This is a time of year when I suddenly get an upswing in calls from parents worried about their teenager’s anxiety level. Right around the time kids have to go back to school, things start to stress them out. It makes sense, they are about to have social and academic pressure again after three months of relaxation time.
Here are some things you can do to help your teenager reduce their stress as school starts back up:
1) Help them go into school with an academic plan. Some teens are anxious about school because they work really hard in school, and they anticipate too much homework. Other adolescents are anxious about starting school again because they don’t work hard enough, and they fear poor grades. Some kids need help understanding how to work smarter instead of harder. Other kids need help learning how to study effectively.
2) Talk about any social pressures they might feel. For a great number of middle and high school students, there are intense worries about fitting in. They really want to be liked. Some even wish to be popular. For other teenagers, there is anxiety around dating. It’s different for each one, but it will increase as school gets started again.
3) Some adolescents worry about how they’ll get along with you when school starts again. All summer you’ve been letting them hang out with friends, go to bed late, and haven’t asked too much of them. You might have asked them to do a couple chores, but that’s the extent of it. Now you’ll be back to checking on them daily about if their homework is complete, telling them to get off their phone and get to sleep, and waking them up early every morning. When you have to force a teenager to follow a schedule they don’t care for, it’s bound to create some battles. In general, I encourage you to turn over as much of this to your child as is appropriate for their age and maturity. If it’s up to your teen to wake up for school, your role changes from irritating parent to sympathetic parent.
4) Some teens get anxiety about how bored they will be sitting in class. It’s tough to sit for 6-8 hours per day listening to someone talk about things that don’t interest you. It’s easy to make it through some classes, but others are dreadful. I used to feel this way about math. It was complete torture to sit through two hour block classes of geometry. I found it very dull. I was definitely in a worse mood on days I had math. While there isn’t much you can do about this, you can certainly let your teenager know you understand how they feel. Sometimes that is enough to help them feel better.
I guess most of what I’m saying is to talk to your teen about the start of school. Sometimes their anxiety shows up in other ways. They might tell you they’re suddenly stressed about their sports team, friends, death, or you name it. A lot of times though, underneath all this is a worry about going back to school again. If you can help them recognize this, you can work together to take steps to help control it.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT