the presence of other confused teenagers, family conflicts, and the lingering tendency to hang onto their childhood. Not to mention drugs, the pressure of new romantic relationships, extracurricular activities, and maintaining good grades! Plus, they must be thinking about possibly moving away from home, getting into college, and perhaps even what type of career they’re after.


On top of all of this there other stressful factors to consider that are the result of the last 10 years – cyber bullying, school shootings, and other types of school violence. No wonder teens have a hard time at school and with their assignments – the amount of stress can be overwhelming! There is a relationship between teen academic issues and the possibility of having a mental illness. Of course, there are many children and teens who do not have any indication of a psychological disorder and who are still struggling in school.


Yet, it should be noted that there are a significant number of children and teens in America with mental illnesses. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), four million children and adolescents suffer from a serious mental disorder, which causes significant impairment at home, school, work, or in relationships with peers. Furthermore, 21% of children between the ages of 7 and 19 have a psychological diagnosis or a substance abuse addiction that causes at least some impairment.


The following are ways to help a teen that might be struggling in school.


First, if you suspect a mental illness, have your child assessed by a therapist or psychologist. The assessment will provide information that might lead to a diagnosis and once there’s a diagnosis, treatment can begin. Treatment of anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorders would include talk therapy and/or medication. It’s true that it’s difficult to distinguish behavior that is common to adolescence versus behavior that indicates a psychological disorder. An assessment can help clear up this confusion.


If you’re clear that your child is not depressed or anxious or suicidal, then a clear focus on helping him or her with teen academic issues can begin. For instance, get clear on what the problem is. Your teen might be hiding report cards, throwing away letters from teachers, or avoiding discussions about classes. If grades are declining, teens might be fearful of punishment or embarrassed to admit their failures. For this reason, get in touch with teachers. Email or call the school to be clear about how your child is doing academically. This will provide you with the information you need to support your child.


Once you know how your teen is doing, perhaps you’re clear that it’s a social concern that is affecting his or her grades. Perhaps it’s apparent that it is a bullying problem, and not so much that your child doesn’t understand math. If it’s a social concern, seek support through administration at school, other parents, or friends of your teen who might have information about the social situations at school.


If it is an academic issue, celebrate what is going right before diving into the problems. Make a list of the classes and assignments in which your adolescent was successful. Having this as a spotlight first will be an easier platform from which to dive into addressing the problems.


Offer your child a helping hand with those subjects that are more complex. Sometimes getting out the textbooks on the dining room table can facilitate the start of getting work done. Even if you don’t know the complexities of the subject matter, working through problems with your teen is more effective than simply telling them how to do it.


Once you and your teen are working together or at least you’ve discussed the root of the problem, set realistic goals. It’s easy for teens to feel overwhelmed with work and in the end avoid the entire pile of tasks. Help them by breaking work down into bite size pieces so that it feels more and more manageable.


These tips are only a few of many that might be useful in getting your child back on the academic track. Of course, sometimes, the only thing that works is putting your foot down. However, if the issue is a sensitive one where your child feels embarrassed or shameful of the problem, the better course of action might be one of the above.