While many parents around the country are breathing a sigh of relief as summer slips away and school starts up again, many teens are groaning at the thought of returning to textbooks and teachers. The start of school can bring many mixed emotions – for some, excitement at daily social interaction and being one more step closer to graduation; for others the impending start of school may bring up feelings of anxiety. For teens that face social and academic challenges, the start of a new school year is often overwhelming, but with a little support and preparation your teen can conquer those anxieties and tackle the new school year with confidence.
Poor academic preparation often sets teens off on the wrong foot when returning to school. Improving your teen’s organizational skills can help eliminate the feelings of anxiety that come with being unprepared in class. Start by sitting down with your teen to review their class schedule and engage your teen in a discussion regarding what classes he/she is most excited about and what class is the most dreaded. Come up with goals and objectives for each class (i.e. If your teen fails two tests, he/she will agree to have a tutor). Set clear and realistic expectations for the school year. If your teen has an after school job or partakes in an extracurricular activity, set expectations of the GPA your teen needs to maintain in order to
continue the activity. Don’t be afraid to set some incentives for accomplishing academic achievements. It never hurts to reward positive behaviors and it’s human nature to be motivated by incentives. Would you go to work if you weren’t getting a paycheck at the end of each week? I sure wouldn’t!
Help your teen gather up needed school supplies at least two weeks in advance. There’s nothing like rushing around last minute for supplies to create feelings of anxiety. Teens with poor organizational skills may benefit from purchasing different color coordinated notebooks and folders for each class to help stay organized. Set up a workstation in the home that is free from distraction for teens that have difficulty focusing. Purchase an academic planner for your teen and make a schedule with your teen for homework and study time. Allow your teen the opportunity to have an active part in setting goals and schedules. The more control your teen has in setting their own academic goals, the more likely they will be motivated to achieve those goals.
For shy teens, the social aspect of school often creates feelings of anxiety, particularly if your teen has experienced peer conflict in the past. Begin by establishing open dialogue with your teen about social anxieties. By letting your teen know that you are available to listen and provide emotional support, you can help ensure that your teen will continue to turn to you throughout the year when issues arise. Normalize your teen’s concerns and show you empathize with your teen’s experiences by acknowledging that there have been times when you’ve felt nervous, alone or left out. Engage your teen in a discussion regarding how you were able to successfully cope with those feelings and experiences. Don’t brush off your teen’s concerns by dismissing or minimizing them. Teens need to know their feelings and experiences are normal.
During the last weeks of summer, encourage your teen to reach out to friends who they may not have seen recently. If your teen is nervous about attending a new school, contact the school to arrange for a tour. During a tour, your teen is able to explore the school without being overwhelmed by a crowd, and can familiarize his or herself with the layout of the building which may help decrease first day jitters of being lost among the maze of hallways.
No matter how much you prepare your teen, there is always a chance that something may not go as planned. Remember for a moment that adolescents are awkwardly caught in the middle of childhood and adulthood and are often internally struggling with finding themselves and their place in the world. Offer compassion and support for your teen’s feelings and experiences no matter how trivial they may seem to you. Lend an ear, give a hug and be understanding.
Jessica Ocasio, NCC, LPC is a licensed psychotherapist in New Jersey who specializes in working with children, adolescents and young adults. Jessica uses a combination of creative therapies and talk therapy to empower her clients in various areas of their lives. Jessica has a particular interest in working with children, adolescents and young adults who are experiencing symptoms of PTSD. Jessica specializes in the areas of domestic violence; abuse and neglect; sexual assault; foster and adoption issues; loss and separation; attachment issues; relationship building; and developmental disorders. You can check out Jessica’s website for resources and more information, including email contact, at www.jessicaocasio.com