Academic Underachievement in Adolescents: Psychosocial factors
Created by Shikha Batra Updated on Dec 19, 2019
“Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.” ? Paulo Coelho
Underachievement means to perform less than expected which is what happens with almost all of us in all domains of life be it our jobs, our home, or taking care of our kids, or any area which demands our contribution. In the context of academics, when the performance is way below expectations in schools we call it academic underachievement. In adolescents underachievement becomes all the more an important area worth consideration because they have to make career choices in the years to come. Listening to parents complain that their teenager has lost interest in studies, or is working hard but still not able to get scores accordingly, is not quite uncommon. When I heard these narrations about my 13 years old niece from my sister-in -law that she lacks concentration, has become moody and her performance has gone steep down when compared with previous years, I kept pondering over the causes related to it and how this issue should be dealt with. This issue really touched me somewhere deep down as I myself have been a witness of her growing up over the years, and I know how good she had been in academics as well as in co-curricular activities as a child. To find possible causes for her decline in performance is what motivated me to take up this topic as my area of research.
Lets first establish, what is Adolescence?
Adolescence can be described be a period when an individual is between childhood and adulthood i.e. 11 to19 years. It is the age of stress and storm and a crucial phase in human development.
There are many developmental tasks which needs to be accomplished before the individual can move to the next stage of maturity such as:
1. Becoming comfortable with their own bodies and the pubertal changes taking place
2. Accepting responsibility and working towards independence from parents and other adult authority figures.
3. Building new and meaningful relationships with others of the same and the opposite sexes
4. Seeking emotional and economic stability.
5. Developing one's own value system.
Lets define Academic achievement to understand Academic Underachievement:
Academic achievement is the measure of how much one has attained intellectually. Most educational institutions such as schools, colleges use marks or grades of a student as an important index of his/her academic achievement. It is this index, which labels him/her as a high or a low performer.
Academic underachievement on the other hand has been defined as the ability of a particular child to achieve the sort of success expected of him/her when all his/her capabilities, including intellectual development and social and emotional maturity are taken into account (Cartwright et al., 1980). In other words an academic underachiever would be one whose performance in school does not match with his intellectual ability. (School underachievement has become the leading reason for referral to counselors in the recent years followed by behavior related problems).
Hammar (1967) gave the following three categories of academic Underachievement:
1) Psychogenic underachievers: the word psychogenic means 'Genesis in Psychological problems'. These academic problems appeared to be related to primary emotional disturbances and environmental factors.
2) Specific learning problems (including reading disability) without evidence of mental retardation: These children have decoding problems, such as disabilities of reading. Other problems could be related to spelling, mathematics and handwriting.
3) Subnormal intelligence: In laymen terms, subnormal intelligence is intelligence below average. These students have deficiencies in judgement; conceptualization and adaptability.
What are some of the other factors contributing to Academic Underachievement?
The self or the Personal factors:
The various factors related to self that contribute to academic underachievement are self-concept, interests, goals and study habits. Emotional factors such as temperament, anxiety, stress at a critical period, lack of motivation, avoidance of learning, generally impaired psychological function, and intelligence are also a part of self-related factors of academic underachievement in adolescents.
Family related factors:
The family related factors, which could be responsible for adolescent's underachievement, are background characteristics such as parental education, parental occupation, ordinal position and the size of the family. The other factors that could play a role are motivation from parents, parenting styles, and intra-family relationships.
School related factors:
The school related factors which could play a role in adolescent's academic underachievement are class size, pupil - teacher relationships, transition from one school to another, attendance, social competence and popularity among peer group.
The management of these psychosocial factors assumes an important role to tackle the problem of academic underachievement in adolescents.
What may be some of the management techniques used by self?
1. It is recommended that the students should work towards having positive self-concept under the guidance of teachers, parents and counselors.
2. It may be beneficial that they set academic oriented goals, be systematic, organized and adopt good study habits. Planning their day and stipulating time for studies everyday including time for doing homework.
3. Revision of work whatever is done in school would also help retain content and avoid last minute tension that could lead to anxiety thereby having an impact on scores.
4. It is advised that students should motivate themselves to achieve higher grades by constantly reminding themselves of their target, which could be supported by calming exercises like yoga or reiki.
5. Taking responsibility for their actions and accepting defeat gracefully are important traits and if need be a student could confide in an adult such as parents, teacher, counselor or relative for help to resolve their problem.
What may be some of the management techniques used by family?
1. To have a positive reinforcing effect on an under achieving child, the family may need to set good role models.
2. It is generally observed that underachievers have poor self esteem so it may be helpful if the parent’s role is that of a facilitator and not be critical of the child.
3. The parents could help the child set small achievable goals. A small success usually boosts a child's morale and would give him/her strength to carry on with fervor.
4. Helping the child learn study techniques, by working on note-taking, textbook management, goal setting, time management and organizational skills may be advantageous.
5. Praising the child for each and every small effort made by him/her and rewarding aptly while at the same time not comparing the child's performance with any other individual.
6. Making sure that the child's health nutrition, sleep patterns and activity levels are at an optimal best. It would also bring valuable change if the parent could join a support group and exchange ideas and experiences.
7. Discouraging negative traits such as procrastination, manipulation and blame game and promoting positive behavior such as taking responsibility for actions and accepting challenges. Encouraging child's interests, regardless of the level of school success may also be useful.
8. Monitoring child's peer group as it can have a detrimental effect on child's self esteem, academic performance and can pose serious problems in the process of becoming well-adjusted adolescents and adults.
9. An expert like a counselor or a psychologist could be consulted if the situation is dire without being fearful of any stigma attached to it for the emotional as well as psychological well being of the child.
Most importantly, telling your child every now and then how much you love him or her irrespective of his/her performance.
What may be some of the helpful management techniques used by the school?
1. It is suggested that all students should have access to establish positive relationship with their teachers. The students may put forth greater efforts and demonstrate a higher degree of persistence if their teachers appreciate them.
2. Early identification of the underachievers may help in establishing the line of help that may be provided for the child by the school.
3. High rates of school mobility due to parental transfers or other factors could lead to poor performance in school. The teachers could play a significant role in adjustment of a new student by helping him/her build peer group relationships.
4. Teachers could help build positive peer group relationships amongst pupils. Even peer tutoring could be used to deal with academic underachievement in which an academic underachiever could be paired with an achiever.
5. Schools may have a counselor, coach, or an academic content teacher in whom a child could confide to help reverse the problem of academic underachievement.
6. There have been many instances where involving underachievers in clubs, co-curricular activities, sports, debate, dance, drama have proven to be beneficial for them.
7. Integrating real-life examples with classroom information and using hands-on learning activities to provide better insight will help learners relate to the topic thereby making it more interesting.
Academic underachievement becomes an area of paramount importance since today's youth will play a significant role tomorrow in deciding future of the country, and only well educated individuals can bring glory to themselves as well as their country. Parents along with the school could work in coordination with each other keeping in mind the goal to help children realize their potential and bring them back on the path of success.
“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.”- George Eliot