How to Handle your Teen’s Top Complaints About School

After a long winter break, many teens are very unhappy to return to school and you may hear a lot of complaining. Throughout a child’s school career, there are bound to be times that they complain about school. Sometimes those complaints are fleeting, or silly, or just repeating what a friend said. But sometimes, those complaints are a warning sign that your teen is facing a significant issue or developing a poor attitude about learning. Here are some tips for how to handle these common complaints:

Why Do I Have to Go to School?

Understand: This complaint is very vague, and you will need to determine why they are asking. For example, it’s possible your teen could be feeling stressed or they could be trying to avoid a problem at school. Commonly, teens make this complaint when they begin to question everything in their lives, as part of forming their own identity. They might be questioning the impact school has on their own life, or they may no longer see the value in attending school. Teenagers tend to live in the moment, so recognizing that something they do now will provide tangible benefits years in their future is not an easy concept.

Respond: Your first response is to ask your teen why they are questioning whether they have to go to school. Be sure to ask if they are having any problems at school. If it turns out they are experiencing some sort of struggle, you can brainstorm ideas with them to improve the situation and support them through it.

If your child is doubting the value of school, then you can more specifically discuss the reasons for, and the benefits of, an education. Explain that school is where people learn the skills necessary to be an adult. Many teens will immediately come back with some statement similar to, “I will never use calculus as an adult.” The key here is to explain that all of their subjects develop their critical thinking skills, which are absolutely vital to career success. Each subject helps them to think differently. For example, history helps them to consider important societal issues which will help them to form opinions and make good decisions as voters. The purpose of high school is to open all kinds of different opportunities to your teen later in their life.

School is Too Hard!

Understand: This complaint could mean that your teen is lacking some of the skills needed to do their work, or that they are not understanding their teacher, or that they are struggling with a learning disability.

Respond: Find out exactly what your teen is finding difficult at school. Is it a specific subject, a certain type of assignment, paying attention for so long, or some other skill? Once you determine the true issue, you can help them. Contacting the school is always a good first step. The teachers and administrators often have great ideas for helping students succeed. If your teen is struggling with a certain subject or a teacher they don’t understand, consider hiring a tutor. If their attention fades too quickly, consider testing them for attention deficit disorder. If the difficulty they describe seems to span a multitude of subjects, consider whether they have a learning disability.

I Hate Homework!

Understand: We can all understand this complaint! No one wants to do more work when they could instead be having fun at home! The key here is to find out what specifically they don’t like about homework and see if there’s anything you can do to help.

Respond. If your teen simply doesn’t like having to do school work at home, then remind them that learning takes practice. You can’t master something just doing it once, so homework is designed to help them understand the material. However, there might be other reasons for your teen’s complaint. Your teen might be complaining because they are struggling with the material. If so, contact their teacher to see if they offer extra help or consider hiring a tutor. Your teen might also complain because the time they are supposed to be doing homework is interrupting something else they would like to do. In that case, sit down with them to review your family schedule and see if there is a way that they can still get their homework done while also accommodating their favorite activities.

School Is So Boring!

Understand: Teens complain about school being boring for several possible reasons. Boredom could indicate that your teen: is not motivated; lacks the skills they need to be successful in the specific subject; is not feeling connected to their peers; is feeling depressed; or doesn’t see the value in what is being taught. Ask open-ended questions to determine the root cause behind your teen’s boredom.

Respond: Again, it’s important to find out what’s behind your teen’s complaint. If they are “bored” because they are feeling unconnected to their peers, they may need to develop social skills. If they are “bored” because in reality they don’t understand what’s being taught, then they need additional assistance. If they are “bored” because they are depressed, they need to see a mental health professional.

If your teen is just finding school uninteresting, then it may be time to teach them a few hard truths. Learning is a two-way street and you get way more out of a class when you engage. So many teens sit back and zone out if the teacher isn’t “entertaining” them. Your teen should also know that sometimes practicing a skill can be boring (repetitively going over something is not fun), but it’s also proven to be a very effective technique-builder. Brushing your teeth is boring, too, but that doesn’t mean you should stop.

Why Can’t I Just Homeschool or Do Online Learning?

Understand: This complaint usually comes from a teenager who is either experiencing social struggles or who believes that online or homeschool will be less work.

Ways You Can Respond: Determine why your teen is interested in homeschool or online learning. If they are dealing with social issues, then work to address the issue. If your teen believes these school formats are less work, let your child know that online and homeschool also require students to work hard to learn required material. The shorter school days come from not including commute time, lunch and switching classes. If your teen is still eager to try these other options despite realizing the work is just as hard, there is no harm in gathering information and learning about them.

I Don’t Like Getting Up Early!

Understand: Your teen probably really does feel tired, especially in the mornings. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most teens are sleep deprived. They recommend adolescents get 9 hours of sleep every night.

Respond: Show your teen the research on adolescent sleep so that they can see for themselves that a lack of sleep results in a greater likelihood of poor academic performance, depression, obesity, and getting injured. When they realize how important sleep is they might be more motivated to make it a priority. Then offer your teen these ideas for getting more sleep: set a consistent bedtime that allows them to get 9 hours; limit TV, computers, phones, and any other screens one hour before bed; require your teen to put their phone in a different room of the house during the night; and plan ahead so that they can manage their homework, chores and extracurriculars in a way that they still leave enough time for sleep.

Final thoughts…

Research shows that every day of missed school has a negative impact on academic achievement, and continued absence is associated with higher rates of early school drop-out, emotional and behavioral difficulties, and poor social adjustment. It is vital that your teen attend school. Work to understand the issues behind your teen’s frustration and determine how you can help them through it.

Remind your teen that, just like you have a responsibility to go to work, they have a responsibility to go to school. Adults must work to feed their families, obtain shelter, and to have money to purchase fun things like movies or clothes. These are an adult’s motivations. The consequence for not going to work is losing your job. Your teen’s motivation for school is to learn the skills necessary to be successful in adulthood. The consequences for not going to school are a life that doesn’t fulfill their potential – they may be unemployed, poor, socially withdrawn, or otherwise missing out on life’s best.

Leave a Reply