Academic problems can be among the most troubling for parents. Not only do challenges at school threaten a child’s long-term success and limit his life potential, they can also be an early indicator of other larger emotional and behavior problems.

It’s common for children to face hurdles in school from time to time. However, it’s important to be able to identify what is normal teen behavior and what is a red flag.

Some problems related to school seem to be more prevalent in one gender than another. For example, girls thrive on drama in the school setting — in fact, it can be a daily issue. Rumors and gossip are rampant in girls’ social circles, and the “mean girl” stereotype is a reality.

Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to change their behavior to gain acceptance. Many will do whatever it takes to get with the in-crowd. Sometimes, the behavior is merely disruptive, such as a boy acting like the class clown to get attention. More often, though, boys embrace risk-taking behaviors to look cool or gain favor with their peers. They may experiment with drugs or alcohol to gain popularity or deliberately break rules at school to get negative attention. In extreme cases, this attention-seeking behavior can even result in legal troubles.

Other issues are universal for boys and girls, such as procrastination. Some teens wait until the last minute to do their school work. When they don’t have enough time to complete assignments, their rush results in homework that is sloppy or incomplete. If you have a typically responsible kid who now and then forgets an assignment and asks for help, offer the support. But if your teen consistently puts off work and is generally irresponsible when it comes to school priorities, parents need to let natural consequences take their toll. This might include allowing your child to take a failing grade on missed homework or refusing to help with homework past a certain time of night.

Underachievement is another common challenge at school. This does not necessarily mean a teen is earning failing grades, merely failing to live up to her natural ability. The source of underachievement is often not academic — she could be bored, unmotivated, overinvolved in activities or sidetracked socially. If it’s a chronic problem, consider testing to assess whether learning disabilities or other educational factors are at play. If none exist, look at your child’s motivations and consider whether her underachievement is a passive-aggressive form of defiance.

Parents should also be on the lookout for kids giving up. In addition to the aforementioned academic underachievement, they may give up on post-graduation goals (or graduation itself) or their school commitments, such as sports or club activities. Sometimes, teens give up when the task becomes too hard or takes too much time away from social or leisure pursuits. Other times, abandoning goals and activities can be a self-worth issue. When kids feel like they are a failure, they sometimes reject more opportunities to be proven correct. As parents, encourage them to uphold their commitment and finish their activity before trying something new.

Cheating can also be a worrisome issue in the classroom. Many teens feel pressure to achieve, but it’s also tempting to take the easy way out. Students might cheat off their neighbors in class, plagiarize writing assignments from the Web or even text answers among cell phones before or during tests. There are many ways to get more results with less effort, and teens can be very creative.

Cheating isn’t the only form of deception causing problems in the school setting, however. Teens may wear an outfit their parents provided to school but take inappropriate clothes with them to change into later. They might lie about attending after-school activities, instead hanging out with friends after school. Parents need to remember that teens are at school for eight hours a day, and they may not accurately reflect what they are doing behind their parents’ backs. While an increasing desire for independence and privacy as a teen is normal, it is also important for teens to work toward increasing levels of trust and responsibility through honesty.

To learn more about how to help your teen overcome these and other problems at school, contact us today.