3 main reasons teens don’t reach their potential at school

Jun 12, 2018Careers and University, NCEA, Parent advice, Study Tips

High school is supposed to set the stage for a happy, healthy and well-rounded adult life.

It gives young people the skills, both social and intellectual, to navigate the real world on their own, and grow into the best versions of themselves possible.

Yet everyday, we have students come to us with the same complaint: “I just don’t like school, and I don’t know what to do about it.

They’re not alone. Today – high school stress is a national epidemic, with growing evidence pointing to the overwhelming number of Kiwi youth struggling with anxiety and depression.

Ups and downs are normal for teenagers, and no one has a flawless high school experience. The danger is that when these attitudes aren’t addressed, grades aren’t the only thing that will take the hit.


Resentment towards studies can prevent students from enjoying all the important high school experiences that will ultimately shape who they become.



The good news is that negative attitudes don’t come out of nowhere – they’re almost always symptoms of underlying issues.

With a bit of compassion, strategy and wisdom – all of these issues can be dealt with, paving the way for a positive, healthy and enriching school experience.

So here are our main three issues students face at school, and what you can do to help your teenager overcome them.



1. They have gaps in their knowledge

One of the main problems with conventional education is that it’s taught consecutively: each year level progresses on knowledge learned in the year prior.

Teachers often don’t have the time or resources to make sure that all students are up-to-date on the curriculum, or have the core knowledge to build on. Often, they just have to assume this is the case.

But this assumption can have dire consequences for students.


The truth is, every student enters the  classroom from a different vantage point. Some may have forgotten content from the year before, some might have never been taught it in the first place.



This means that when teachers cover more complex material, students with gaps in their knowledge can’t keep up. They’re left feeling inadequate, which quickly turns to feelings of resentment towards school – when really all they need is some revision of the basics.



This is where one-on-one tuition can prove really helpful. Our tutors assess gaps in their students knowledge, and help them to gain an honest picture of their current learning status.

They assume no prior knowledge, making sure their students are confident in the basics before moving onto more complex material.

What’s more – they do all this with compassion, which is crucial to making students feel like they can ask questions and find the answers without judgement.


From home, there are a few things you can do to help address these gaps in your teen's knowledge.

  • Help them to get an honest picture of where they’re at. Sometimes, students might feel like they know a concept, when in reality, they’re not quite there. Let them know that it’s not the end of the world if they don’t quite “get” something – it’s more important to be honest with themselves about what needs some more revision. StudyTime’s NCEA walkthrough guides are a great way of helping students assess their own learning, with “stop and check” sections that allow students to see exactly where the gaps in their knowledge are. 
  • Practice self-generation. Ask your child to explain concepts aloud to you, and encourage them to create their own resources. This lets students see for themselves how well they understand something, and figure out exactly where gaps in their knowledge are.
  • Self-test regularly. Creating easy-going, fun tests can be a great way to keep up on your teen’s learning status, and help them to see both what material they’ve got down-pat, and where they still need improvement. Quiz them on your commute home from soccer, challenge them to a game of subject-trivia, ask questions about their studies often.

2. They’re going through social, mental or emotional struggles

Mental health is one of the biggest factors in classroom learning and social interactions – which are both critical to a happy and healthy school experience.

But teenagers are notoriously moody, and it’s often hard to differentiate “normal teenage behaviour” from symptoms of depression, anxiety and other emotional complications.


With hormonal and physical changes, heightened self-awareness, social media and the stress of responsibilities for the first time in their life – school can be a battlefield for many young people.



If you’re worried about your teenager’s mental health, trust your instincts. Try to have a calm conversation, identify specific concerns, and then, if necessary, seek appropriate services to help them navigate these difficulties. It is so important to address mental health issues now: ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away will only make things harder down the line.

If you’re concerned about your teen’s social life, getting involved directly can be a bad idea. Much as you might want to fix your teen’s friend problems, having a parent intervening can be embarrassing, and furthermore, it takes away your child’s power and ownership of the issues.

That’s why simply having someone “there” for them can make a world of difference for young people who feel lost at school.

At Inspiration Education, we do this through mentorship. Our young tutors are trained to make students feel comfortable opening up about their vulnerabilities, sharing their concerns and admitting any struggles they might be facing – social, intellectual, mental or emotional. This helps to identify the root-cause of school related stress, meaning we can address it in a way that is both healthy and controlled.


