Teens, Learning and AP Classes: You’re Doing It All Wrong

The research will blow your mind.


A teen wearing glasses clenches a pencil in her teeth while looking at a computer
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Hey parents! Got a teen? A teen who’s drowning in anxiety? An anxious teen who’s taking a bunch of high-level classes?

We’ve gotta talk.

When parents reach out to me for life coaching for their teen, they share what they perceive as their child’s greatest struggle. The number one concern: academics. The specifics vary, but they’re usually one of the big four:

  • lack of motivation
  • failure to turn in work
  • disappointing grades
  • avoidance through gaming or social media

When these parents’ kids come to coaching sessions, they cite a different primary issue: massive anxiety. Which, when the kid is in a bunch of high-level classes, makes perfect sense. They’re anxious because they’re trying to do the impossible.

For everyone but the smallest percentage of students, getting all As in a bunch of honors, AP or IB classes is literally not doable. The research explains why. This will blow your mind, but also duh, why didn’t we all realize it?

Research shows students learn best when they focus their efforts on the subjects they most care about — the ones they, personally, view as important for their future career or interests.

This will blow your mind, but also duh, why didn’t we all realize it?

Now get ready to clutch your pearls, because here comes the shocking part.

The research also says that students learn best when they’re allowed to deprioritize effort in the classes that aren’t personally important for them; that they don’t perceive as helping them reach future goals.

Let that sink in. Your child will be more successful in their learning if, instead of expecting them to earn a stack of As, you encourage them to channel their energy into the classes they value, and to be satisfied with mid-level grades in everything else.

The pressure to earn a stack of As in challenging classes is not only creating anxiety, it’s barring students from acquiring knowledge.

Here’s why.

Effort and focus are…



Cyndy Etler | Teen Coach | Author

Locked up & homeless as a teen. Now teaching resiliency & hope with my YA memoirs & teen coaching. Seen on CNN, HuffPost, NPR, CBS, ABC. www.cyndyetler.com