It’s that time of year again. Summer is coming to an end, and school supplies line the shelves at Target. This year even the weather is cooler. All of this means your teen is either back in school or on the verge of going back. Talk of homework and class schedules, grades and college applications are swirling. Then, there are dances and homecoming and drivers’ licenses and dating.
Back-to-school time brings all of this to the forefront. Summer seems over, and future plans abound. Parents and teens alike want to get started on the right foot. There can be a lot of juggling needs and schedules for everyone in the family between school, work, and extra-curriculars. Feelings of excitement, dread, anxiety, enthusiasm, and overwhelm may come up—for your teen or yourself. There’s so much to think about and navigate!
So, what can you do to help this school year start off right?
- Talk about expectations. As everyone gets back into the swing of things, it’s a great time to talk about what this school year will look like. Reviewing and updating family calendars and pick-up schedules can be a necessary place to start. It’s also helpful to review your expectations—do you want your teen to stay on top of homework? (Of course!) So, what does that look like? How will you know if your teen is following through? (Remember, taking a break in-between the school day and homework time can be essential and can actually increase your teen’s ability to focus and concentrate.) Will anything be different about your teen’s curfew this year? What chores will your teen be responsible for and when will they need to be completed? Will they earn an allowance? Would you like your teen to get a part-time job? Discussing such expectations with your teen also gives them a chance to share their opinion, feedback, and suggestions. This makes them part of the family plan. They can even share their frustration or dislike of the expectations. That doesn’t mean the expectations change, but it can give you a chance to get their buy-in when you hold firm but ask what you can do to support them in meeting these goals. Also, having clear expectations tends to make everyone feel more calm.
- Be curious about your teen’s thoughts and feelings about this school year. Ask your teen about what their hopes and goals are for the year. Are they hoping to make varsity? Do they want to focus on bringing up their math grade? Would they like to make a new friend group or be on student council? Is your teen worried or concerned about anything? Is there anything they’re really looking forward to? Anything they want to do differently than last year? Asking your teen these questions can encourage them to think about what they want and need. And, we’re all more likely to reach our goals when we clearly identify what they are.
- Make time for fun and relaxation. Teens have so much on their plates. They’re navigating lots of responsibility and big life decisions while their hormones are raging, their brains are changing, and they’re sorting out their identities. All of this happens a decade (give or take) before their brains are even finished growing! So, they need down time. They need time to rest and time to have fun and enjoy life. A life that is focused only on the future or on earning the right grade isn’t healthy or happy for anyone. Encourage and allow your teen the time to have some balance and to focus on what excites them and rejuvenates them, especially in-between the hours of homework.
- Empower your teen to be responsible. Developmentally, teens are able to manage a lot more of their time and their responsibilities. Set guidelines, but also allow them some freedom with how and when to meet those responsibilities. Such independence helps prepare teens for college and later for work. If they don’t get chores done or they fail a test they didn’t study for, then you can step in and hold them accountable. However, it’s important to first give them the opportunity to hold themselves accountable for doing what needs to be done.
- Allow for (and expect some) mistakes. Of course, we all make mistakes sometimes. Welcome to the human race, right? So, give your teen some grace with making mistakes too, while also recognizing that their changing brain can make it hard for them to think through long-term consequences. They tend to live in the here and now, which may create even more chances to mess up. Set limits and provide consequences as needed, but remember that it’s ok when your kid isn’t perfect.
- Don’t over-emphasize future goals. Yes, the future is important. Naturally, you want your kid to have all the best opportunities for a happy life, and you want them to be set up for success. You know the required components may include getting into a good college and planning for their career. However, it’s also important to remember that your teen has a lot of life ahead of them. It’s ok if they don’t know what they want to do for a career. It’s even ok if they don’t know what college they want to go to or if they decide not to go to college right now. Most people change careers several times over the course of their lives. While we know this as adults, a lot of the messages we give teens focus on the importance and weight of the decisions they make right now. They don’t have the benefit of time and perspective to know that it’s ok to change or that even if their dream college doesn’t come through, they’ll be ok. Be a voice that reassures them that while hard work and planning have a place, it’s also ok and healthy to be adaptable and to figure some things out as they go. Their entire future does NOT depend on right now.
Returning to school can be a helpful time to check in about where things are and where they’re going, both for yourself and your kid. As a parent, you can be a guide. You can plant the seeds and invite your kid to nurture them. They’re at a place to take on a lot more responsibility, but they still need your guidance and support, even if they’d never admit it.
Best wishes this school year!
Ivy Griffin, LMFT # 51714, Director
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818
PS--If your teen is needing help managing stress, self-esteem, anxiety, or relationships, Teen Space might be just the thing for them!