Help Your Teen Who is Struggling With School

Help Your Teenager Who Is Struggling in School

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There are many challenges that come with parenting. One of the biggest challenges for my family has been in school. I teach elementary school, so getting through that, although it wasn’t easy, was much more manageable. But, since the kids went to middle school, we have spent many, many hours trying to help a teenager who is struggling in school.

Each of our 3 kids is different and had different needs.  All of them had struggles with social maturity and the issues that go along with growing up. Our 2 girls had a few struggles with classwork and homework.  But they were both willing to seek help from their teachers or from us as needed.

This was not the case with our son. We spent TONS of time helping him throughout his K-12 academic career. And we made many mistakes along the way.  Here are some tips we successfully used to help a teenager who is struggling in school.

Help Your Teenager by Staying Informed 

One of the most important ways to help a teenager who is struggling in school is by staying informed. Yes, teenagers should be given more responsibility for their schoolwork and grades. But, if you have a teenager that struggles in school, you will need to stay informed a lot longer than you would have otherwise. There are several ways to stay informed. Here are just a few.

Help Your Teenager Who is Struggling in School

Check Their Grades 

As a parent of a teenager struggling in school, one of the best ways to stay informed is to check their grades. I would recommend checking them 1-3 times a week, if possible. By staying on top of your teen’s grades, you will know what scores they have.  You will also know which assignments they have turned in and what might be missing.

In the age of technology, there are many ways to check your teenager’s grades. Our local school system has a parent portal.  This portal links up with the attendance and grading software the teachers use. All I had to do was download the app and log in to see their grades in every subject.  We could also access the info on a computer. 

If you’re not able to access an online system, you could request your student’s grades some other way. You call the school weekly and request a grade update. Or you could ask for their grades to be mailed. Either way, checking grades is a great way to help a teenager who is struggling in school.

Maintain a Good Relationship With School Staff 

Another great way to help a teenager struggling in school is by having a good relationship with school staff. Their job is to help you as you work with your student to help them be successful. By maintaining a good relationship with the school staff, you will be able to work together for your teen. 

With my son’s teachers, I would send a friendly email to let them know who I was and why I was contacting them. At the middle school and high school level, a teacher might work with 150 students.  So identifying myself and my teen is very helpful. Being friendly at the start will help make us allies with one common goal, helping my student.

Even if you’re a little frustrated with the teacher, beginning contact with a negative tone will most likely put the teacher on the defensive. And if they feel the need to defend themselves, they are going to be much less likely to help you.

When contacting my son’s teachers, I take time to explain my son to them. I let them know that I’m used to him falling behind and having missing work, so it’s nothing new in their class. By sharing this information, they know I’m not attacking them or their teaching. I’m simply asking for help.

Help Your Teenager Who is Struggling in School With Parent/Teacher Meetings 

If you need to give your teenager a little more support than email, a parent/teacher meeting is a great way to help them! I’ve had several parent/teacher meetings over the years for my son, and they’ve all been very productive in helping him be more successful in school.

One of the keys to a successful parent/teacher conference is to be prepared. You should be prepared with your own resources and documents. And you should also be mentally prepared for any concerns or problems the teacher might be experiencing with your teenager. Most teachers want what is best for your son or daughter, so you should be prepared to hear whatever they have to say. After that, you can work together to best help your student succeed.

Even if (when) your teenager sees some success, you will need to continue communicating with the school staff. This communication will help you stay on the same page with helping your teenager.

Avoid Overwhelming Your Teen (and Yourself) 

While trying to help a teenager struggling in school you should avoid overwhelming them as much as possible. And you should also avoid overwhelming yourself. Here are some great ways to avoid being totally stressed out and still help your teen!

Get Organized 

One way to combat feeling overwhelmed is by getting organized. You can’t help a teenager struggling in school without it. Their lack of organization is probably a huge part of why they are falling behind.  By getting organized you’re helping your teenager.  Plus, you’re also modeling a good strategy for their future use!

When I would check grades for my son, I would write down all missing assignments for each class. My list would include the name of the assignment, the date it was assigned, and the point value. 

I would then use this list to email teachers.  In my email, I would ask for info about the assignments he had missing.  After listing the assignments, I would ask them if he was still able to complete them. Some teachers put a time limit on missing assignments.   There’s no use doing an assignment if your child can’t turn it in.  Unless you want to teach an object lesson, which I totally get.  Another thing I would ask about is getting another copy of the assignments if needed. That way, if my son said, “I don’t have that page,” I could whip out another copy!

After gathering all this information, I would text my son before he left school. I would tell him to start looking for 2-3 of the assignments he hasn’t turned in yet.  Giving him all of the assignments would be too much.  But I would have him start looking before he left school.

Do the Most Important Assignments First 

Teens who struggle in school usually have a few incomplete or missing assignments. So one way to help a teenager struggling in school is to prioritize the most important assignments and have them complete those first. There are several ways you could do this, depending on your situation.
One way to go would be to tackle assignments that are the most overdue.

