School Anxiety in 2022 Teens
All over the Country teenagers will be starting their first year in high school or returning to high school. Teenagers starting high school or resuming high school in 2022 do so with mass school shootings occurring on a regular basis as well as still dealing with a deadly pandemic. Therefore, high school students are facing additional issues besides the typical first day of school issues. They are facing life and death issues, we never had to face in high school. Today’s teenagers are facing overwhelming issues we never had to face when we went to high school. This can make it difficult for parents to be able to completely understand the feelings teenagers and having starting high school.
Parents hopefully you can remember everything teenagers and you are facing as your teenagers start high school. You may need to contact your teenager’s school and ask for assistance from the school. You may need to seek out a psychotherapist who specializes in treating teenagers and have your teenager participate in psychotherapy. There is no shame in doing this because teenagers are facing tremendous mental health issues and many need help. Since the pandemic and school resuming, there has been a significant increase in the number of teenagers needing psychotherapy (CDC). In fact we are running out of psychotherapist who are able to treat these teenagers. No one planned on how to adequately handle the number of teenagers needing psychotherapy due to the pandemic.
Parents all you can do is to be patient and listen to your teenagers and seek the help you feel is appropriate. Also do not forget yourselves. Parents are under a great deal of stress too and you may need psychotherapy too. If you try to work together and are patient with each other, you should be able to handle the stress teenagers are facing due to the pandemic.
As parents, you can talk to your teenagers about your first days days at high school and reassure them that the stories they hear about Freshmen being targets for the seniors are greatly exaggerated. Also you can try to go with them over to the school before it starts and walk around the campus so they can get use to where everything is at their new school. Another thing you can do is remind them that everyone makes mistakes so if they do get lost the first day it is not a big deal. Remind them there will be a lot of other kids starting their first day of school too and there will be other kids getting lost. This is also another opportunity to continue to establish an open relationship with your teenager. The more you talk with each other, you increase the likelihood that they will feel comfortable coming and talking to you about issues they will have while in high school.
Another issue facing some students is starting all over. In middle school may be everyone knew them and they were in the “popular group.” Now no one knows them and they need to start all over. This may be frightening to them, but remind them there will be many times in life when they will need to start as the new person. Also remind them, if they were able to do it in middle school, they can do it in high school too. Be sure to encourage them to have faith in themselves because it won’t happen over night. Now for many students middle school was a nightmare. They may be looking forward to starting over. Again remind them if they have the desire to try they can do it. All the Freshmen are starting all over just like them, but also to be patient because it may not happen as quickly as they like.
Also before school actually starts is a very good time to establish what your expectations are regarding grades and after school activities and hanging out with friends. At this time is a good time to establish what your expectations are homework, after school jobs and weekend curfews. If you establish an understanding between yourself and your teenager before these situations arise you can save yourself a lot of time arguing with your teenager. However as you establish these guidelines you want to have a conversation with your teenager about these issues. Remember your teenager is starting to enter the adult world, if you simply just tell them these are the rules, they will feel that you are being unfair and they will try to find a way around your rules. If you have a discussion with them about the rules they will feel that their opinions were respected, they are more likely to feel that the rules are fair and are more likely to follow the rules.
One thing to remember is acronym HALT. I teach this often with anger management, but it helps with communication too.
H – hunger
A – anger
L – lonely
T – tired
If either one of you are having these feelings, it is generally not a good time to have a discussion. Also if either one of you is feeling like this and you may not be listening to each other. Therefore, if either one of you are having these feelings or don’t feel like talking, then it’s better to postpone the conversation until you are both ready to talk.
Lastly, remind them that they are starting a brand-new phase in their life and it is normal to feel anxious and stress. Also remind them that these feelings are normal in the beginning but they usually quickly disappear after they have started school.
A few things you can do on the first day of classes to help with any anxiety are you can get up in the morning with them and have breakfast with them before they go to school. You can also put a note of encouragement in their backpack that they will find when they are at school and this can help reassure them and remind them how much support they have at home. Finally, you can arrange to be at home when when they get home from their first day of high school so you can talk about it with them. Also plan to have a family dinner to discuss everyone’s first day of school and offer encouragement where needed. These are just a few ideas to help with the transition process.
One final issue to remember, since there has been a significant increase in anxiety and depression in high school students, many students are having difficulties in class and completing their homework. If they are having difficulties, they may be entitled to a 504 plan or an Individual Educational Plan (IEP). Most school districts will offer you a 504 plan because it is easy for the school and costs the school no money. However, if your teen is having significant problems with school demand in writing that they be evaluated for an IEP or 504 plan.
To read this article in its entirety, click HERE. Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children and teenagers. He has over 25 years experience working with teenagers.