High School Problems: How to Improve Study Skills for Struggling Teens

By Jennifer Arnold of Your Teen Magazine

High School

Sylvan Learning partnered with Jennifer Arnold of Your Teen magazine for this post.

I thought my daughter was prepared to start high school. She always received strong marks and except for a few challenges in math, appeared to have no problem keeping up with the work. Besides the occasional gentle prodding of, “Did you finish your homework?” it was smooth sailing.

Enter high school, and it was like I was parenting a different kid. The teachers moved at a much faster pace, and she found juggling her academics and a few extracurricular activities to be difficult. She was stressed to the max.

Whereas my daughter once seemed like a motivated self-starter, the demanding classwork now led to procrastination, frustration, and tears—from both of us.

As a parent, of course I wanted to help. But the subject matter was over my head, and my daughter and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on how she should approach her studies. We ended up fighting nearly every night, and it impacted our entire household.

It is natural to want to help your child solve all of their problems, but this is the age where they are starting to assert their independence and, they usually don’t want to hear parental advice. “Parents tend to suggest that they devote more time to school work. Some listen. Others don’t,” explains Joseph Adegboyega-Edun, M.S., M.A., a college adviser based in Maryland, and author of Succeeding in High School: A Handbook for Teens and Parents plus A College Admissions Primer.

So, what’s a parent to do when their high schooler seems to be in over their head?

Here are five ways to improve study skills

1. Make space. “Create a designated study space. Avoid students using the bedroom if at all possible and find a spot away from noise and younger siblings,” recommends Dr. Amanda Sterk, director of Accelerated Learning Programming at Florida SouthWestern State College. Parents should also encourage teens to “set a designated phone pouch in another room of the house that they may access on their breaks. Having their phone close to them and having it go off repeatedly, even if they don’t answer it, is distracting and wastes valuable time,” explains Sterk.

2. Pencil it in. Many students get to high school and immediately get overwhelmed by the academic demands, extracurricular activities, and social opportunities. Make sure your child designates a specific time for studying and also uses a calendar to keep track of tests, papers, assignments, etc. Teens often need help with time management and to understand that if they have a commitment on Tuesday evening and a test on Wednesday, Sunday afternoon may be the best time to study. Some people tend to work better under pressure, but it shouldn’t become a habit. “Cramming” for tests allows for temporary retention of information, but it is not typically effective for the long term.


Study Skills


3. Use tech effectively. While phones can be a major distraction during study time, there are ways students can incorporate their devices into their study program. Taking notes in class can be stressful for many students. They may wonder if they are jotting down the right information or may have trouble organizing their notes. Many smartphones have recording apps pre-loaded, so if your student has difficulty taking down notes, or is nervous about missing info, have them find out what their school’s policy is on recording devices in class. Flashcard apps such as Quizlet allow them to study on the go and many textbooks now have online components to enhance the students’ learning. If you are worried that your student’s phone will make her lose focus, consider using a parental monitoring device that turns social media, games and other apps off during designated study time.

4. Call in back-up. Sometimes you will need to call in reinforcements. You may not know how to figure out that trigonometry question or your child may not be receptive to the old “just try harder” speech. If your teen is struggling and conversations at home aren’t getting you anywhere, consider getting some outside help from experts in the field. Tutors and academic coaches at organizations such as Sylvan Learning Center can fill in the gaps—and set students up for long-term success.


Sylvan Learning Tutors Can Help Teens


5. Be Supportive. Don’t let homework become a daily battle. While grades are important, it shouldn’t destroy your relationship with your teen. Your job as a parent is to provide a supportive environment, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on—and celebratory frozen yogurt for when they achieve success.


Jennifer Arnold is a freelance writer living in Northern CA. She is a full-time mom and wife who loves to write, to curl up with a good book, experiment in the kitchen, and consume lots of coffee and chocolate.