By Miguel Brown
Getting started with school again after a nice long summer break can be a bittersweet time for teens. On one hand summer days can seem endless and boring. On the other hand its difficult to welcome back hard work and responsibilities with open arms. Its a trade off that can be difficult for some teens to adjust to. There are several common problems that teenagers tend to experience during the back to school season. Among them are sleep disturbances, increased social anxiety, and education/responsibility related stress. Let's talk a little about each one and what you can do as a parent to help your kids out.
1. Sleep disturbances:
Man its hard to get up in the morning when you don't REALLY have to! Summer sleep schedules for kids tend to be pretty nocturnal. Unless they had to get up in the morning for some reason during the summer most kids are going to be especially tired in the morning before school. It may even be quite a challenge to get them out of bed. One thing I usually see in teens at this time is that it takes some time for them to realize that that they cannot continue with their summer time sleep routines. Some have become used to staying up at night watching TV or texting with their friends till 3 in the morning. So, when school starts they try to keep it going and end up getting only 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. They are trying to have their cake and eat it too! Keeping a fun part of summer around for as long as they can.
What You Can Do:
In short: Structure their sleep and night time routine. This may involve some negotiation but remember; allow them to choose from options that you have already decided are acceptable. Give them a range of sleep times to choose from and try to be flexible with the order of shower, homework, chores etc... so that they feel they have contributed to the structure. Then strictly enforce it. Mean what you say but don't say it mean. Some other things to consider: TV is not good for sleep. Period. The content is too engaging and the lights are too bright. If they have a TV in their room do your best to make sure that its not being used during bed time. Try this out: Take the remote control out of their room at night. This will make it harder for them to sneak around the rule. Do some pop-in checks to enforce the rule and don't be afraid to put your hand to the TV to see if its warm. If it's hot and the TV was supposed to have been turned off an hour ago you know they're trying to pull a fast one! Administer the consequence but don't be angry, mean or sarcastic about it. Be matter-of-fact. Avoid large meals, sugar and caffeine before bedtime and take their phones so they can be free to fall asleep without the social pressure to stay up texting with their friends.
2. Increased Social Anxiety
Teenagers can change a lot during one summer! Your teen may go to school and realize that the social environment is markedly different from last year. New friendships may have sprung up and others may have ended badly. The same people from last year could be into new ways of thinking, new music, or new interests. This may put your teenager into an awkward position in deciding how to react to the new social scene. They may feel torn, betrayed, pleasantly surprised or really uncomfortable with these changes. This can result in a temporary kind of social and emotional limbo where they don't have a good grasp of where and how they fit in or with who. As you can imagine this can be a crisis for teenagers and you may see changes in their emotions like sadness or anger as they adjust.
What You Can Do:
First of all, be on the lookout and notice these changes in your teenager's life. Be curious and ask questions about how things have changed without offering advice or criticism. Really try to understand how they see the situation. For tips on how to do this well I refer you to my report: 5 Ways To Connect With Your Teen. Kids tend to not want solutions during this time they want to feel understood and reassure themselves back at "home base" before they go back out there to try to figure things out. This is your role here: be a good recharging station. Be a good "home base" for your kids. Help them understand what is going on and resist the urge to address possible difficulties with drastic measures like changing schools. Life is full of social changes, and this is a good opportunity for them to learn how to deal with them in a healthy way while they're still at home with you. Just be supportive, don't try to fix their social problems.
3. Increased Educational/Responsibility Related Stress
Time to start reading, writing, thinking about due dates, that big project, studying subjects you don't like, and that one thing that we were supposed to have done for today! AHHH!!! STRESS! Kids may easily and quickly feel overwhelmed when they return to school. Some need that pressure to get them going. Other teenagers can't stand it and function better by planning their time in a more detailed way. Neither way is wrong or right. Its more a matter of what works for your teen. If you and your teen are on different pages (as is so often the case) educational responsibilities can be a source of family stress and conflict.
What You Can Do:
First, make sure they have a quiet, distraction free space and time to do their school work. This is a must. Second, the older your teenager the less you should be micro-managing their school work. I believe this is important regardless of how your teenager is doing in school. Focus on results. Give rewards or punishments for grades. Not just report cards or progress notes but individual grades. Let them study however they want to and see what they can do with it. Even if you know that their "strategy" is doomed to failure let them do it and then be ready to administer a swift and unpleasant consequence when it does. Don't surprise them with the consequence though, make sure they know what's at stake. And just like before don't be angry, mean, insulting or sarcastic. Be matter-of-fact. This puts teenagers in a position where THEY have to find a solution to problems with their study habits. The older they are the more they should be in a position where they have to fix a problem or adjust/adapt in order to get what they want.
It is very important for teens to feel that they have a predictable and stable environment at home. No matter how much they rebel against it, trust me, they love it. With this in mind make sure to be consistent and firm with the application of these back to school related rules. Eventually they will thank you.
Happy New School Year Everyone!
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By Miguel Brown