If Your Teen Begins to Fail in School

Teens at risk for school failure

School failureMany teens experience a time when keeping up with schoolwork is difficult. These periods may last several weeks and may include social problems as well as a slide in academic performance. Problems are more likely to occur during a transition in their lives ― moving from elementary to middle school, from middle school to high school, moving to a new school.

Some teens are able to get through this time with minimal assistance from their parents or teachers.  It may be enough for a parent to be available simply to listen and suggest coping strategies, provide a supportive home environment, and encourage the child’s participation in school activities. 

However, when the difficulties last longer than a single grading period, or are linked to a long-term pattern of poor school performance or behavior problems, parents and teachers need to intervene.

Common signs of a teen at risk for school failure

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  • Attention problems as a young child ― the student has a school history of attention issues or disruptive behavior.
  • Multiple retentions in grade ― the student has been retained one or more years.
  • Poor grades ― the student consistently performs at barely average or below average levels.
  • Absenteeism ― the student is absent five or more days per term.
  • Lack of connection with the school ― the student is not involved in sports, music, or other school-related extracurricular activities.
  • Behavior problems ― the student may be frequently disciplined or show a sudden change in school behavior, such as withdrawing from class discussions.
  • Lack of confidence ― the student believes that success is linked to native intelligence rather than hard work, that his or her own ability is “not good enough,” and nothing can be done to change the situation.
  • Limited goals for the future ― the student seems unaware of available career options or how to attain those goals.

The Role of Parenting Style

Parenting style may have an impact on the child’s school behavior.  Many experts distinguish among permissive, authoritarian, and authoritative parenting styles.  These parenting styles are associated with different combinations of warmth, support, boundaries and supervision.

The permissive style tends to emphasize warmth and neglect boundaries and supervision; the authoritarian style tends to emphasize supervision and not boundaries; while the authoritative style is one in which parents offer warmth, support, boundaries, and supervision.  When the authoritative parenting style is used, the teen is more likely to experience academic success.

It is important to remember that teens need their parents not only to set appropriate expectations and boundaries, but also to advocate for them.

Parents – and teachers – can help teens

  • Make the time to listen to and try to understand the teen’s fears or concerns
  • Set appropriate boundaries for behavior that are consistently enforced
  • Encourage the teen to participate in one or more school activities
  • Attend school functions, such as plays, concerts, and sports events
  • Meet as a team, including parents, teachers, and school counselor, asking how they can support the teen’s learning environment, and sharing their expectations for the teen’s future
  • Arrange tutoring or study group support for the teen from the school or the community through organizations such as the local YMCA or a local college or university
  • Provide a supportive home and school environment that clearly values education
  • Help the teen think about career options by arranging for visits to local companies and colleges, picking up information on careers and courses, and encouraging an apprenticeship, internship or career-oriented part-time job
  • Encourage the teen to participate in community groups such as the YMCA, Scouting, 4-H, religious organizations, or other service-oriented groups to provide an out-of-school support system
  • Emphasize the importance of study skills, hard work, and follow-through

Don’t Give Up on Your Child

Understanding the factors that may put a teen at risk for school failure will help parents determine if their teen is in need of extra support. Above all, parents need to persevere. The teen years do pass, and most adolescents survive them, in spite of bumps along the way.

Being aware of common problems can help parents know when it is important to reach out and ask for help before a difficult time develops into a more serious situation.


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