Another method is to have your teen work on the most valuable assignments first. Look for any big projects or essays that are worth a lot of points. Then have your teenager work on those first. These high point assignments will give their GPA a quicker boost!!! 

You could also look at which class has the most missing assignments.  Then you can have your teenager tackle a few from that class first. The class they are struggling with the most is probably their lowest grade. When they turn in a few assignments from that class they will see their GPA improve. This might inspire them to work harder.

I would also suggest allowing your teenager who is struggling with school to pick which assignment to start with whenever possible. Giving them a choice will let them have some control over the situation. 

Set Time Limits For Work 

When trying to help your teenager who is struggling in school, there will be a strong desire to make them get it all done immediately! But you’ll easily overwhelm them (and you too) if you do this!

There are many different ways to break up the time. This will also set limits for your high school teen to do their work. One way would be to have them complete one assignment and then take a 5-minute break.  After that, they would start another one. This method will give your teen a goal to work toward.  It also gives them a reward for reaching a goal.

Another way could be to set a timer during long assignments. Have your teenager work for 30-40 minutes (depending on their attention span).  Then they take a break for a few minutes before starting up again.

One more way would be to have your teen do one to two assignments a day.  When they complete those, they will be finished until tomorrow. You can only do this if their assignments aren’t too long.  But it’s another great way to set time limits for their work.

How to Help Your Teenager Who is Struggling in School

Advocate for Your Teenager 

When you are trying to help a teenager who is struggling in school, your job is to be their advocate. You’re their parent. Your job is to raise them to be a kind and hard-working adult. 

There are times when you’ll have to go to bat for your teen. If you’ve done everything listed above, and there is no improvement, you might need to take it further.

Request More Help From School 

One way to help a teenager who is struggling in school is to request more help from the school. Parents can call their own parent/teacher meetings. If you think your teenager might need extra services, go ahead and call the school to set something up.

Along with classroom teachers, you could request a special education teacher and the school counselor also be present. These two professionals are great resources to help a struggling teen. When my son was having problems in high school, my first contact was the guidance counselor. She helped me get the ball rolling to see what else the school could do to help him succeed.

Often times, when a teenager is struggling in school, the teachers have already reached out to other school staff for help. But I’ll let you in on a little secret… You as the parent have more power to request help for your son or daughter than the teachers do. So if you think your teen needs more help, ask for it!

Seek Testing for Special Needs 

While contacting the school, another way to help a teenager who is struggling in school is to request testing for special needs. Your student may not have an actual learning disability, but if they have something like ADD/ADHD.  If it’s impacting their ability to be successful, they might qualify for an individual education plan (IEP) under the umbrella of Other Health Impaired (OHI).

After testing and evaluations, if your struggling teenager does not qualify for an IEP, they might still qualify for a 504 Plan. A 504 is another legally binding document drawn up by the school counselor. Its intent is to set up accommodations to help a struggling student who does not qualify for an IEP. Several school staff will help with the implementation of these accommodations.

My son had an IEP when he joined our family out of foster care.  But he tested out of the program during elementary school. Things went okay until midway through his 10th-grade year.  This is when he started falling behind in most of his classes. We had more tests conducted.  And even though he didn’t qualify for an IEP again, he was a great candidate for a 504 Plan.

So the school counselor called a meeting where my son and I, along with several of his teachers, met to develop a plan to help him. Let me tell you, he wasn’t thrilled at the meeting.  But the extra help he received through this 504 Plan helped him a lot!  He was able to get through his last 2 years of high school with a lot less struggle.

Accept Your Teenager for Who They Are 

All in all, the best advice I can give you to help your teenager struggling in school is this- accept them for who they are.

Your teenager is a person. They have their own thoughts, opinions, and feelings. If they do not like school, it will be very difficult to “make” them like school. Even with the strategies I’ve given, you’re probably not going to change their mind.

But you can help them change their behavior. Through staying in contact with school staff, getting organized, and continuing to advocate for your teenager, you can help get through school and even find success there!

Things Can Improve! 

I’ve talked a lot about my son and how we used these tips to help him as he struggled through both middle school and high school. Getting him through it was SOOOOOO HARD!!!! At times, we all wanted to give up. But we kept moving forward, one step at a time.

At this time last year, he was a senior in high school and had absolutely no idea what he wanted to do after graduation. He still struggled to get his work turned in for his two academic classes, English and social studies, but he did find success in his welding and machining classes through our area technology center.

Last June, he decided to go ahead and enroll in welding classes at a local community college. Being adopted through the state, his tuition is covered at any Kentucky state school.  He is currently finishing his first year of welding classes. And he’s also holding down a part-time job that he loves! Our son also has the highest GPA in the family, which is something none of us ever expected (including him lol).

So as you can see, there is hope for your teenager who is struggling in school. It won’t be easy, and there will be a lot of struggles along the way. But together, you can both make it through!

What’s something you’ve done to help your struggling teenager that worked? I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions.




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