It’s that time again. The back-to-school rush is almost here, especially now that teens will be attending school in person this fall. Parents are trying to find clothes, purchase school supplies and get doctor’s visits scheduled so their teen will be ready for the next school year. Even though you can hear a collective sigh from parents who had teens home last year, there can be a lot of anxiety for the parents as well as the teens going back to school.
Teens will be in class having face-to-face interactions with their teachers and interacting with their peers. Parents will no longer have to monitor whether their teen is attending online classes or completing their assignments.
Unfortunately, for some teens, this could lead to apprehension, anxiety and even depression. Many teens got used to being at home and might now see it as a safe harbor from the stress concerning grades and peer pressure. Even students that are excited about returning to live classes, may have to adjust to learning with COVID-19 protocols in place.
Dr. Ina Enoch, who specializes in child and adolescent therapy at JFCS discusses, “Many teens are more anxious with face-to-face interactions, and they are going to have to relearn how to be able to interact, socialize in groups and be able to be next to another student again.”
What parents can do to help
Dr. Enoch has some advice for parents who want to help their teens acclimate to being back in school full time and help to ease the transition.
- Have the teen call or, even better, meet with friends before school starts. It always helps to see familiar faces at school especially when you have already interacted with them.
- If parents are concerned about their teen, contact a favorite teacher, assistant principle or counselor that can do what she calls a drive-by. “A drive-by is just a quick check-in where if the student is doing great or gives you the death stare, you just keep moving. If they look like they need help you stop.”
- It is very important for teens to get back to a routine. Start two to three weeks before school starts to have them go to bed earlier and get up earlier. It will make the transition easier.
- The night before school starts, do not focus too much on school. Make or go out to dinner or watch a movie or television show to try to distract the teens from their anxious feelings.
Tools students can use for anxiety
Once the student is in school, they will be the ones that need to deal with their performance or social anxiety. An anxiety attack can be very hard to deal with when surrounded by other classmates. Ina also has some suggestions for techniques that students can learn to deal with these attacks.
- Breathing. Slowing down the breath is a good way to self-calm. It also can be done in the middle of a group without being noticed. The student can practice breathing in for 3 seconds and out for 3 seconds. Or they can start with 1 second in and 1 second out then 2 seconds, then 3 seconds.
- Mindfulness. Mindfulness means concentrating on the present. Often time, someone might get anxious about something coming up in the future. As Dr. Enoch remarks, “I explain to teens that the past cannot be changed, there’s nothing we can do about it, and the future is uncertain, so the only thing we can control is the present.”
- Tighten and Release. Our physical body and mind influence each other. By tightening and then relaxing all their muscles, a student can relax their body which helps relax their anxiety as well.
- Visualization. Teens can picture themselves in a different scene. If they can imagine themselves relaxed in a familiar landscape, they will become more relaxed where they currently are.
- Positive Sandwich. Every night ask your teen to think about one thing they enjoyed at school that day. Then every morning ask them to think about one think they are looking forward to doing that day.
Parents should not get involved unless necessary
As hard as it is for a worried parent, they should also try to let their teen be their own advocate. Ina prefers that once school starts, parents not call the teachers, administration or counselors. Instead, they should let their teen reach out for the help they need. “Parents should only go into the school if their teen asks them to come with them as back-up,” says Dr. Enoch. “If they’re in high school, they only have four years until they are on their own. It is important to give them wings so that will be able to fly.”
Take your teens feelings seriously
Social anxiety disorder (formerly social phobia) is defined as persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to possible scrutiny by others. Those fears can range from a mild irritation to debilitating.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as many as 12.1% of the U.S. population experience social anxiety disorder at some point in their life. 9.1% of adolescents have the disorder and of that population, 30% had a serious impairment. As a result of Covid these percentages are even higher now.
As parents, it can be very hard to know when a teenager is just being moody or is having serious troubles. If your teenager or adolescent is having a consistent problem with anxiety or depression and is not wanting to go to school, see friends or participate in activities find them professional help. JF&CS Frances Bunzl Clinical Services are available to everyone in the community. There are numerous therapists that specialize in working with teens and offer a variety of approaches. Feel free to call JF&CS at 770-677-9300.
How to find the right therapist for your teen
Questions to Ask:
- Does the therapist have experience with teens?
- Does the therapist have experience with anxiety and depression?
- Does your teen prefer a male or a female therapist?
- Does location matter?
- Does the therapist take insurance?
- Does the teen feel that they can form a relationship with the therapist?
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