How to tell if your teenager is struggling at school

May 23, 2018Careers and University, Parent advice

Assessing the real status of your teenager’s learning is difficult. It’s especially tricky when they don’t let you in on what’s really going on, and it’s hard to know how you can help as a parent when you’re not familiar with the school system yourself.

In this piece, we’ll break down how to work out where your teenager might be struggling at school, and what you can do about it.

1. They don’t want to talk about school

When it comes to asking your teenager about school, dishonesty, evasiveness and overconfidence are all critical warning signs a student is struggling.

While it’s sometimes common for teenagers to give blunt answers to questions from their parents, becoming aggressive or defensive whenever the topic is brought up is less so.

Likewise, sometimes struggling students will displaying a bravado or cockiness about school-related matters to their parents to avoid feeling judged or shamed.

If your teen is confidently dismissing your concerns without giving any details of their alleged success, it’s likely they’re overcompensating.


Getting tutoring from someone closer to their age can help students realise that having struggles at school is not a reflection of their intelligence or ability, but a normal part of growing up. Once accepting this, students tend to build the confidence to address their issues head-on.


IE exclusively employs young, relatable individuals as tutors for this reason. With a respected peer as a mentor, students tend to feel more understood in their difficulties, and are more comfortable opening up to someone outside of their immediate social circle. People are more receptive to advice when it comes from a neutral position, rather than from someone who they fear will be disappointed or upset by their honesty.

How to help:


When you notice these warning signs, it’s important to let your teenager know that they can open up to you about their struggles. Try to foster an open dialogue about failure and vulnerability at home. You can do this by openly talking about your own mistakes and weaknesses, showing them that you would never punish them for admitting they’re struggling, and always adopting a calm, gentle demeanour when broaching sensitive topics.

2. They express boredom and apathy towards school

While teenagers are often notoriously apathetic towards their studies, if all they ever do is complain about it, there might be something else going on.

Most teens have a heightened sense of injustice, and if school isn’t working for them, they’ll be vocal about it. However cynical they are, if your teen rarely shows any evidence of joy, excitement or interest towards school, it’s time to investigate why.

Perhaps your teenager is blaming everything on a particularly nasty teacher who has it out for them. Or perhaps they’re taking “boring” classes whose content they’ll “never use again” in the real world. Whatever the grievance, it’s usually a symptom of a bigger issue.


A great deal of research points to the relationship between students’ sense of purpose at school and their general happiness. When students think about how they want to contribute to the world, they end up more inspired to learn, more determined to push through challenges, and more deliberate in their self-management strategies.


Tutoring can help students cultivate meaning at school by personalising the learning experience. Our tutors do this by incorporating a range of personal variables into how they engage with school material. We work with students to get to the root cause of their motivations – both at school and in their life/career – and use that intrinsic motivation to contextualise their material. We also make school more interesting by applying academic material to the “real world”, and showing students that what they’re learning now can have real life impacts in the future. 

How to help:


You can help your teenager get more meaning out of school by supporting them to find their intrinsic motivator. It’s important not to lecture or nag at them about their studies – this will only compound their resistance to school. The better route is to support them in finding what they’re passionate about, and helping them to use that passion to fuel their studies.

3. They are distant or detached 

This is generally the biggest indicator a student is facing struggles at school, and in such cases, it can be really tricky for parents to find out why.

When teenagers feel overwhelmed, stressed, lost or anxious at a place they’re spending 6 hours a day, their demeanor will undoubtedly translate to their attitude at home. Adolescence is a battlefield as it is, without the added stress of academic hardship.

Compassion is a critical pillar of a meaningful school experience. In order to learn intentionally and with passion, students need to feel heard and understood.


Having a mentor to simply remind a student of their self-worth can make a world of difference, and build on their will to overcome their learning difficulties. Our tutors are trained to listen to all of the mental hurdles a student is facing, and show students that these struggles aren’t the be-all-or-end-all of their school experience.


One simple way our tutors do this is by breaking complex concepts down to their basic components, and working with the student to solve them at their own pace. These small acts of progress might seem insignificant, but we’ve found that it is the most effective way of building a quiet confidence in students – a confidence that eventually trickles on to all aspects of their life.

When students receive compassion, understanding and informed encouragement from a respected peer, they will also gain the mindset and mental grit to tackle problems on their own, whether those be mental, social, emotional or academic.

How to help:


Notice for shifts or trends in your teens behaviour. Look out for weight changes, a lack of interest or joy in things, bitten nails, shyness, requests to stay home, excessive sleeping, closed doors and introversion.

When everything is going wobbly, teenagers tend to isolate themselves rather than burdening anyone else with the woes of their situation. It’s important that you make it known that no matter what is going on, you are there for them and will give them the support they need to overcome it.

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