When Your Teen Falls Behind in School

There are lots of reasons a student can start falling behind in school. They might have had an illness resulting in several absences. They may find the new concepts confusing. They might be a procrastinator or unorganized and let the work get away from them. They might be too busy with activities outside of school.

In high school, harder concepts are introduced, more work is assigned and expectations are higher. As a result, it doesn’t take much for a high school student to start to slip behind on their schoolwork. The problem is that, if your student doesn’t catch up quickly, a little makeup work can spiral into a lot of incomplete work, failed tests, and bad grades. Regardless of the reason, students that fall behind need early intervention before they become completely overwhelmed, get discouraged, and give up.

If your teen starts to fall behind in school, take these actions:

Prevent Procrastination

Teens are masters at procrastination, and it only gets worse when they are really stressed out. Many teens will cope with the stress of falling behind by avoiding their work altogether, which only makes their problem worse. In their mind, your teen would rather feel better in the moment by choosing not to think about all their work, than deal with the challenge head on. Don’t allow them to procrastinate! Remind your teen that it’s easier to catch up on missed work and difficult concepts when they are only a little bit behind.

If your teen is a chronic procrastinator, please review our previous blog, Teaching Time Management to Teens.

Get Organized

When your teen has fallen behind in school, the first step is to help them make a list of what they have missed. This can be scary for your teen if it’s a large list, but it will help determine how to move forward. Fortunately, most schools have websites that detail assignments given and dates for tests and projects. If you can’t find the information online, then please contact the teacher. Teachers want students to succeed, and they will appreciate a student who is trying.

Once you have a list of what needs to be done, work together to make a plan for how your teen will complete the work. Help your teen break the work into manageable chunks and schedule time for each piece. Your teen may need to dedicate one hour of afterschool time to current work and another hour for makeup work for a couple of weeks, but if they are consistently making strides, they will catch up and feel better about themselves. Usually, it is very motivating to have a realistic plan in place.

Prioritize Schedules

If your teen is involved in several extracurricular activities – perhaps running from football practice to their part-time job to their school club – they may just have too much on their plate. Teens need to learn that we can’t do it all. With only 24 hours in everyday, we can choose to either do just a few things really well or we can try to do everything but do it really badly. Encourage your teen to determine what is most important in their life and have them cut out some activities that don’t fit with their interests or values. Remind them that school and their grades are the most critical thing. After that, help them prioritize their activities to the ones that give them the most satisfaction. If your teen is worried that they need activities for college admissions, remind them that colleges look first at grades, then at activities.

If your teen is behind because of missed days due to illness, encourage them to miss a couple more days of their extracurricular activities in order to have more time to make up their school work.

Create a Routine

Encourage your teen to develop a routine that helps them be more successful. They should be getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night, so ask them to consider a bedtime that will allow them to get more rest. Encourage them to establish a dedicated time for homework and to put away all electronics – phones, tablets, TV – so they can work in a quiet place. Offer tips for a morning routine that gets them to the bus stop on time with less stress.

Contact the Teacher

Your teen’s teachers and school can be an excellent resource. If you know why your teen has fallen behind, explain the problem and ask what suggestions they have for your teen to get caught up. Your teachers know of additional resources, like tutoring, after-school help, check-ins, counseling, and other assistance. If your teen is having difficulty in one particular subject, rather than overall, a tutor might be the smartest option.

If you don’t know why your teen has fallen behind, ask your teen’s teachers what they have noticed. They may see behavior that your teen doesn’t do at home or they may have insight into the root problem. Remember, teachers see hundreds of students every year so they are often able to identify a student’s academic strengths and weaknesses much easier than a parent. When talking to your teen’s teachers, try to keep an open mind. They may share information that surprises, upsets, or offends you, but remember that they are trying to give you information that will help find a solution to your teen’s problem.

Final Thoughts…

If your child is consistently falling behind in school and is not overscheduled, please take steps to rule out medical reasons. Perhaps your teen has a learning disability, suffers from a lack of sleep, experiences ADHD, or is battling anxiety. There are many medical reasons that could cause your teen to struggle in school. Make an appointment with your pediatrician.

One comment

  • You’re absolutely right. That’s what happened to my 16-year old when he missed his classes for a week due to a viral infection and he needed to be admitted to a local hospital. He was overwhelmed by a number of lessons, exercises, projects and quizzes he missed. And instead of dealing with all these, he avoided them… making the situation worse. He learned his lessons hard. I’m guilty of not checking on him all the time. I’d just reminded him and told him what he needed to do, not asking if he needed my help. I learned my lesson, too. I will check Teaching Time Management to Teens next. Thanks.

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