It’s that time of year when going back to school is on teens’ and parents’ (and teachers’) minds alike. The carefree--or at least the less scheduled--days of summer are winding down, and families are starting to think about what comes next and how to get the new academic year off on the right foot.
This new school year can be especially nerve-wracking for anyone who’s starting anew--especially if your kid is beginning high school, adjusting to a new school, or starting their first semester of college. For most people, new experiences bring a combination of excitement, anxiety, and overwhelm. This can certainly be true for teens, and all that intensity can leave your kid with a buzzy, hard-to-settle presence.
As a parent, you naturally want to help, but it can be hard to know how to support your teen without overstepping or just having them tune you out completely. Check out these tips to help:
Decrease uncertainty. It helps to know more about what to expect when things are new and unknown. Making sure your teen attends orientation is a good place to start and can help them get introduced to their new surroundings, so they’re not completely overwhelmed on their first day. If your kid is starting college, it can help to visit the campus, go for a walk, and check out the buildings and common areas, even before orientation or as a refresher afterward. Or, using Google Earth to maneuver around the school campus can offer a sense of familiarity. If there’s an older sibling, neighbor, friend, or relative who’s gone to that school, you could ask them to talk to your teen about what the experience was like for them.
Acknowledge that it’s normal to be kinda nervous. Most people feel some anxiety about new beginnings. Normalize this for your teen. You can share examples of what it was like for you when you started a new job or even share your memories from beginning high school or college. (Even if your kid laughs or rolls their eyes about how long ago that was, they’ll probably take in more than you realize.) Remind them that anyone else who’s new is likely nervous too, but we usually can’t see how other people are feeling--which is a good reminder that it probably won’t be obvious to their fellow students if they’re nervous too.
Discuss strategies for making new friends. We don’t often talk about the how of making new friends, but this is an important skill for your kid to learn and understand. You can have conversations about interesting get-to-know-you questions, and chat about how commenting on a common interest can be a good conversation starter. You can remind your teen that there will be other new students, and talk about how they might keep their eyes out for other people who look a little lost. Sometimes even a simple, “Whew, it’s crowded here” or “This your first day too?” can go a long way toward helping people connect.
Talk about what extracurriculars your teen is interested in, and encourage them to pick at least one activity to meet like-minded peers. Finding common ground is a great tool for helping teens connect with each other. This is especially useful because adolescent development makes teens crave being with their tribe of people who really get them. You could look up a list of activities offered by the new school, and discuss which ones seem interesting.
Ask them about their hopes for this school year. Goals are more likely to be accomplished if we first acknowledge them. Makes sense, right? Give your teen an invitation to think about what they want this school year to look like. Having the end in sight can help guide their actions toward getting what they want.
As your teen begins and adjusts to their new surroundings, be gentle, be patient, and give them space. Let them know you’re there for them if they want to talk or just want a distraction from their nerves. Your teen may or may not want to talk to you about their feelings, and that’s perfectly okay. You can still make suggestions and invite them to think about things--just try not to get naggy because we all know that goes nowhere. Starting a new school is one of those interesting and challenging life experiences we all face, but having information and support can go a long way toward making it a smooth, new beginning.
Very best wishes,
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Ivy Griffin, LMFT # 51714, Director
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818