By Betty Martello, MSW, LCSW
|Tips for Tweens and Teens|
|Tips for Parents|
It’s September: Time to trade your beach bag for a backpack. As a tween or teen you may be feeling school-related anxieties. You are not alone. Most students feel this way. How you choose to deal with these anxieties, however, will make all the difference in your attitude and academic progress this school year.
When my son started middle school last year, he felt anxious as to whether he’d be able to find and adjust to his classes, and which teachers he would have. Luckily, our school district allowed both parents and students to go into the school the last week of August to orient themselves. My son got to practice his locker combination, see which classrooms he would be in and meet some of his teachers. This experience helped him to feel less anxious about the unknown. I felt enthusiastic, positive and excited that my son was starting middle school. I shared these thoughts with him, further alleviating his anxieties. He ultimately felt comfortable and excited on his first day of middle school. He felt that middle school could be a new adventure. As a result, he was able to make a good adjustment to his new environment.
If you can, try to visit your school, be it middle or high school, prior to the first day of classes. This can help you feel more in control and less stressed when starting a new school or meeting new teachers. Even if you’re not making the transition from one school to another, like from middle to high school, simply returning to school can make you feel anxious. Relax. Your teachers are there to help you grow. They were students once too.
Now in 7th grade, my son feels less anxiety this September due to some lessons he learned last school year. He knows he can talk to a teacher if he needs help with a subject— he did this several times last year. He participates in two extracurricular activities that he enjoys. These activities allow him to blow off some steam. He has downtime each night. He likes to listen to his iPod, read or relax by doing nothing at all. These things help him to let go of daily school stresses and get a good night’s rest.
Some of these tips can work for you. Be sure to talk to your parents and/or teachers if you continue to feel tense or unhappy about school. Guidance counselors can also help you manage overwhelming frustrations.
A few guidelines follow for a successful school year for tweens and teens:
- Have a specific place for doing homework and do the harder assignments first.
- Speak with your parents to come up with a manageable number of extracurricular activities you want to join.
- Limit television and (non school-related) Internet use to one or two hours a day.
- Limit phone use. This frees up more time for face-to-face communication and fun.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Be sure to share with your parents how you feel about schoolwork, teachers and friends. Don’t forget, parents once attended classes and dealt with peer pressures also. They may have some tricks of the trade to share.
- Be proud when you succeed, whether it means acing an exam or making the soccer team.
- If you have additional concerns, ask your parents to talk to your teacher or school counselor for help.
As a teen, you will likely have more complex anxieties than tweens at the start of a new school year. You may have multiple fears. Will I fit in? Am I smart enough to handle the course load? What about peer pressure and bullying in high school hallways?
Again, you’re not alone. Consider how these high schoolers have overcome school woes and are making the grade. Jenny felt anxious that as a freshman she would not fit in. She was going into high school from a Catholic grammar school. Even though she knew other students who were going with her, she was not sure she would see them often. It is normal to want to fit in, to belong to a group that will accept you, especially in your freshman year. However, high school can serve as a great time to meet and make new friends. How about joining a sport team or club to meet new friends with similar interests? Jenny expanded her circle of friends by joining the newspaper club. She felt this club best suited her interests and abilities. Jenny then felt less pressure to fit in because she was doing an activity that she enjoyed and wanted to do. You can do the same.
Rodger, a sophomore, states that high school course work is harder, homework takes longer and academic competition can feel fierce. “We sure are on our own more so than in middle school,” he says, worrying about being able to handle his coursework. “Am I smart enough?” He later realized with initiative and help he was able to surpass big expectations and his biggest critic: himself. Having particular trouble with biology, Rodger sought help from his teacher and got a tutor to pinpoint and fix lingering difficulties with his coursework. If you begin to feel overwhelmed or are confused by your schoolwork, nip the problem in the bud by talking to a parent or teacher. Understanding your classes and homework will help you do well academically. Beyond getting a good report card, academic achievement will give you pride in your accomplishments and the confidence to keep up the good work.
High schoolers also say peer pressure is evident in upper grades. As a teen, you may have concerns about being pressured to smoke, drink, take drugs, wear certain clothes and answer to bullies. It is important to make the right choices for yourself when peer pressure arises.
Melissa went to a friend’s house last week where several friends and acquaintances were hanging out. One of the girls wanted to smoke a cigarette; she had a pack of them and offered a smoke to Melissa. Melissa refused, stating “My Mom will kill me if she smells smoke on me. I know I will get grounded. It is not worth it to me.” Saying no may be hard, but Melissa felt good about her decision. She did not agree with her friends’ decision to smoke.
Similar situations will arise, be it being told to have a drink at a party or getting taunted for not wearing the latest fashion. Will sacrificing your principles to fit in feel worth it to you? There are consequences and risks of each action. Know the facts and develop the skills to resist the pressures to drink and do drugs. Talk to a trusted adult or parent if you need help or advice.
Bullying can occur and make a teen feel like a bull’s eye at target practice. It can get ugly. The good news is that most high schools have policies regarding bullying. If you become a victim of bullying, tell a parent, teacher or school administrator. Do not tolerate this behavior.
As parent of teens, I can tell you that we want you to succeed academically, socially and emotionally. We want you to develop your own identity. Share these final tips with your parents so that they may help you have a successful school year.
Be positive, parents. Tell your tweens and teens that you will support them academically, such as by finding a tutor.
- Make an effort to keep track of what your tweens and teens learn in school.
- Do not wait until the first report card to track your teen’s academic progress. Talk to your teen’s teachers.
- Communicate. The more involved you are in your teen’s life, the more he or she will feel valued and will respond to you.
- Discuss your rules and limits including curfew and expectations for certain behaviors. Be honest and up front about the rationale behind your rules.
- Talk to your teen about the legal ramifications of cheating as well as using drugs and drinking.
- Know what the policy is for bullying at the middle and high school level.
I am happy to report that I followed my aforementioned guidelines for my tween’s last school year. He did well in all subjects— he even made the honor roll several times. Start a dialogue in your home to deal with school anxieties as they arise— and here’s to a happy school year!
Betty C. Martello is a licensed clinical social worker currently in private practice. She is the mother of two sons. You may reach her at (914) 962-0457. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.