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November 29, 2017

Is Your Teen Under-Achieving?

Written by Dr. John Carosso

What are the keys to teenage success?

There are lots of considerations, but the primary key is keeping your teen busy and on a regular schedule. You know the saying, "idle hands are the devil’s workshop." That’s as true for teens as for adults. If teens have too much downtime, they typically do not use it wisely and, paradoxically, they use their time less wisely than those who are busy. So, if your teen is earning less than optimal grades and using time unwisely, here are some things to consider:

First things first...

Establish a consistent after-school routine. There needs to be time set-aside for extra-curricular activities, homework, study, chores, mealtime, with some free-time mixed-in. Once the routine is established, it runs on auto-pilot. In the beginning, write-out and post the schedule.

How much oversight for a Teenager?

You’d prefer that your teenager is independent, taking care of daily homework and other responsibilities, and not need your oversight. Yes, that is preferred by everyone. As a parent, ultimately it’s your decision whether to back-off and let your child 'sink or swim' as an older teenager, or continue to provide the level of monitoring and cajoling you did when he or she was younger. This is not an easy decision, but if your teen is floundering and you don't provide some degree of discipline, it may not get better. However, some teens will independently rise to the occasion before completely coming off the rails; sometimes it’s a gamble and a nail-biter for the parent, but you know your child best and 'the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.' In that respect, if your child has typically been a stellar student, then it's less likely you'll need to intensively intervene (but you may need to implement some structure, and assess the problem-at- hand that led to the decline in the first place).

What if my teen rebels?

I’ve found the when/then scenario is most helpful. In that respect, no access to video games, or hanging with friends, or whatever, until after homework and study-time. True, they won't like being treated like a child, but you may have little choice if they are going to act like a child. Also, note that, in spite of your kiddo being a teen, you still hold all the cards. There is very little they have, or want, that you don’t provide, and could withhold.

What else?

A strong moral compass is vital; it sure helps if your voice is not alone in the background reminding them to ‘do the right thing’, and nothing better than getting to church or synagogue to bolster the spiritual side and, as well, involvement with the youth group. A mission’s trip is a nice touch too. I know you’re more than aware that ‘birds of a feather flock together’ so it helps to get your child involved with kids who are productive and focused. In the meantime, a part-time job is admirable, as is involvement in sports, clubs, groups, and other adult-supervised activities.

The paradox

School and academics come first, but often teens who are busy with jobs, sports, and clubs make better and more efficient use of their time compared to those who have too much time on their hands. In that respect, the latter group finds it too easy to procrastinate, often till it's too late, while the former has no such luxury. However, if you see you teen’s grades suffering because they just can’t manage all the activities, then time to set structure and limits for them.


If your teen struggles with ADHD, anxiety, or mood-related issues, then it's still potentially beneficial to keep them busy and active, and it's even more important to help them structure their time with a consistent routine, a distraction-free environment, organizational skills, and soothing/calming self-talk.

Leveraging the family and community-resources

Use family and community-based resources to add more structure to your teen's life. The idea is to allow for limited free time hanging with friends by keeping them super busy with school work, studying, going to church youth group, sports and, if a male, doing things with Dad (during the late pre-teen and teen years for males, the relationship with Dad, or a stable father-figure, is the key). If that prospect does not go well, and kiddo is rebelling, then it may be best to pursue some outside counseling. Some parents may have the kiddo talk with church youth pastor first, or maybe a trusted aunt or uncle. Either way, ideally, add structure and routine to your youth’s life (as I mentioned, most of the time, kids going down the wrong path have way too much free time). If the youth rebels when redirected, and refuses structure, then again you could leverage your power in the relationship (see above), have your child talk to the trusted family member, or youth pastor, and then, if necessary, arrange an appointment with me before things get too far off the rails.

Can be a challenge

Believe me, I know first-hand that raising a teen can be a challenge. The balancing-act between allowing the obligatory freedom while continuing to provide oversight and discipline can feel like walking a tight-rope over Niagara Falls. If you feel the walk is becoming too precarious, don’t hesitate to drop me an email with any questions at or feel free to call the office to make an appointment.

Have a wonderful Christmas and New Years.

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