School constitutes a large part of an adolescent’s existence. Difficulties in almost any area of life often manifest as school problems.
Learning disorders Overview of Learning Disorders Learning disorders are conditions that cause a discrepancy between potential and actual levels of academic performance as predicted by the person’s intellectual abilities. Learning disorders... read more may manifest for the first time as school becomes more demanding, particularly among bright children who previously had been able to accommodate for their areas of weakness.
Sometimes, mild intellectual disability Intellectual Disability Intellectual disability is characterized by significantly subaverage intellectual functioning (often expressed as an intelligence quotient < 70 to 75) combined with limitations of adaptive... read more that was not recognized earlier in life causes school problems. Behavior problems that developed earlier in childhood, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD, ADHD) Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a syndrome of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The 3 types of ADHD are predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive... read more , may continue to cause school problems for adolescents.
Particular school problems include
Fear of going to school
Absenteeism without permission (truancy)
Academic underachievement (particularly a change in grades or a drop in performance)
Between 1% and 5% of adolescents develop fear of going to school School Avoidance School avoidance occurs in about 5% of all school-aged children and affects girls and boys equally. It usually occurs between the ages of 5 and 11. The cause of school avoidance is often unclear... read more . This fear may be generalized or related to a particular person (a teacher or another student—see also Bullying Bullying Children and adolescents may engage in occasional physical confrontations, but most do not develop a sustained pattern of violent behavior or engage in violent crime. Children and adolescents... read more ) or event at school (such as physical education class). The adolescent may develop physical symptoms, such as abdominal pain, or may simply refuse to go to school. School personnel and family members should identify the reason, if any, for the fear and encourage the adolescent to attend school.
Adolescents who are repeatedly truant or drop out of school have made a conscious decision to miss school. These adolescents generally have poor academic achievement and have had little success with or felt little satisfaction resulting from participation in school-related activities. They often have engaged in high-risk behaviors, such as having unprotected sex, taking drugs, and engaging in violence. Adolescents at risk of dropping out should be made aware of other educational options, such as vocational training and alternative programs.
School problems during the adolescent years may be the result of
Mental health disorders, such as anxiety Overview of Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents Anxiety disorders are characterized by fear, worry, or dread that greatly impairs the ability to function normally and that is disproportionate to the circumstances at hand. Anxiety may result... read more or depression Depressive Disorders in Children and Adolescents Depressive disorders are characterized by sadness or irritability that is severe or persistent enough to interfere with functioning or cause considerable distress. Diagnosis is by clinical criteria... read more
Rebellion and a need for independence
As adolescents begin to seek more freedom, their desire to do so may clash with their parents' desire to keep them safe. Adolescents rebel in various ways, such as refusing to attend school or drinking alcohol. Adolescents who are anxious or depressed may refuse therapy or stop taking their prescribed drugs. All of these challenging behaviors can cause problems within the family and at school.
Diagnosis of School Problems in Adolescents
Learning and mental health evaluations
In general, adolescents with significant school problems should undergo complete learning and mental health evaluations.
Treatment of School Problems in Adolescents
Treatment of cause
School problems, especially when related to learning or attention difficulties, should be addressed by clinicians, working together with school personnel and parents. If a learning disorder or intellectual disability is present, appropriate services should be provided through an individualized educational plan (IEP). Environmental changes and sometimes drug therapy can be of great help to struggling students.