How to Help Your Teen Cope with Back-to-School Stress

It’s almost fall, which means store shelves — and virtual shopping carts — are stocked with low-priced notebooks, markers, and glue. Soon the familiar break hiss of school buses will be heard in neighborhoods across the country as some of our children head physically back to school. Yet, others will be “returning” to school virtually this fall. The transition back to school can be a tricky one for some students, and it’s likely the back-to-school transition of 2020 will be an extra challenging one.

While some kids begrudge alarm clocks and mountains of homework, most still look forward to the new school year. Typically, a new school year is a chance to enjoy new friendships and extra-curricular activities, but many of those opportunities may now be absent due to the current pandemic. 

Moreover, some children have a real fear of going back to school. They may worry about grades, fitting in, peer pressure, potential bullying, or even school violence. Under regular circumstances, some teens have trouble coping with social pressure, while others feel overwhelmed at what they will be expected to learn and those mountains of homework. How will this all play out for the 2020-2021 school year? For so many of us, uncertainty leads to increased stress. 

If your child is feeling stressed at the thought of beginning a new school year (either online, in-person, or in a mixed format), here are some ways you can help:

Ask Them What’s on Their Mind

Some kids might voluntarily share any worries they have about starting school, but many won’t. If your child does not volunteer this information, ask them directly how they’re feeling about school starting up again. 

Older kids and teenagers often shut down when questioned about, well, anything really. So try to make a leading statement like, “Being able to sleep in longer while school is online might be cool. But I am guessing there is stuff you might not be looking forward to…” Then wait for a response. 

If they don’t respond, try again the next day. Eventually, they will open up to you, and when they do, the important thing is not to say the exact right thing but to simply listen, show interest and concern, and never judge. 

Get Them Involved

To some children, summer means freedom and being able to make more choices for themselves, while school means having little (or no) control over their day-to-day lives. To help counter this feeling, get your kids involved in decision-making at the very beginning. 

Hold a “going back to school” family meeting specific to their current school situation, and make sure there are no media distractions like smartphones or TVs on in the background. Discuss the year ahead, plan and set schedules for meals, homework, sports, school activities (if permitted with Coronavirus), and bedtime. Write these plans down and stick a copy on the fridge or another location your family sees often each day. 

Talk About Bullying

Kids of all ages worry about bullying, so it is important to bring up the topic. You could make a simple statement like, “Bullying is really common, and it’s never OK, nor is it the victim’s fault when it happens. If anything happens to you or you see it happen to someone you know, I want you to tell me about it. We can make a plan together about how to handle it.” Sadly, those attending school virtually are not immune from bullying. Cyber bullying continues to be an unfortunately reality in our society. 

There are also those who worry about starting school because they have issues with anxiety and/or depression. These children and teens need help from a professional therapist who can uncover where the root issues are coming from and offer tools and resources for coping in the real world. 

California Women’s Therapy is a team of female psychologists who specialize in working virtually with both parents and teens during these challenging times. Couples counseling is also available. 

For more information about available services, please reach out to Samantha at Samantha@CaliforniaWomensTherapy.com or call (805)-244-5121.

This blog post was written by Samantha Tellefsen.