The Stress of Heading Back to School

As the summer starts to close there are many parents who are excited to see the school year begin, but rest assured, your teen may not feel the same way. Transitions are always stressful events. Think about it – the top 5 stressors for adults are changing jobs, moving, having a baby, a death in the family and getting married.  These are all changes… transitions in our lives. Changes are stressful for children, too, even though the changes seem smaller from our adult perspective. The transition from summer break to a new school year is very stressful for most adolescents, and multiply the stress by ten if you have relocated and the child is starting a new school.

Although change is a natural part of life, learning to handle stress is not intuitive. Studies show that adolescents are more likely to start risky behaviors – such as drugs, alcohol, sex, or gangs – during times of transition in order to cope with stress. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America says that the top 5 reasons teens use drugs during transitions are: (1) to combat loneliness, low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression, (2) to mentally check out of family issues or school trouble, (3) to ease discomfort in an unfamiliar situation, (4) to look cool or change their image / reputation, and (5) to fit in with a desired group of friends.

Everyone needs methods for coping under stress. The key is to teach children positive problem solving skills and stress relievers so that they can manage transitions in a healthy way. Here are some tips to handle the back to school transition:

  • Stay involved. The number one thing a parent can do to help their teen is to stay involved in their life. Make time for open communication. Read our July 9th blog on effective communication with teens. Children need a foundation – someone who is always there with love, support and guidance.
  • Be organized. You will reduce your child’s stress load with a little organization. Purchase and organize school supplies and new school clothes so that they feel prepared. Make a family schedule. Write down a weekly schedule and note appointments as they come up.
  • Teach your child some positive ways to relieve stress. Encourage them to find a method that works for them, including exercise, relaxation exercises, listening to music, etc. You can obtain additional ideas on our April 9 blog on developing coping skills.
  • Teach your child problem solving skills. Allowing your teen to make choices is a stepping stone to confidence. Try sitting down together and brainstorming a list of possible solutions to the given situation. Ask what they have tried before in similar situations, and what outcomes they experienced. Ask them to predict likely consequences, both positive and negative, for each possibility. Make a list of options together with pros and cons, and then let the teen choose the one they’d like to try. Check back frequently to see how the solution is or isn’t working, and help modify as necessary. Although this may feel like a time-consuming process, this is a skill that will determine the success of their adult life.
  • Talk to your teen about the risks, problems and consequences of risky behavior. Don’t assume that your child knows your value system – you must tell them that they should not use drugs or engage in unsafe sex. Although it seems obvious that children should know their parents don’t want them to do these things, studies consistently show that children whose parents have talked to them about avoiding risky behaviors are much more likely to avoid them than those whose parents did not. Provide them positive alternatives for healthy activities.

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