A tell-tale sign of behavioral or emotional problems is when a previously high-achieving child starts to lose interest in school and homework. Sometimes the first time parents recognize this loss of interest is when the next report card comes in the mail. They are shocked to see their previously good student is not faring well in many classes. There may be notations by the teacher:
"Missing homework; doesn't participate in class."
"Poor test scores; needs to study more."
"Disruptive in class. Doesn't do assignments."
A parent's first reaction is often, "What happened? How could I not have noticed this!?"
Teens who are starting to have behavioral and emotional problems can be highly adept at hiding their problems. They can become expert at manipulating parents and convincing them that all is well. This may escalate to outright hostility and anger when the parent challenges them. The teenager might say, "Leave me alone! I'm fine!" He or she might blame the teachers, saying they have something against them.
If your child shows a major change in performance upon entering high school, make sure he or she does not have an undiagnosed learning disability. Often, the more independent nature of high school and increased workload can reveal issues that parents and teachers did not notice in elementary or middle school.
A bright and capable adolescent who suddenly shows a drop in grades may be having more than academic problems. Mild depression, experimentation with alcohol or drugs, problems coping with peers, and other issues can often impact academic performance. If your child is being bullied by peers, this can also result in poor school performance. If your child is showing signs of depression, this could explain a loss of interest in homework, achievement, and extracurricular activities.
Parents should not take lightly any sudden change in a teen's behavior. Although teens do go through some changes, and even perfectly healthy teens can seem more obstinate, hostile, and secretive, trust your instincts if you think your child's behavior is not just a reflection of normal "growing pains."