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Teen Academic Problems and How to Handle Them

Teen Academic Problems

When you have teen academic problems, it’s natural for parents to worry: Will they be able to make it in life with poor grades in high school? How will they get into college? Is there a problem that goes beyond a lack of motivation? Whether your teen has struggled in school all along or they are just beginning to show signs of academic troubles, it’s important to get to the bottom of the issue and think about solutions. Read on to find out some of the common reasons for teen academic problems as well as some actions you can take to help.


Learning Disabilities, ADHD, and Autism


One common cause of teen academic problems in teenagers is a learning disability. Learning disabilities can range from mild to severe, and they can affect various parts of the learning cycle. Dyslexia is one learning disability that affects the way the brain processes visual information: A student with dyslexia will often see letters transposed, making it difficult for them to read. There are also auditory processing disorders and other types of learning disabilities.


ADHD is a type of learning disability that can cause problems focusing and, in some teens, staying still. ADHD is usually diagnosed during the elementary years, but some children with ADHD manage to pass through elementary school without their condition being detected. As the workload and difficulty ramps up in middle school and high school, however, they have a hard time keeping up with schoolwork.


Finally, autism is another condition that is usually detected during early childhood. Mild autism, which is sometimes called Asperger Syndrome, however, can go unnoticed until the high school years. Teens with mild autism often have social issues: They tend not to understand social cues, they might be bullied, and they might interrupt the teacher or fail to answer questions appropriately in class.


Anxiety or Depression


The teen years are often a roller coaster of emotions and stress, so it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether behaviors are typical or indicative of a bigger problem. Anxiety and depression are two mental health issues that affect many teens. One sign of these types of mental health issues is declining school performance. In addition, declining school performance can lead to or exacerbate depression or anxiety.


Additional symptoms of anxiety include:


  • Insomnia
  • Not eating enough or eating too much
  • Trembling
  • Racing heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Avoiding school or leaving the house


Symptoms of depression are:


  • Sadness that lasts two weeks or more
  • Feelings of hopeless, guilt, or anger
  • Frequent crying or angry outbursts
  • Isolation, not coming out of their bedroom
  • Canceling or avoiding plans with friends
  • Loss of interest in activities that they once enjoyed
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation


If you notice these symptoms in your teen, schedule an appointment with his or her primary care physician, who can screen them for mental health issues and refer them to a specialist as necessary. If you believe that your teen is in immediate danger (due to a suicide attempt or threat), call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.




Teens who abuse alcohol or drugs often do not keep up with their schoolwork. As their abuse turns into dependence and, finally, an addiction, it is common for young people to skip school, to get into trouble, and to stop caring about academics. If you believe that your teen is using substances, it is important to address the situation quickly and take them to their primary care doctor for an evaluation and a referral for treatment.


Lack of Motivation


A lack of motivation in school can stem from many different issues. You might call it “goofing off” or “laziness,” but, in general, teens who stop wanting to do their schoolwork and succeed academically are often dealing with an underlying issue. It could be one of the issues listed above, a behavioral condition (such as ODD or an anger issue), or a poor match in the learning environment.

Teen Academic Problems


Not every school or learning situation is right for every individual student. While most teenagers will thrive in most public and private schools, some do better in technical schools, magnet schools, charter schools, alternative schools, military schools, and online schools. If teen academic problems has your teen struggling in his or her current school, it might be worth looking into the various options available in your area and considering switching to a different educational environment.


Tips for Parents


It can be frustrating when teens, for whatever reason, do not keep their grades up. Here are some ways you can help them turn the situation around:


  • Talk to them about what is happening. Your teen likely has insight into why he or she is struggling. They might feel overcome with stress or social anxiety or they might be having a hard time with the material. Ask what they think the solution might be. Your teen might surprise you by having an insightful suggestion.
  • Seek professional care if you suspect a serious problem. If you are concerned that your teen is struggling with a mental health condition or a learning disability, these are issues that require the assistance of a professional. Talk to your primary care physician, the school guidance counselor, or a therapist, if you already have one.
  • Work with the guidance office. Your teen’s guidance counselor will have suggestions for getting caught up. He or she might be able to switch your teen to easier classes or recommend a different educational track.
  • Set goals. If your teen is currently failing several classes, it is probably unreasonable to expect them to get on the honor roll next semester. A goal that is too lofty will just set up your teen for disappointment. Bringing up their gpa to a 2.0, for example, might be more achievable for the immediate future.


It is important to remember that grades are not the end-all-be-all of your teen’s entire life; chances are good that he or she will be able to overcome the obstacles in the way and go on to live productively and happily. Explore the issues contributing to teen academic problems and work together to create a better learning experience.


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