For some teenagers, school is exciting. They cannot wait to see friends, and really don’t even mind being in class. If you’re reading this though, that is probably not your kid.
For a lot of adolescents, Monday is the worst day of the week. Going to school is terrifying. This can be for different reasons. For some kids the pressure of homework, tests, and getting up early is overwhelming. For most teenagers though, the anxiety associated with school is social. It is hard for some teens to imagine that anyone will be excited to see them. All they can picture is either being teased, or being ignored as the other kids excitedly greet one another.
As a parent who loves your kid, and most likely thinks the world of your kid, what do you do? When you see their heart breaking because they just don’t feel comfortable or confident, it breaks your heart too. We all revert to one of two attempts to help our children.
The first thing you might be doing is trying to solve it. You might be telling your child how to make more friends (or how to offend less people depending on your perspective). You might say things like, “Just walk in smiling. That always makes a person more attractive to others.” You might offer to let your kid have a party, or you might buy your teen the latest clothing trends. Realistically though, are you making a huge impact in this way? Your children’s feelings on the inside won’t have changed much, and this reflects outwardly to the other students.
The second approach might be to diminish your teenager’s concerns. You might tell them things like, “I bet more people like you than you think.” You might also tell them they are imagining it, etc. Here you are near the right track, although not quite on it. You need your teenager to be the one who says, “You know, I bet more people like me that I realize,” instead of you telling them. How in the world do you accomplish this?
The techniques I’m going to offer you aren’t foolproof, but they’re worth a try. Firstly, try telling a story about yourself at that age. Make sure it’s a story where you felt similarly. If the end of the story is that you were better liked than you realized, then include that. However, don’t make it up. If the end of the story is that you really weren’t very well liked in high school, leave it there. At the very minimum your child will feel understood; that is primarily what they are seeking when they talk with you about school related anxiety. This will help them to feel a little better because they will know they are not alone.
The next thing you can try is having your teenager examine the facts. Tell them, “We are going to look at both sides of this and then come to a conclusion.” Have them first tell you hard evidence that proves they are correct in their assuming people don’t like them at school. Do not allow things like, “I just know it,” or “Jennie likes Carmen better than me now.” Next make your teenager tell you why they are liked. Believe me, unless your child smells, is rude or never brushes their teeth, someone is friendly toward them.
If the anxiety stretches beyond basic nervousness, also consider getting a little extra help. Counseling tends to work very well on school-related anxiety. You can always start with what’s free. Put a call in to your teen’s school counselor. If you’re not comfortable with that, or the school counselor doesn’t help, then it’s probably time to call a licensed therapist.
It is my hope your teen has an amazing school year. I hope they learn in the classroom, and grow as an individual. Every year is a new chance for your child to blossom.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,