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When Your Teen Can No Longer Focus


Fort Henry museum--out of focus

Sometimes it happens. Your brilliant, super-capable teen is no longer learning, and you sense it is not merely an attitude problem. You begin to suspect something is seriously wrong…and you are probably right.

In our many years of homeschooling we have come across this problem a few times, and this I have learned:

When your formerly capable teen can no longer focus, you need professional advice.

I did not always know that, and my teens suffered as a result. Why? Because teen ‘ouwies’, unlike toddler ones, are often not visible on the surface. We know what to do when we see a scrape or a bump, but most of us do not know how to deal with a significant change in ability. We neither know what it means nor how to fix it. So just in case you, like most homeschoolers, are a do-it-yourself type (and recently I even wrote about doing psychoeducational testing yourself for children who have always had trouble learning, which is different from a change in ability), I’m going to tell you again:

Anything that makes it impossible for a formerly capable teen to learn requires professional medical help.

Do you need help understanding the seriousness of the situation?

Then listen to the anguish behind the words, “I just can’t do that [school work] anymore and I hate to be reminded of it!”

One concussion expert told me of injured high school football players crying like babies in her office because their minds no longer worked. “I just can’t do it!” they would sob about their school work.

Yes, that is the way it can be for our beloved teens.

So what is a parent’s role?

  1. First, we must notice the problem. This is surprisingly difficult considering everything else that happens during the teen years, but is probably easier for those homeschoolers who use frequent formal evaluations.
  2. Then we need to find the appropriate professional help. A good family doctor is an ideal starting place and will provide the necessary referrals to specialists or other professionals.
  3. Finally we need to support our teen and help him/her deal with the issue, the diagnosis, any consequences, and the healing process.

What kinds of issues could be involved? There are many, of course, and here is a partial list:

  • illness,
  • allergy,
  • traumatic event,
  • physical pain,
  • concussion,
  • depression,
  • bullying,
  • abuse,
  • extreme stress,
  • injury,
  • anxiety,
  • substance abuse,
  • serious mental illness,
  • relationship difficulties.

Yes, it really could be one or more of these that is causing your teen’s inability to learn. Yes, even your teen…because life happens, and this is a broken world, and we cannot protect everyone from everything, and people fall into sin.

Whatever the cause of our teen’s distress may be, we must deal with it; there is no way of escaping this responsibility.

For a parent there are six important things to remember:

  1. No matter what is happening with our beloved teen, he/she needs our love, support, and guidance.
  2. Even if our teen pushes us away, he/she still needs our loving support. We may, however, need to learn how to give it in a more effective way.
  3. Seeing our teen suffer, in whatever way, hurts us parents, but in most cases it hurts him/her even more.
  4. We all—parents, teens, and children—are broken sinners who need Jesus’ saving love and the Holy Spirit’s guidance every minute of the day.
  5. Academics are less important than dealing with the problem, even if our teen is in high school and preparing for university.
  6. There are few better ways to build relationships and to come closer to God than to support a loved one in distress.

May God be with us as parents as we try to raise our teens for him. May he be with our teens as they mature and experience the difficulties and complexities of life. May he keep each one of us close to him.

Related Articles I Have Written

Concussion Supplements for your Child or Teen

Screens and Our Kids’ Mental Health, with Tips for Parents

Review:  Smart but Scattered Teens by Guare, Dawson, and Guare

What Your Teen and You Really Need:  Sleep

Important Note:  These topics are not discussed very much and for a very good reason: it is difficult to do so without sharing information that needs to remain confidential.  Yet, for the good of our teens, there is a crying need for such discussion, especially in homeschooling circles.  So please share this post with the prayer that those who need to read it will be able to find it.

For more encouragement, visit Raising Homemakers, Tell it to Me Tuesdays, Titus 2 Tuesday, R&R Wednesdays, Finishing Strong, and Trivium Tuesdays.


  1. Thank you for writing this. I worry about potential lack of treatment/undertreatment of serious problems often because the illness is undetected or because of a misguided belief that medical involvement isn’t ever warranted in mood problems.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yes, that is a valid worry, and that is why I wrote this. We parents often get too overwhelmed by everyday details to respond appropriately, or even to realize that we should take action.

  2. Sara says:

    It’s so true that we live in a broken world and homeschooling doesn’t shield our children from life. Life happens and it’s important to know when we can do it ourselves and when to look for help. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Kathleen says:

    I found this bullet particularly poignant: Academics are less important than dealing with the problem. May I be reminded on that while in fray. Thank you again.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yes, it is an important point to remember. Sometimes, however, academics can be part of the solution. So confusing! It all requires so much wisdom! But we can (and should) ask God for wisdom.

  4. Kathleen says:

    Just rereading this post. Still needed. Thank you.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yup, I reread it regularly, too.

      God bless you!

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