Easing Your Teen’s School-Related Anxiety
I often have to regroup after a vacation, when schedules once again return to normal. Stress levels can start to rise even before stepping through the doorway at home. Teens experience similar emotions as the school year approaches after a long summer vacation. Even if their summer was filled with volunteer or work opportunities, a more relaxed schedule with time to surf, sleep, hike or hang out was likely part of the mix. Therefore, as the demanding school year draws near, many teens begin to experience higher stress levels. You can help your teen get a handle on stress before it wreaks havoc on her psyche.
Back-to-school = back-to-stress?
Maybe your teen is worried about academic success or acceptance into a club she is interested in joining. It could be a combination of social and academic stressors.
"Often teens feel stress about the start of the school year because their schedule is quite different during the summer," says Richard N. Shadick, director of Pace University Counseling Center and adjunct professor of psychology. "They are used to fewer demands and expectations. Also, during the summer, some teens tend to lose their social network. This makes for an awkward transition and the need to get reacquainted with peers after much time has passed."
Teens might be concerned about considerable changes as well, such as more intense academic loads or new school environments.
"Depending on the year, teens may be facing major challenges such as starting high school, applying to colleges or looking for work," Shadick says.
Don't underestimate stress
Stress levels can escalate, resulting in teens making bad choices as they search for ways to cope. According to studies conducted in 2007 by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, 73 percent of teens who reported using drugs said school stress was the primary reason for their drug use. A supplemental study showed that only 7 percent of parents believe teens will use drugs to cope with stress. Parents may be underestimating the effect stress has on their teens.
"Signs that your teen's stress is getting out of hand include drastic changes in grades, personality or habits," Shadick says. "For example, if a neat and orderly teen starts to become disheveled and disorganized, parents may need to be concerned."
Parents should seek professional help if their teen is extremely anxious, seems unusually depressed or shows signs of substance abuse.
Parents can help
You can help minimize your teen's stress level, but the first step is to acknowledge the stress and take it seriously.
Shadick believes planning a structured summer is essential because this alleviates a drastic transition. He also advises maintaining your teen's social activities and connections.
"Encourage your teen to stay in contact with their friends from school so that they will have the social support they need when they return to classes," Shadick says. He also says it's a good idea for parents to talk frequently with their teens about the transition from summer vacation to school, and to work with them on being properly prepared for the change. n
Myrna Beth Haskell is a feature writer and columnist specializing in parenting issues and child and adolescent development. She is the mother of two teenagers.
More ideas for a stress-free start:
* New school? Teens should walk through their schedule before the first day.
* A fresh haircut or new outfit can boost confidence.
* Teens should abide by "school night" curfews a week before school starts.
* Have teens organize supplies and study areas for a new school year.
* Don't forget to schedule downtime.
Tips and Tales
"Sometimes an ice breaker works. When I was in high school, all the sophomores would show up in one sneaker and one shoe. It was a tradition for the incoming class and something to look forward to." - Frank Adams, New Brunswick, N.J.
"As school starts, I get fearless about taking things off our list if I see the stress levels getting too high. We also plan hikes or other nature-related activities because this is calming and refreshing to one's spirits." - Wendy Urban-Mead, Staatsburg, N.Y.
Share your ideas. Coming this fall:
What to do when your teen gets mixed up with the "wrong" crowd.