Going back to school is hard. Whether it’s middle or high school, new school or returning on campus, most students agree they approach the Fall semester with a big mix of emotions, expectations, and uncertainty. Now is a good time for parents to increase their awareness – often times if a teen is irritable, snappy, evasive, or is avoiding talking about or preparing for school, they may be worried about performance, peer inclusion, or mental or physical health concerns like anxiety, feelings of depression, or diet and sleep disruption.
Here’s the top 4 worries teens have been expressing recently in session with me, and how parents can respond.
1. Overwhelming class workload
Sometimes parents wonder just how much is too much when it comes to academic commitment. Teens are extremely capable of meeting their academic goals, but they’re also getting lots of feedback from teachers, coaches, and other important adults in their lives about how much they “should” take on. When they lose sight of their important intuition about reasonable academic goals they can be stuck with classes that they aren’t ready for.
Approach your teen in a calm moment and ask about this part of their life. Use genuine curiosity about their situation; don’t worry about getting information from them that will reassure you. Encourage them to break down academic planning into small steps and be realistic about whether or not they should step it down a notch. Look at an honors course instead of AP level, or add an elective and subtract a core subject if possible. Schedule an academic counselor meeting if your teen wants this.
2. Overcommitted with extracurriculars
Similar to academic overcommitment, a teen can feel, again, like they “should’ join a sports team, and the National Junior Honor Society, and Leadership, and Cheer. All in the same semester. This combination does have some age-appropriate benefits, like increasing social opportunities or status and helping a teenager to feel useful or competent. But overcommitment can lead to burn out.
Help define the difference between doing YOUR personal best and what everybody else says. Encourage participation; discourage self comparison. Remind your teen of past examples of their capabilities and contributions and how well those experiences went when they were happy about their commitment level, not following the opinions of others.
3. Sleep Schedules
It might be hard to believe. but many teens worry about how they’re going to shift back to earlier bedtimes and waking times. School start times don’t account for the significant difference in adolescent circadian rhythms from adults or young children. Teens want to succeed in school and want to remain in the good graces of their teachers, and falling asleep in class puts that in jeopardy.
Before school starts, encourage some relaxation periods throughout the day so your teen is more relaxed going into evening hours. This promotes easier access to a relaxation response when a person tries to fall asleep. Also, discuss and agree on some reduction in going out at night, or shifting some social outings to daytime hours.
4. Changes in peer relationships over the summer means peer group changes on campus
No one is immune to strong emotions when a friendship goes through a rocky period, but because adolescents are working really hard at identity formation, friendships are one of the most meaningful metrics they look as they measure their success. If there’s been a falling out over the summer that might mean they don’t know who they’re going to be with at lunch or they’ve lost their ride for off campus time, this can bring up insecurity and negative self talk.
Empathize. Remember, and say out loud, how you might have experienced this at any age. Remind them, if appropriate, of their older and more secure relationships – maybe a cousin or childhood friend? No matter where that secure relationship may live or be in their life, remembering these can increase feelings of acceptance. Also, long standing relationships are based on history, not on the moment, which can evoke fun memories and feelings of happiness.
Still worried about how the school year will start out? Maybe it’s time for a parent consultation or teen therapy appointment. Reach out by clicking on the Scheduling buttons on the Schedule page.