Back to the meat grinder

Helping youth have an emotionally healthy return to school.

It’s not easy to be a teenager: there are many internal struggles taking place. Figuring out how to navigate a world where you are no longer seen entirely as a child and have to be responsible for your own actions can be quite stressful. At the same time, teens may be trying to figure out what their values and beliefs are, where they belong and what the future holds. Add to that the conflicting messages they may be receiving from adults in their lives, versus the adults they see in the media, and the world can become a pretty confusing place. As if that isn’t enough, teens then have to face the social jungle of middle and high school with all of its social pitfalls and potential dangers.

With all of this in mind, it is easy to see why the beginning of a new school year can be a stressful time of year for teens and pre-teens. While we would like this to be a time when they feel comfortable reengaging in an environment that is familiar to them, teens can instead be filled with apprehension, whether they are “popular” or a bit of an outcast. For parents, caregivers and teachers, this can lead to feelings of helplessness, confusion and possibly even frustration. However, there are a few ways you can help the children in your life navigate this challenging time of year.

Talk to your middle/high schooler. Sometimes this can be a big challenge. Adults may find they ask questions and receive one-word answers, or in some cases, just silence. While this can be frustrating, be persistent. Find ways to be creative about it. You might be surprised at your success.

Listen…really listen. One of the biggest complaints voiced by youth of almost every generation is that they feel like they don’t have a voice. They are at an age where they have formed opinions and want to share them, but often feel disregarded by adults. As you talk through your child’s day, listen and try to empathize with what he/she may be feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask probing questions to get more clarity.

Resist the urge to fix it. Ok, so you’ve got them talking. That’s great! You are truly listening and beginning to understand why their time at school was tough (or amazing!). As parents, there is nothing we want more than fix everything for our children so that they have nothing but great days. Well… DON’T! Unless your child specifically asks for help or your point of view, resist the temptation to offer solutions. Let them begin problem solving for themselves (unless of course there is a situation that could affect their safety or wellbeing). Seemingly minor social issues are a great opportunity for your young person to begin learning how to navigate through life on their own.

By using these tips from Michigan State University Extension, you can help ensure your child has an emotionally healthy return to school. Happy back to school time!

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