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What to do when your teen’s academic performance is declining.

Every day, parents think about how their children are doing academically, socially, emotionally, and more. When their grades drop, or you start getting reports that school isn’t going well, how can you tell if it’s a big or small issue—and when is it a sign that there’s something more than academic concerns going on?

At Joon, we provide therapy to 13–24 year olds every day. So we understand what’s typical teen stuff versus when to worry, and we can help.

Lauren Hammond, PhD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
,
Joon Clinical Content Manager

Understanding teen school performance.

The teenage years can be full of changes, including how your teen performs academically. Fluctuations in grades from middle to high school or even during high school are common and often not highly concerning. However, these changes can be worrisome to parents, and it’s important to ensure there isn’t something more serious happening leading to these changes.

Changes in grades are more concerning if:

  1. There is a significant drop in performance (think As to Ds, not As to Bs)
  2. The drop in performance occurs across multiple classes
  3. Your teen starts avoiding or skipping school
  4. Your teen stops doing activities they enjoy, isolates themselves, or otherwise engages in significantly different behavior than they usually do
  5. Your teen starts becoming secretive about or lies about their grades
  6. Your teen is regularly refusing to go to school

Is it time to get support for your 13-24 year old? We’re here to help.

Why would my teen’s grades drop?

Teens' grades can drop for several reasons, and it can be hard to determine the underlying cause. Checking in with your teen on these areas may provide some clues as to why they are struggling academically.

  1. <h3>Recent stressors</h3>

Many daily stressors can impact your teen’s grades. These might include biological changes, like the impact of hormones during puberty, or physical concerns, like not getting enough sleep, not eating adequately, or feeling sick. 

In high school, teens often have more demands on their time, including sports or extracurricular activities, that may impact the amount of time they can devote to schoolwork. Additionally, teens can have difficulty seeing the big picture. They might not prioritize school work over more immediate reinforcers like spending time with friends or scrolling on their phones

  1. <h3>Interpersonal conflicts</h3>

Teens are particularly sensitive to disruptions in their social circle. If your teen is fighting with a friend, has gone through a recent break-up, or is experiencing other social upheavals, this interpersonal stress may impact them more intensely and for a longer period of time than it would an adult.

  1. <h3>Underlying mental health concern or learning disability</h3>

Teens in distress may have a hard time putting words to their mental health struggles. They may feel like they’re not being heard or know something is wrong but are unsure of the cause. As such, changes in their behavior, including their academic performance, may be indicative of an underlying mental health concern like depression or anxiety

The high school years are also a time when your teen might be exposed to substances, like alcohol or cannabis, that they weren’t exposed to previously. Substance use may be a contributor to a decrease in academic performance. Additionally, your teen may be struggling with a learning disability that they were able to work around in middle school but are now unable to do so with the added demands of high school.

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What to do when your teen is struggling in school.

Finding out that your teen’s grades are dropping can feel overwhelming. Here are some steps you can take to help them right away:

  1. <h3>Communicate your concerns</h3>

Even if this behavior feels out-of-character, or if you believe it’s related to something specific that recently occurred, it can be helpful to start communicating your concerns with your teen early on. Approach the topic with curiosity and avoid judging or blaming your teen. If your teen feels attacked or criticized, they’ll be less likely to open up to you about what’s going on. Ask if there is anything you can do to support them.

  1. <h3>Get mental health support</h3>

If underlying anxiety, depression, substance use, or other mental health concerns are contributing to a decline in your teen’s grades, get them mental health support. Seek therapy that is specifically oriented to teens and young adults and that relies on evidence-based treatments that have shown effectiveness in relieving emotional distress, like therapy at Joon.

  1. <h3>Talk to their school</h3>

Ask your teen for permission to talk to their school or teachers about your concerns. Offer to have them join you in these conversations to avoid them feeling criticized or that you’re talking about them behind their back.

  1. <h3>Take the pressure off</h3>

Teens experience lots of pressure in high school and might relate their academic performance to their self-worth or feel they are letting you down if they’re not getting good grades. While grades are important, work on balancing your desire as a parent for them to achieve academically with how much stress or pressure they may be experiencing to do well in school. Remind them that you’re there for them and care about them regardless of their academic performance. Praise their effort over their results and provide positive reinforcement for the time and energy they put into their schoolwork.

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Meet our licensed therapists, skilled in evidence-based methods and just as diverse as the teens they support.

Therapy vs. tutoring.

It can be hard to know what to do if your teen is struggling in school. After talking with your teen, if they express concerns like “I don’t understand the material” or “I’m really lost in this class,” tutoring for that subject is likely a good fit.

If your teen has had tutoring in the past and is still struggling or is struggling in multiple classes, this might be a sign there is something else going on besides not understanding the material. Additionally, notice other changes in your teen’s behavior, such as changes in mood, spending less time with friends or doing things they enjoy, increased substance use, or other risky behavior. This may also be a sign there’s more going on. In this case, therapy is likely a good fit.

Therapy works for teens who struggle in school.

Therapy can help your teen explore what is contributing to their decline in academic performance, help them address any underlying mental health concerns, and teach them skills to manage their stress and improve their school performance in the future. Be sure to select a therapist with experience providing evidence-based therapy to teens - like the therapists at Joon. After meeting with your teen and conducting a thorough assessment, a Joon therapist can lay out a personalized treatment plan targeting your teen’s concerns to help them get back on track.

Therapy at Joon incorporates all these elements in a mobile platform, offering additional skill support personalized to each individual. We see many teens whose parents initially notice academic struggles. 

Bar chart showing recovery rates. On left, label reads "Clinical Anxiety" and shows a green bar with Joon labeled at 75% and a gray bar with "Other therapy in-person" at 43%. On the right the label reads "Clinical Depression" and shows a turquoise bar for Joon labeled 71% and a gray bar labeled "Other therapy in-person" at 27%.
As shown here, recovery data means being below the clinical symptom cutoff at least half the prior four weeks. In comparison, a study in 2017 reported 43% recovery after outpatient CBT for anxiety, and in 2009, 27% recovery after outpatient CBT for depression.

Therapy at Joon helps teens with mild to serious mental health concerns. You can read more about our latest data on the effectiveness of Joon for treating 13-24 year olds.

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