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School Problems

The Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development estimates that about one quarter of the adolescent population is at risk of academic failure and other problem behaviors. Another quarter is considered “moderately” at risk (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1989). The most serious of the problems associated with school failure is the almost inevitable unemployment or underemployment that follows.

At some point every teen has school problems. It’s inevitable. One cannot spend that much time someplace and not have problems. If your teen does not have or never has had school problems, then you might not be paying enough attention. This article may be just what you need to pull your head out of the sand.

This of course doesn’t apply to the vast majority of parents with teenagers. School problems are not limited to academics. School problems may involve being bullied or being a bully. School problems also include problems of the heart, like a broken heart. School problems may be based on drug or alcohol abuse or depression and anxiety. All of these factors and more can be a factor if your teen is having school problems.

A teenager’s life has always been fraught with perils and uncertainties.

Lynn Magdol’s report; Risk Factors for Adolescent Academic Achievement was published in 1992 identifies 22 individual, family, cultural and school factors that impact adolescent academic achievement. Many of these factors are out of the control of individual families, but they are certainly factors to be considered in understanding any academic problems your teem may be having. This research is 15 years old, but the findings are just as valid today as they were then.

22 factors that impact adolescent academic achievement.

  1. Being Below Grade Level
  2. Low achievement test scores
  3. Poor self-concept and low sense of control
  4. Behavior problems
  5. Delinquent behavior
  6. Earlier school problems
  7. Low socioeconomic status
  8. Ethnic minority status
  9. Single-parent and stepparent families
  10. Maternal employment
  11. Low parental aspirations and expectations
  12. Permissive or strict parenting style
  13. Poor parental monitoring
  14. Low parental involvement with school
  15. Lack of friends
  16. Friends with school problems
  17. Friends with negative attitudes
  18. Ineffective teachers
  19. Inflexible curriculum
  20. Lack of counseling services for at-risk students
  21. School transitions
  22. Weak administrative support

You can read the entire report HERE.

Your situation may have some, most or even none of these risk factors. Regardless of the nature of the risk, the challenge for all parents is how to support your teen, especially when they are not too keen on your help.

Your teen’s revulsion to accepting your help may be an advantage for you. Parents have difficulty at times staying on their side of the road when it comes to their teens, but you must remember that school problems are your teen’s problems. It is your job to work WITH them to come up with THEIR plan of action. This is NOT your plan. It’s your teen’s plan. With that in mind you can support your teen in ways that actually work.

Here are 10 ideas to get you started.

  1. Listen to understand your teen’s viewpoint of the problem. They may not even see a problem.
  2. Ask open ended questions. Yes or No questions get Yes an No answers. This gets old for both of you fast.
  3. How does your teen want to approach the problem. (See the problem as a learning tool for them.)
  4. Hire a tutor if it is indicated.
  5. Get academic testing if it is indicated.
  6. Practice being in the passenger seat when meetings with school personnel are scheduled. Let them lead.
  7. Acknowledge efforts, no matter how small or inconsistent. This is critical to turn the ship around.
  8. Enforce curfews and betimes. I know they will complain, but they need their sleep.
  9. Feed them, feed them, feed them. Not junk food. Have a variety of healthy snacks around. (Fruit, cheese, crackers, nuts, etc.)
  10. Reduce and eliminate distractions such as TV, video games, cellular phones, etc. Don’t mess with their music. Teens really do focus better with it.

I hope this is helpful and give you some ideas about where you can start to help your teen with their school problems.

Please share this post and comment.

About Ray

I was raised in a small town in Michigan. I was the middle child of 3 boys in a moderately dysfunctional family. I was fortunate to fall into the Hero role hat afforded me the very best that my family could provide. As a hero child, I was the first to go to college. College opened my eyes and my mind. College also turned out to be the bane of my family. To make along story short, at 38 years old and a new social worker, I learned of the dark secrets my family held. The more I reached out to help the family, the more the pushed me away until, I could not longer have contact with any family members. It's been nearly 30 years now. It's just better that way. As a result, I've focused my career on helping families, especially families with teenagers. I've always worked with teens, since I was 19 years-old I've worked with teens as a teacher, counselor, social worker and psychotherapist. I am still passionate about working with teens and their families, but am focused on working with large groups with multiple families in attendance. Part of my desire to accomplish on this website is to create a place for discussion of families, adolescents, their ever present angst. I want to share with parents of teens some of what the wisdom I've gained from 30 years of working with teenagers and their families. Please visit for awhile. Read some articles, make some comments or share a post with your friends or colleagues. I'm at your service.

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