Around the country, summer for our high schoolers is coming to an end. Many teens returned to classes early in August, some returned mid-month, but by the Monday after Labor Day, virtually all high school students in the U.S. will be back in class, ready to start the 2022-2023 school year. Some are bummed and want summer to last forever. Others are excited and can’t wait to get back to class, activities, and friends. Quite a few are in the middle: they love summer, but they miss their friends – so they’ll tolerate the education part.
In any case, this time of year is also a transition for parents of teens. The summer schedule – which you probably just got used to – goes out the window, and the school year schedule returns, along with your concerns about the upcoming year for your teen.
Here’s what most parents around the country are thinking right now, as their teenagers return to class and get the new year rolling:
Will they make new friends?
Will they keep the friends they have?
Are they in the right classes?
Will they get good grades?
And the inevitable:
Is this the year they’ll finally…?
You’ll learn the answers to all those things before long.
And as you wait for those answers, we’ll offer five important things to think about as your teenager embarks on another year of high school, complete with all growing challenges of adolescence. Remember: their minds and bodies are changing every day. Their hormones will make them moody. Their clothes may change, their friends may change, and their interests may change.
Inside all that, though, they’re still the child you know and love.
New Ways to Help in the New Year
With all that in mind, here’s food for thought as your teen returns to school for the 2022-2023 academic year.
Five Things to Think About When Your Teen Returns to School This Year
This year, we encourage all parents to think about…
1. Being Patient.
When our kids get back from the first day of school, we want to know everything. You want to know everything. But in most cases, your teenager won’t be able to answer all the questions you have on the first day. And they may not be able to answer them in the first week. Their classes may change due to scheduling errors. Their lunch schedule may change because their schedule changes. If they don’t know any of their teachers or anyone in any of their classes, then wait: that could all change next week.
Therefore, this year, think about being patient at the beginning of the year. Wait until things settle down, then, when you know what the semester will look like, you can do a real, substantive check-in with your teen.
2. Getting Involved
If you’re already a full-on PTA and Booster Club parent, this advice is not for you. However, if you aren’t one of those parents, we encourage you to think about stepping into school life this year. The goal here is to learn more about how the school functions, and get a real, firsthand feel for school atmosphere, norms, and culture. What you read in emails from the school district or principal is one thing, but to get understand a school, you’ll learn more from spending five minutes in a hallway between classes then from a website or email blast.
And if you volunteer to help in one of the school offices – counseling, attendance, etc. – you’ll get an idea of school culture from the staff perspective – which can be very informative, and give you a more complete picture of the place your teen will spend 7-8 hours a day, five days a week, for the next nine months.
Therefore, this year, think about getting involved at the school. Every school needs volunteer help, and this year you can take the plunge. Quick note: you can do this without embarrassing your teen by being mindful about where and when you volunteer, but really, we think you should go ahead and embarrass them.
3. Encouraging Them to Get Involved
Again – if your teen is a full-on school spirit, sports teams, and school clubs type, then this advice is not for them. However, if they’re not, then we encourage you to encourage them to step out of their comfort zone and try new things this year. Each school has more clubs than most people realize. Language clubs, art clubs, theater clubs, comic book clubs, anime clubs – you name it, there’s a club for it. Some schools have e-sports teams, where students compete at various video games. That means there’s literally something for everyone.
Therefore, this year, think about encouraging your teen to get more involved at school. It can help them make new friends and discover new interests, two things which, for a teen, can be life changing.
4. Addressing Red Flags Right Away
This may appear to contradict our first point – be patient – but what we mean is that as soon as any red flags appear, address them. That goes for the first week, too, when things at school may not be one hundred percent settled. By red flags, we mean red flags for your teen, from their peers, from their teachers, or anything related to school. If your teen has a mental health or substance use disorder, a red flag would be an increase in symptoms or a relapse. Red flags from teachers might be include an incomplete understanding of your teen’s needs related to mental health issues, while issues related to peers might involve bullying or other similar behavior. Left unaddressed, all these things can create a rocky start to the semester, which, if left unaddressed, can turn into a long, challenging school year.
Therefore, this year, think about addressing any red flags as soon as they arise. Don’t wait or think things will work themselves out. Be proactive, and get things sorted out before they develop into something serious and disruptive that affects the entire year.
5. Understanding Trauma and Stress Response is Not Always Linear
We saved this one for last, because everyone is tired of hearing about the stress of the pandemic and its adverse impact on the mental health of our teenagers. However. It’s crucial to understand that mental health and emotional issues/problems/disorders rarely follow a simple, straightforward timeline. Sometimes they do: there’s a trauma, an adverse emotional response, treatment (in the best case scenario), then recovery. But it doesn’t always happen like that. It may take months or years for the fallout of a traumatic experience to lead to the initial symptoms of a mental health disorder – and something unrelated may trigger unresolved issues from trauma or stress that you may think are long past.
Therefore, this year, keep an eye out for the signs and symptoms of any mental health issues or mental health disorders in your teen. Remember: it’s not unrealistic to categorize the pandemic as almost two years of ongoing stress, and it is unrealistic to think that stress would have had no impact on your teen. That’s why we recommend watching closely for any changes in your teen – and following up on any concerning changes you do see.
A Fresh Start
One last thing.
Each new school year offers a chance to begin anew, with a clean slate and a proactive attitude toward school and the school year. Remind your teen that school is what they make it: they’ll get out what they put it. You can help them by modeling that attitude at home. Send them off to the first day of school with everything they need for success, including the most important thing of all: your unconditional love and support.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.