How to help my teenager struggling with school

2 school boys laughing

Even for those that believe they’re the best years of your life, school can be really difficult at times for teenagers. Your child may feel under pressure to perform well in exams, maintain a healthy social life, and start making tricky decisions about the rest of their lives. It’s normal for teenagers to go through rough patches at school, but if you’re worried about your child, there are things that you can do to help.

This article can help if you want to:

  • learn about the different causes of stress at school and how these can affect your teenager

  • find out how to spot when your child isn’t coping at school

  • help your child manage hurdles at school more effectively.

Problems at school that your child could be facing

Anyone who has been a teenager (so, everyone) will recall the ups and downs of being at school. When your child is having a hard or stressful time, there are some common experiences that you might like to consider:

  • New beginnings

Starting at a new school is exciting, but for some it can be a little tricky, with unfamiliar environments and lots of new faces. Being positive about the experience when you chat with your teenager and pointing out all the great new activities and friends they’ll have is a great way of supporting them to get ready. You can follow this check list if they’re transitioning to high school, and give them an idea of what it’s like starting out at a new school with this info from our youth service.

  • Having to make big decisions

There are many big decisions your teen will have to make in the final years of school, and they may feel pressured to already be on a good career path. Whether they’re interested in science, design or even taking a gap year, let your teen know there’s info available to understand their options and that you’ll support them in making the tricky decisions. Why not show them these videos of the different pathways school leavers have taken for inspiration?

  • Bullying

Whether it’s being called names, feeling excluded, or being harassed online, bullying is a horrible experience for a teen. As a parent it can be hard to deal with, and it’s not always immediately obvious that this is what’s happening for your teen. If you’ve noticed that they’re behaving differently and are worried that they might be being bullied, get the facts on what to look out for and how you can help.

  • Friendships and peer pressure

During high school, friends become your teenager's main support network. They help them develop a sense of identity, try new things and feel a sense of belonging outside the family unit. However, when young people spend all day every day with each other, there’s bound to be the occasional clash. If you develop your teenagers self-esteem and confidence they are more likely to improve their ability to stand up for themselves and others, building positive friendships throughout high school.

  • Trouble focusing

Whilst social media can help your teen connect and unwind, the constant notifications and ‘always on’ nature of it can sometimes get a bit distracting. You can help them focus by suggesting social media-free times and by keeping TV and music volumes down while they’re studying. Read how to manage distractions for more ideas.

  • Exam stress

Building up to Year 12 exams your teen may feel under pressure from many different angles. Your teenager is the best person to judge how they’re feeling but as a parent you can be there to support and validate them, watching out for warning signs they may not be aware of. Because exam stress is such big deal we’ve devoted all of these resources to help you and your teen handle it, have a look now.

Signs that your teen might be having a tough time

If you're unsure how your teenager is coping, look out for these changes in their mood or behaviour, then use our resources to support them:

  • being withdrawn or disengaged

  • a loss of interest in the things they usually enjoy

  • changes in their sleeping or eating habits

  • feeling grumpy or irritable.

Other ways you can support your teen

Having a strong sense of self can really improve your teen’s time at school, so helping them explore this and building their confidence can be a great thing to work on. Taking an active interest in things that are going on for them and having open and honest chats can really help teenagers feel like they’re supported.

If your teen is more stressed than usual, talk to them about what's going on. Share positive coping strategies with them, or direct them towards an app, like the ReachOut Breathe app, helping people manage their anxiety. If you’re still worried, talk to your GP and have a look at some other things to try.

ReachOut Parents One-on-One Support can connect you with a family professional to discuss any concerns you have. You can also connect with other parents who are in the same situation as you in our anonymous parents forums. Here you can discuss any issue or experience you and your teen are encountering.