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Back To School

Finally, it is time to return to school, and many of us will be deeply relieved to see the back of homeschooling, perhaps even the back of our teenagers if we are honest. Our lives will be easier; the screen battles will lessen; the fridge will stop emptying itself; we will not spend half the day trying to get them out of bed, and the rest of it wishing we had left them to sleep; we will once again be able to concentrate on our day jobs but, what about our teenagers? How are they feeling about going back through those school gates?

Our recent survey shows that the majority of teens are looking forward to being back amongst their friends and in the safe space school provides to fulfil their developmental drive for independence and identity. However, as September looms anxiety levels are rising for many teenagers, and top of their list of worries is reintegrating with their peers.

Teens who had a strong friendship group before Covid 19 hit were able to transfer their social interactions online, and when lockdown eased, by and large they were able to pick up where they left off.  Not so for those who lacked social security before this extended period of isolation, and now face the prospect of starting all over again.  For them it has been a relief to be away from the banter and jibes of the in-group.  Many have flourished academically, free from the fear of being singled out by a teacher or forced to collaborate in group work. Covid gave them a reprieve from the stress of feeling like a misfit, and the idea of having to re-enter the arena is distressing.

Add to the mix the uncertainty around what they are returning to,

  • environmentally – what will my socially distanced school look like and how will it work
  • physically – will I be safe?
  • academically – will I be behind, and if public exams are on the horizon how will they work?

and we can appreciate that September 2020 is a ‘back to school’ like never before.   So what can we do to make the transition as smooth as possible?

  • Be vigilant – is your teenager becoming increasingly withdrawn, easily upset or angry?Anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways, but when teenagers are aggressive or angry we often focus on their unpleasant behaviour rather than trying to find out what is driving it. Underneath all extreme behaviour is some form of unmet emotional need.
  • Show empathy – if you are concerned about your teenager put yourself in their shoes and try to guess what you think they might be feeling. It doesn’t matter if you get it wrong, the act of trying helps them feel heard, and reassures them that you care.  You might say something like, “I know you say you are fine but what I have noticed is you seem more withdrawn than usual and I am wondering if you are anxious about going back to school”.  If they can’t or won’t discuss their feelings let them know that you are available if they want to talk, and discuss who else they could talk to if they don’t feel able to talk to you.
  • Be available – teenagers will often choose the most inconvenient time to open up about how they are feeling. If you sense this is happening be prepared to stop and listen if you possibly can.
  • Develop their awareness as their parent you will probably know where their social weaknesses lie. Do they struggle to start a conversation?  Do they set such high standards for their friends that they are bound to be disappointed by them sooner or later?  Do they invade the personal space of others or give unwelcome lectures?  We don’t want to shame them, but if we can gently help them see why they might be struggling then we open up the possibility of change.
  • Boost their social skills – encourage them to come up with a list of conversation starters and practice using them. Help them understand the ebb and flow of conversation and how to encourage others to talk by using open questions.  Can they give a complement or switch the topic of a conversation?  Becoming a better communicator requires effort and practice, but the rewards will be worth it, both now and in the future.
  • Give them tools to manage anxiety – it can be helpful for teenagers to understand that anxiety exists to warn us of possible dangers ahead, but because it is predicting the future it is not always accurate. They need to learn to take action where action is possible, and where it is not, they need to learn to stay in the present to avoid spiralling into anxiety.  Apps like HeadSpace and Calm are really helpful for this.

If you would like expert support as your child goes through adolescence, check out the Teen Tips Parents Club

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