Back to School Concerns? What You Can Do to Help Your Teen Transition

Well, here we are again. For weeks, even months, teens have been eyeing the headlines on their phones and wondering, once more, what their academic future holds. Autumn is just around the corner and many teens are managing a host of what-ifs and back-to-school anxiety this year.

On one hand, things seemed to be headed back to in-person normalcy. TV ads about school supplies and school supplies implored us to get back to the malls. Yet, on the other hand, COVID still spreads, debates about how to handle it rage on, and nothing really seems like it will be “normal” again.

The truth is we are still living in uncertain times. All of this, of course, impacts the way teens see themselves, set goals, and view their high school milestones.

As COVID veterans now, in-person learning comes with questions about how much they can really connect with and enjoy their peers. They may wonder whether social distancing and mask-wearing measures will remain in place. If so, will the pandemic affect classroom collaborating, football games, parties, or simple lunches in the cafeteria forever?

Teens longing for independence and a clear academic and social path forward, need help staying encouraged, motivated, and supported. Here’s how you can help them move into the school year feeling as prepared as possible.

Be Real, Honest, and Available to Talk

The reality is we’ve all been talking about COVID for quite some time now. You might think bringing up the topic with your teen now would just be overkill. Actually, quite the opposite is true.

Your teenager is increasingly being asked to make decisions regarding their own body, future, and relationships.  Taking the time to specifically discuss and share the guidance and requirements of their school will help solidify expectations in their minds and yours. Moreover, it is a good way to build an open channel of communication regarding their concerns that fosters maturity and sharing without scare tactics and demands.

Allow them to be honest with you without trying to fix their feelings. Listen and reflect on what you hear them sharing. This demonstrates that they can count on you to respect and consider their feelings throughout the year. Moreover, age-appropriate sharing on your part will model how communication helps alleviate emotional discomfort and provides the necessary support.

Validate Their Feelings and Healthy Expression

Do your best to tune into the emotions your teen is experiencing. High school goes quickly and many teens pin so many milestones to these years. The pandemic has been a source of heartbreak for many young people who’ve missed prom, friends’ graduations, entire seasons of the sports they love, and academic opportunities they have looked forward to for years.

The idea of being jerked around by the virus and all the necessary restrictions likely doesn’t sit well with your teen and their patience may be wearing thin now that the novelty of lockdowns, masks, and now vaccination has worn off. In-person school is important to them, validate that you understand the gravity of their experiences on campus.

Essentially, encourage acceptance and resilience without minimizing their emotions.  They are daily managing hope, grief, and uncertainty in waves. All the while, they must focus on their academic goals and requirements. Avoid shrugging off their upset as “moodiness”, try to tune in and give them a safe place to express their feelings productively. That way, they are more likely to keep them in perspective with your support.

Whatever Happens, Let Them Know They Belong

Again, so much of school for teens is an adventure in independence and socialization. The transition from summer to school is often tough, but to think that they might have to endure fits and starts of online learning through another COVID winter could be extremely frustrating. It’s wise to prepare as a team.

First, talk about the smartphone. Go slow and keep the communication open, after all, their screens have been their lifelines for a while now. However, do encourage a cut off time for phones and keep some time screen-free.

Remind them how good it feels to interact, laugh, study and play together face to face. Plan (on a calendar) pandemic-proof events and connection points with friends, family, community groups, and exercise clubs through out the year. Encourage them to keep those relationships going  safely and in-person for as long as possible. This way, they are solid in case they need to return to Zoom.

Remind your teen that they don’t have to feel left out or isolated if they concentrate on connecting with people in real-time a bit everyday. This helps alleviate the emptiness that can result from solely connecting online and make them less likely to engage in or be victimized by cyberbullying.

Finally, pay attention to your teen as they face the realities and uncertainties that lie ahead this school year. Support them as they struggle. Praise them as the push through.

Transitions are always better with someone in your corner. Be there for your child and consider a counselor to further support you both. For more ideas to encourage and empower your teen, read more about anxiety treatment and reach out soon for a free consultation.

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