It’s tough because you go from a veritable free-for-all (Summer) to a highly focused environment where there are higher expectations, firmer schedules, and of course, the dreaded homework. Kids who spent the summer in camp may have had some structure, but the truth is, it’s nowhere near as rigid as school. Bedtime has been later and waking up took on a leisurely state. School starting is a definite shift.
The positives about returning to school, according to one anonymous teen are, “You get to see your friends again and you get to learn.” In middle school and high school, friends hold a lot of power over each other. Often more important than classroom connection is the forming of social groups outside of class: in the halls, on the yard, et cetera. This is where the real influence, be it negative or positive occurs, and for kids more akin to following than leading, this can represent a shift toward bad decision making. Conversely, a child who is processing a lot of personal conflict (eg, family) may be drawn to kids who are acting out or whose behavior is outside of the norm. On the contrary, some kids are extremely skilled at creating the equivalent of work/life balance, both in maintaining good grades and in having a healthy social life.
Socialization can be tough, especially in adolescence. I often refer to teens as messy, and I say that because their emotional and physical terrain is rapidly changing and unpredictable. Even a kid with little to no conflict is still going to experience the messiness of adolescence. I find that one of the biggest things these kids need is validation: a confirmation that what they are going through is normal. I keenly remember how rough adolescence was. It was downright confusing and miserable at times. And at others, it was pure, unadulterated excitement! I remember thinking some kids “had it made” because they had all of the “stuff” I thought I needed, but later finding out they were suffering as much as I was.
Some teens can’t stop the summer fun, though. They want to carry on with late-night shenanigans far into September and October. It’s true: we do see an increase in clients during that time. Don’t wait until the first bad report card to do something; pay attention from day one to the way in which your teen is acclimating. Are they struggling? Is getting back to the “grind” harder than usual? Maintain an open, transparent place to have discussions with your teen.
- Listen: Sometimes teens (and kids in general) just want to vent without receiving advice. “I hear how frustrating that is” or “That sounds difficult” can go a long way. Kids are actually skilled at coming to a healthy solution on their own if we allow them the opportunity.
- Be present: Create a technology free period where you are together as a family and be willing to participate in each other’s lives.
- Don’t take it personally: Teens love to push buttons. If you can let the small stuff roll off your back, do. An eye roll can be ignored. Choose your battles.
Lastly, encourage your teen to avoid and/or ignore the kids whose choices are questionable, and to choose friends who are dedicated to their education and making positive choices. Our teens look to us as parents to be their guide. We are their first teachers. If our attitudes about school and learning are positive and healthy, they will inadvertently adopt them (most of the time). If our attitudes about learning and school are mercurial, then guess what, our kids will adopt that same, fickle attitude toward learning.
“If you want your children to improve, then let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.” Dr. Haim Ginott