One of the best ways to help your child’s mental and social health is to build their confidence.  The same goes for studies too. That’s why we assign our students incremental goals, tasks and challenges to meet each week – this helps to build a genuine belief in their own abilities.



This logic works from home too: the more teenagers witness their own potential in action, the more confident they will become. This is the essence of holistic education: the idea that one’s learning success is fundamentally connected to their physical, personal, social, emotional and intellectual wellbeing.


From home, you can boost your teen's social and mental wellbeing by:

  • Understanding their strengths and weaknesses. No matter how small, it’s important to celebrate every victory as a milestone of growth, and every failure as a lesson for the future. Be proud of your teen’s unique gifts and abilities, and they’ll be proud of themselves.
  • Giving them more responsibilities. As we’ve said, showing belief in their ability to achieve tasks will help enormously in establishing a sense of self-worth, pride and accomplishment. Let your teenager take on a household responsibility, or trust them to complete a risky project on their own. Having you believe in them will help them to believe in themselves, and this attitude will trickle into their studies and social life.
  • Letting them open up. Make sure you foster an environment in which your teen feels comfortable opening up about their struggles with you – whether emotional, social, mental or study-related. Teens have a bad habit of unhealthy perfectionism, which can prevent them from getting the support they need to overcome personal difficulties. Let them know vulnerability is human, and it’s okay – even important – to be honest about it.

3. Procrastination

Last year, we surveyed over 5,000 Kiwi students about the main problems they faced in their studies. The most common by a landslide? Procrastination.

Contrary to popular belief, procrastination is not just a case of laziness – it usually goes a bit deeper. And it’s also a leading cause in students not meeting their potential at school.

Usually, it’s tied up in both psychological factors (stress) and practical ones (self-management skills). At Inspiration Education, we call it “anxiety, applied.”

As Psychology today writes:


“Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we’ll feel tomorrow, or the next day. “I don’t feel like it” takes precedence over goals; however, it then begets a downward spiral of negative emotions that deter future effort.”



Unlike laziness, procrastination doesn’t necessarily involve an unwillingness to do the work. Capable students usually know the importance of completing their homework or study on time, but simply can’t get themselves to do it.

This can make them feel guilty or ashamed, increase the stress surrounding that particular task, leading to even less productivity and ultimately resulting in demotivation, apathy and disillusion towards school.

Everyone procrastinates for different reasons. However, procrastination is particularly widespread at high school for two reasons:

         1. It’s often the first time teenagers have to deal with high-stakes scenarios, such as NCEA exams or University Entrance. This means a heightened sense of pressure and anxiety, and a keen awareness of their individual responsibility to do well. 

         2. Students are not equipped with the right executive skills to navigate this pressure, often resulting in procrastination. No one teaches teenagers how to make a study schedule or methods for prioritising tasks, – they simply assign the workload and leave them to it.



At Inspiration Education, we value planning, organisation and time-management skills just as much as we do intellectual knowledge.

A good tutor will help the student learn content. A great one will help them to develop the tools to take control of their learning. This means creating realistic study plans, schedules, and methods of self-accountability – while also advising students how to recognise their own patterns of procrastination, manage their anxiety and productively deal with stress.

This equips them with the mental tools to adapt to unpredictable circumstances, the emotional strategies to deal with the inevitable stress of school, and the self-management skills to make sure study gets done effectively and efficiently.


From home:

  • First things first, acknowledge that that procrastination is usually a psychological issue more than one of laziness or apathy. Studies have proven that people procrastinate as a way of managing other issues in their life. Perfectionists might procrastinate because they have doubts in their abilities, and so they prioritise the things they know they can succeed in. Struggling students might procrastinate because studying brings about feelings of inadequacy and confusion, and they’d rather do things that make them feel capable. 
  • Be compassionate towards your teenager’s struggles. Teens are much more likely to achieve tasks when they approach it from a place of confidence than a place of “lack”. Talking honestly about whatever might be triggering your teen’s procrastination is crucial to helping them overcome it. Whether its a toxic fear of failure, an unhealthy attitude of success, an aversion to being controlled or a fear of facing reality – identify the root cause, and overcome it from a place of empathy. 
  • Finally, help them start small. Simply beginning a project can be the most stressful part. Our society places so much focus on constant productivity that it can have a paralysing effect on students. Letting go of the “all-or-nothing” mentality is crucial to getting started. Help them find parts of study that they enjoy, and make sure they know that they can start there.

Learn from the best.

We recruit high-achieving young adults across the country and give them the training to unlock your child’s potential.

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