Underachievement is defined as when a student performs academically at a level below his or her actually ability. A teenager might fail math and not finish homework assignments, yet when he or she takes standardized exams it becomes quickly clear that the teen is bright and intelligent. Parents are frustrated, and many teachers simply give up on the underachieving child. These kids often end up in special needs classes that cater more to children with learning disabilities. The problem often only gets worse when this happens, as the teen is even less stimulated by the learning environment.
Underachievement can be due to many issues, from undiagnosed learning disabilities to boredom in the classroom. Even the brightest of students can do poorly in school if they do not feel motivated and challenged by the curriculum, teachers, and environment.
According to the theories of psychologist Abraham Maslow, children need to feel a sense of safety and security as well as a feeling of love and belongingness to meet their "hierarchy of needs." If the teen does not feel safe in school or loved at home, these can contribute to underachievement.
If your teen is bright and capable but not working at his or her level of ability, there are a number of approaches you can take to motivate them. Creative solutions may be needed, but the worst thing that can happen to an underachieving adolescent is to have their teachers and parents decide this is all they are capable of achieving.