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5 Signs Your Teen is Overwhelmed: How to Offer Support

Posted by Christen Barbercheck on


Teenagers are no strangers to stress and pressure, especially when it comes to school. But how can you tell when your teen isn't just dealing with the typical challenges of adolescence but is truly overwhelmed? In this blog post, I'll share the  five common signs of teenage overwhelm that I experience coaching high schoolers and what  you may be  seeing in your home.  There are so many moving parts in the high school world and your teen feels the weight of this every day!   


5 Signs of Overwhelm: 

1. Falling Behind in School: It's natural for teens to face academic challenges, but consistently falling behind can be a sign of deeper issues. When you notice slipping grades or incomplete assignments, it's time to investigate further. Talk to your teen, their teachers, or a school counselor to understand the reasons behind this decline. Maybe it’s not understanding  the material, or missing assignments and deadlines, or not knowing how to study. Finding  the root cause is critical.  

2. Missing Assignments: A surefire sign of overwhelm is consistently missing assignments. Teens who can't keep up with their coursework may resort to avoidance, which only worsens their situation. Encourage your teen to stay organized, use a planner, and create a manageable study schedule to prevent missing assignments. And, remember, 2 missing assignments can lead to 5 or more in a very short time. 

3. Aimlessly Spending Time in Their Room: Teens seeking refuge in their rooms for hours without any productive activities may be overwhelmed. They might not know how to handle their stress, leading to procrastination and avoidance.  While spending a ton of time in their room is very common for teens, be mindful of what they are accomplishing. Gently encourage them to set goals for their free time, engage in hobbies, or spend quality time with the family.  

4. School Refusal: Extreme cases of school refusal, where your teen actively avoids attending classes, should raise serious concerns. This can be linked to anxiety, bullying, or academic stress. Be empathetic and work with the school, teachers, and counselors to address these issues. This needs to be an all hands on approach.  Teachers need to support prioritizing work. Parents/teachers need to help break down the work into small manageable pieces.    

5. Lying: Teens might resort to lying to hide their struggles. If you catch your teen telling untruths about schoolwork, attendance, or their emotions, it's a clear sign that they're overwhelmed. Foster a trusting environment where they feel safe discussing their difficulties without fear of punishment. 


Here are some proven strategies to help your overwhelmed teens: 

We’ve all been there: when your teenager seems overwhelmed and is struggling with school. It's a tough situation, but there are ways to help your child overcome these challenges and get back on track. Here are some tips to consider:  

1. Engage with the 504 Coordinator: If your teen has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan, it's crucial to work closely with the coordinator at their school. These plans are designed to provide support and accommodations for students who need them. Regular meetings and communication are a must if your teen has school refusal, missing assignments and failing grades.  They can ensure your teen is getting the assistance they require. 
2. Break Down Work: Encourage your teen to break down their assignments into manageable tasks. It's easier to tackle a project when it's broken into smaller, more achievable steps. This approach can reduce feelings of overwhelm and make the work seem less daunting. One subject, one assignment at a time.  Helping them prioritize will be an immense help getting them checking work off their list! 
3. Offer Lots of Encouragement: Sometimes, all your teen needs is a confidence boost. Encouragement can go a long way in motivating them to complete their assignments and excel in school. Praise their efforts and celebrate their achievements, no matter how small they may seem.  And, don’t underestimate how the small things matter!   Our teens have a lot on their plate- when we notice even the minutiae of everyday life, it sends the message that you are noticing. 
4. Show Empathy: Understand that your teen might be facing pressures and stress that you're not fully aware of. Take the time to listen to their concerns and feelings. Being empathetic and non-judgmental can help them open up about their struggles.  Very rarely are our teens seeking advice.  They know when they are behind and their grades are not where they’d like them.  Validate, listen and allow them to vent.  Remember, you are their safe place. Always.  
5. Quick Turnaround: Assure your teen that it doesn't take long to turn their grades around. With a bit of effort and commitment, they can catch up and submit their work. Make a plan together and stick to it.  Sometimes it may only require an hour to complete  and turn in their busy work assignments to increase their grades.   


Supporting an overwhelmed teen can be challenging. Patience, understanding, and having  strategies in place can make all the difference in decreasing stress, which will yield them confidence and success in school.  


About the author:

Kelly Biltz is a Certified ADHD Teen Life Coach.  Her life revolves around ADHD, Academics and all things Executive Functioning. She partners with high schoolers throughout the academic school year working on Executive Function skills,  mastering academic planning and success in school and life. 


You can find her on IG@Teenswithadhd 

FB group:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/succeedwithadhd/ 

Check out her free guide: Empowering your Teen: 5 Essentials Keys to Success 


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