Addressing Back-to-School Fears
Heading back to school brings every teen some level of anxiety. Common fears that teens face are:
- Making new friends
- Facing bullies
- Feeling “uncool”
- Finding someone to sit with at lunch or on the bus
- Developing their identity and/or fitting in
- Dating issues
- Not being able to understand the schoolwork
- Getting a bad teacher
- Pressure to perform academically as they prepare for college
The anxiety that school produces can build up in a teen’s mind, and although they are more likely to talk to their peers about their concerns than their parents, there are still a few things that parents can do to ease the back-to-school transition:
Be proactive. Make sure that you and your teen attend the school’s Open House or orientation prior to the beginning of school. This will help your teen visualize returning to school, which is an excellent way to reduce anxiety. Another way to slide into the new school year is to invite some of the other teens from the school over for an end-of-summer party. This can help reconnect friends and help the teens support each other for the upcoming school year. Additionally, parents should take time to reflect on the strengths and struggles of the previous school year. Likely, your teen will face the same challenges, so sit down with your teen and brainstorm ideas for solving those problems before they start. For example, if your teen struggled at math, download an app that they can play before the school year begins.
Identify any fears. If you and your teen have good communication, it is very helpful to find out the fears that your teen is feeling. Acknowledge that fear (“I remember feeling that way when I started a new school year”) without overreacting or making fun of it. You don’t want to reinforce their fear by becoming anxious, nor do you want to act dismissive or give them the impression that you think they are weak or silly.
Examine the worst-case scenario. Many times our fears are fairly irrational. One of the best ways to calm an anxious teen is to simply ask “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” When they explain what they are imagining, you can better address their concern. You can either put their worry in perspective if it doesn’t sound terrible, or you can help them figure out a good response to that worst-case scenario. Then ask, “What’s the most likely thing that can happen?” Again, you can help them develop appropriate responses to situations they may face. To help them remember that positive things are on the horizon, too, you could also ask, “What’s the best thing that can happen?” This process can help your teen feel like they are more in control and ease their fears.
Revisit past success. Remind your teen of other times they felt anxious, and everything worked out.
Normalize the fear. Remind your teen that they have felt nervous every year before school begins and that all of their classmates are struggling with the same concerns.
A new school year can mean a lot of stress for a teen, as well as for parents. Take some time before school starts to relax and enjoy an activity together. Talk to each other about the school year coming up and reaffirm with your teenager that you are there to help whenever help is needed. Be sure to tell him/her this and don’t assume he/she already knows. It is easier to handle stress from outside sources – like school – when you know someone is on your side.