Does Your Teen Need to Be More Challenged at School?

bored-teen“School is so boring! Why do I have to go?”

“This is so easy.”

All kids, at one time or another, get frustrated at school. It’s inevitable. Not everyone shares the same interests and aptitudes, and a subject that fascinates one kid will bore another to the verge of tears. Throw in different teaching styles, the social dynamics of the classroom, and a million other potential distractions, and it’s actually rather amazing that most kids move through school at a similar pace and actually learn anything at all.

Parents are often challenged, though, to determine whether their kids’ disinterest in school is just the normal struggle of childhood, or if there is something more serious going on. Kids, especially teenagers, who aren’t challenged by their schoolwork often fail to reach their full potential, and may even act out in inappropriate ways in an attempt to fulfill their need for stimulation. Neither scenario is healthy, or what any parent wants for their child, so how do you determine whether your child’s lack of interest in school is a normal symptom of growing up, or the sign of a bigger problem?

Spotting Signs of Boredom

All too often, parents dismiss the signs that their kids aren’t being challenged at school as “kid stuff,” reminding their kids that they have to go to school or suggesting ways to make their schoolwork more interesting. Often, their cries of “I’m bored!” have less to do with the subject at hand and their abilities to manage the work, and more to do with the fact that they are being forced to do something that they don’t want to do.

However, you need to be alert to the signs that the boredom isn’t just a desire to do something else. Teachers and school psychologists note that there are certain telltale signs that your child isn’t being challenged:

  1. Their abilities are objectively more advanced than those of their classmates, as indicated by scores and grades.
  2. They complete work more quickly than their classmates. Often, they rush assignments just to get them over with.
  3. Homework and classwork may be sloppy and riddled with errors, but scores on exams are higher than average or even perfect. This often indicates that your child is able to “turn it on” when it’s important, but bored or put off by seemingly unimportant assignments.
  4. Your child shows no interest in improving their work when sloppiness or other issues are pointed out.
  5. Above average performance without any visible effort.
  6. Declining or poor performance in a subject that they previously excelled in, with no other attributable causes (i.e., a new teaching style, significantly more advanced material)
  7. Acting out in class. Under-challenged students may be disruptive or disrespectful, or do things to “entertain” themselves that are distracting or inappropriate.
  8. Lack of information about what’s happening at school, or a focus on the social aspects rather than academic, even when specifically asked about what they are learning.

Any one of these sign taken on its own doesn’t necessarily mean that your child isn’t being challenged, but they should at minimum spur you to meet with your child’s teachers or guidance counselor to get a better sense of what is going on.

How to Help Your Under-Challenged Teen Become Re-Engaged

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If you determine that your child isn’t being challenged enough at school, you have several options that can help him or her get more engaged with school. In some cases, simply working with the teacher to identify more challenging assignments and recommending more advanced books can alleviate the problem.

In other cases, more drastic action may be called for. If your child is identified as gifted, or even just advanced, your school may not have the resources available to meet his or her needs, and you may have to seek other opportunities.

Moving ahead grade levels is one option, but many parents also consider boarding schools with more rigorous academic curriculums to better fulfill their child’s needs.  According to AmericanHebrewAcademy.org, 78 percent of students at boarding schools feel prepared for college, compared to only 36 percent of private day school students and 23 percent of public schools students. Boarding schools help students succeed academically while also giving them a sense of identity — something that can be vital for students that are struggling to stay interested in school.

In some communities, you may also have access to advanced placement or dual enrollment programs, which allow your teen to enroll in college level courses for credit, which present a greater challenge while also giving them a head start on college.

The most important thing, though, is to do something. Assuming that your child’s disinterest in school is just normal childhood stuff may be doing them a disservice. Many kids aren’t sure how to go about telling their teachers that they want to be challenged, or they aren’t comfortable speaking up. If you see the signs of an issue, advocate for your child, and help them reach their full academic potential.

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