Building strong adolescents: Addressing school-based problems

Because teens spend so much of their time in school, it’s important to be sensitive to school-based problems, identifying their cause and working with the teen’s school to address it.

Michigan State University Extension educators explain that because teens spend most their time in school, it’s important to be sensitive to school-based problems, to take care in identifying their causes and to work with the teen’s school to address them.  

“Sometimes parents do everything right and their teens still seems at-risk in school,” said MSU Extension Educator Susanne Pish. “At other times, however, a problem needs serious attention. Teenagers who consistently demonstrate poor academic achievement, frequent problematic behavior or social problems need attention.”

Pish suggests that parents of teen with on-going school-based struggles take these steps:

  1. Identify the actual problem.
    Poor grades, delinquency or fights at school are actually symptoms of other problems. Is the student having difficulty learning? Is he or she being intimated at school by other students? Is the teenager bored? Begin by clarifying what the cause of the struggle, not just the symptoms.
  2. Talk with your teen.
    Teens who have experienced significant difficulty in school may not want to talk about the issues, but try to get teens to give their perspective. What do they believe accounts for their problem? What kind of help are they willing to try?
  3. Work together with school personnel and the teen to solve the problem.
    Occasionally parents come to believe that the school is the problem. However the problem is defined, it cannot be solved without cooperation from the school. Approach school administration, counselors and teachers logically. Approach the school seeking a solution to the problem, emphasizing that the goal of the school and the parents is the success of the teen. Decide on a specific plan; parents should diligently meet their obligations and monitor the school to make sure they meet theirs.

“Some teens who are truly at risk of school failure are experiencing problems that are too serious for the school or parents to address on their own,” Pish said. “A major decline in behavior or grades, serious truancy or lack of purpose may be symptoms of a much more serious problem. Sometimes problems like alcohol and drug abuse, violence, gang membership or clinical depression lead to school failure symptoms. If you suspect that your teenager’s problems extend beyond the school environment, seek professional help or consider an alternative school.”

For more information or for information about a MSU Extension class on building strong adolescents, contact an MSU Extension expert in your area by visiting or by calling 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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