Understanding the Teenage Brain: 10 Tips to Help Your Teen Stay Focused in School

Somewhere in the last year or so, your “baby” became a teen, and the once talkative, affectionate, engaged child you knew and loved has been replaced with a one-word answering, easily annoyed, reclusive. 

If you’ve found yourself looking for a teen therapist near me in Simi Valley, desperately in search of answers and support, you’re not alone. Parenting teens is a tough job, especially in today’s world. In addition to the enormous physical, emotional, and cognitive changes going on through the teen years, the ever-present pressure of social media and constant distractions can feel hopelessly overwhelming for teens and parents alike. 

At Simi Psychological Group, our experienced teen therapists understand just how challenging these years can be for both you and your teen.  As teenagers navigate the ups and downs of adolescence, maintaining focus and concentration in school is not easy. Here’s what you need to know about the teen brain and ten tips you can use to help your teen stay focused in school.

Understanding the Teenage Brain:

If you’ve ever found an empty milk carton in the fridge, or a bag of chips with mere crumbs in the pantry, you might be living with a teen. The teenage brain undergoes significant development during adolescence, but the prefrontal cortex–the part of the brain responsible for things like planning, prioritizing, and making good decisions–is not fully developed until the mid-to-late 20s. 

This means that teenagers may struggle with maintaining focus, impulse control, and remembering that it’s not a great idea to wait until the night before it’s due to start their 15-page English report.

As a parent, understanding teen brain development is important when it comes to setting realistic expectations, exercising patience, and practicing accountability with compassion. 

For more information on how to understand your teen, check out our blog 3 Ways to Build a Healthy Relationship with Your Teen. 

10 Tips to Help Your Teen Stay Focused in School:

In addition to the teenage brain itself, there are a number of factors that impact a teen’s ability to focus, including sleep, nutrition, physical activity, screen time, and stress. Here are ten strategies to manage these factors and help your teen stay focused in school.

1. Ensure Adequate Sleep:  

a person sleeping in a bed

Do you get frustrated with your teen staying up into the wee hours of the night and then struggling to wake up the next morning? It turns out biology has something to do with that. Studies show that melatonin, the sleep hormone that helps signal that it’s bedtime, works differently in teens than in children and adults.

In adolescents, melatonin is released later in the evening, allowing them to stay up later into the night, but consequently struggle to wake up early the next morning. 

Teenagers require 8-10 hours of sleep per night for optimal cognitive function, but many teens are falling short of that, which not only makes them cranky, but also makes it harder for them to pay attention, control impulses, and do well at school. 

Check out our blog Teen Moodiness: What Is It and What to Do for more on managing your teen’s mood.

Encourage your teenager to get enough sleep each night. A well-rested teenager is more likely to be alert and focused in school.

2. Promote a Balanced Diet: 

While some teens may be conscientious consumers, a great many more may consider Mountain Dew, pizza rolls, and a bag of chips a complete meal. A balanced diet is crucial for brain health and focus, so ensuring your teen has access to and is consuming an adequate amount of nutritious foods is important.

Provide your teenager with a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins. Avoid excessive sugar which can lead to energy crashes, and strive to keep processed foods to a minimum. 

The goal is to incorporate a common sense approach without becoming overly obsessive.

3. Encourage Physical Activity: 

a group of people playing football

If your teen is a natural athlete, this one may not apply, but if your teen spends more time playing video games, scrolling social media, or streaming the latest season of Outer Banks, it might be time to kick them out….Outside, that is. 

Regular exercise can improve cognitive function and attention span. 

Encouraging your teen to find an activity that gets them moving, whether that’s working out at a gym, finding a yoga class, or simply dancing wildly to their favorite tunes on a regular basis, will help them academically as well.

4. Limit Screen Time: 

Fortunately or unfortunately, access to our gadgets (cell phones, smart-watches, computers, video games, TVs) is almost unlimited these days, which makes managing your teen’s screen time tough. However, teaching your teen to “screen responsibly” and take meaningful breaks is crucial, as excessive screen time can negatively impact attention span. 

Set limits on your teenager’s screen time, including television, video games, and smartphones, and encourage a social media detox periodically.

5. Establish a Consistent Routine: 

A structured daily routine can help teenagers develop a sense of predictability and stability, promote good study habits, and enhance focus.

Need a little more support on how to go about this? Our experienced providers and teen therapists in Simi Valley have a range of services to support you and your teen.

6. Create a Distraction-Free Environment: 

a person sitting at a desk with a laptop and a pencil

It doesn’t take much for a teen to get sucked into those things that pull them off-task. Creating a distraction-free environment makes a big difference.

Designate a quiet, clutter-free space for your teenager to study and complete homework. 

Minimize distractions such as rambunctious siblings, high-energy pets, excessive noise, and electronic devices.

7. Break Tasks into Manageable Chunks: 

Understanding that the teenage brain is not fully developed, poor planning and getting overstimulated can easily overwhelm your teen.

Help your teenager break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. This can make tasks feel less overwhelming and improve focus.

8. Teach Time Management Skills: 

Again, the teen brain is a work in progress. Teach your teenager how to prioritize tasks and manage their time effectively. This can help them stay focused and complete assignments on time.

Are you worried your teen struggles more than the average teen? Our experienced providers at Simi Psychological Group not only offer teen therapy but offer psychological testing services as well if you have questions.

9. Build Stress Management and Healthy Coping Skills: 

High levels of stress can hinder focus and concentration. It’s important to help teens navigate their stressors by helping them build healthy coping skills. 

Talk to your teen about how to maintain a healthy balance of activities, engage in self-care, and set realistic expectations. 

Teach your teenager mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, to help them stay focused and calm.

10. Provide Positive Reinforcement: 

Praise your teenager for their accomplishments as well as their efforts.

Celebrate their wins by focusing on the inherent characteristics that helped them achieve versus focusing solely on the achievement itself. Getting an “A” is awesome, taking first place in solo ensemble is wonderful, and hitting the game-winning shot is fantastic. Certainly, those things are worthy of celebrating; but be sure to praise their efforts in addition to the results, and remind them that they are worthy and wonderful no matter what.

Positive reinforcement can motivate your teenager to stay focused and engaged in school.

Supporting teenagers in maintaining focus and concentration in school is a collaborative effort between parents, teachers, and the teenagers themselves. By implementing these ten strategies, you can provide the support and guidance your teenager needs to succeed academically and beyond.

For more information on how Simi Psychological Group can support your whole family, contact us today. We offer therapy for teens, depression, anxiety, trauma, and much more.

Call now for a free consultation at (805) 842-1994