To help parents best support adolescents and teens as they prepare for the new school year, we’ve created a back-to-school guide featuring valuable insights and a mental health checklist. Keep reading to explore common mental health struggles facing students and to learn how to effectively support your child’s emotional needs now and throughout the academic year.
Student Mental Health Challenges
Student mental health challenges such as anxiety, social anxiety, depression, stress, school refusal, and fear of school can be significant concerns for parents and students alike during the back-to-school season. As adolescents and teens prepare to return to the academic setting, it’s essential for parents like you to be aware of these potential difficulties. Understanding and addressing the impact of the challenges listed in this back-to-school guide and using the mental health checklist will enable you to help your child navigate their transition back to the classroom.
For many adolescents and teens, going to school is a normal part of their routine. But for some, the very idea triggers — or intensifies — stress and anxiety. This issue is noteworthy as part of our back-to-school guide considering anxiety is a significant issue for youths. For example, it was the most common mental health concern for children ages 3-17 from 2018 to 2019, according to the National Survey of Children’s Health.
If your adolescent or teen has anxiety, they could end up not going to class once school starts, which can create a harmful cycle. For example, a student with performance anxiety who skips classes can fall further behind academically. Their anxiety can also show up as physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, and fatigue.
Social anxiety, also called social anxiety disorder, involves intense and continued fears of being watched or judged by others or of becoming a failure in other people’s eyes. To get a diagnosis, an adolescent or teen typically must experience symptoms for at least six months. Situations that often cause symptoms include social situations, especially those involving new people, or performance situations, including school or testing environments. A child with social anxiety may therefore be worried about returning to school and interacting with people once back in class.
While school offers many benefits to adolescents and teens, such as connecting with peers, overscheduling and academic pressure can be a significant source of stress, contributing to mental health issues including depression. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. teens ages 13-17, academics tops the list of pressures teens face, with 61% saying they feel a lot of pressure to get good grades.
As part of this back-to-school guide, it’s important to note that depression in teens can look a bit different than it does in adults. Symptoms can include:
- Mood swings.
- Angry outbursts.
- Substance use.
- Social withdrawal.
School stress can be a significant challenge for adolescents and teens. Academic performance can take a mental, emotional, and physical toll on their minds and bodies.
It’s important to note that school stress isn’t always a problem, as stress itself is not always a problem. Good stress, which feels manageable, builds resilience and is necessary for growth. The issue is unhealthy stress, which feels unmanageable and can have a negative impact. For example, it could lead to issues including social withdrawal and isolation, low self-esteem, insecurity, and substance use.
If adolescents or teens have refused to go to class in the past or are already indicating they don’t want to go once classes resume, this time of year can be stressful. When dealing with school refusal, it can be tempting to focus on judging the reasons as legitimate or fake. But if a youth is avoiding the school environment, it could mean there’s a significant underlying issue. Common underlying issues include learning problems, bullying, family stress or conflict, mental health disorders, and medical problems.
Fear of school
The fear of school, also called school phobia, is when the thought of going to school — including interacting with classmates or teachers, doing homework, or engaging in sports on campus — feels far too difficult or overwhelming to your adolescent or teenager. They might worry about heading to class and then, once they get there, procrastinate on homework or avoid studying for a test. Fear of school is therefore a key topic in this back-to-school guide. Reasons for school phobia include fear of teachers, separation anxiety, school bullying, low self-esteem, and a history of mental health issues.
Mental Health Checklist
A mental health checklist can be a valuable tool for parents whose adolescents and teens are grappling with mental health challenges when heading back to school. It’s essential to prioritize mental well-being to ensure a smooth and successful transition. As part of our back-to-school guide, this mental health checklist provides several tips on how to support your child during this critical time. By following this guidance, you can monitor your adolescent or teen’s emotional well-being and proactively address any concerns.
As the school year approaches, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open so you can best understand how your child is feeling and to build your emotional connection with them. When starting a conversation, keep in mind that if you’re asking questions, it could feel like an interrogation to your adolescent or teen. To ensure they’ll be more open to responding honestly and get them to start talking, try “I noticed” statements. For example, you could say, “I noticed you seem nervous about going back to school.”
As part of your communication process, practice active listening. Avoid multitasking to give your full attention to your adolescent or teen, face them with welcoming body language, and make eye contact in a relaxed, uncritical manner. Giving your undivided attention will help you listen attentively so you can paraphrase what’s said and withhold judgment and advice.
√2. Help them prioritize sleep
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children ages 6-12 should get nine to 12 hours of sleep per night, while teens 13-18 should get eight to 10 hours. So, it’s important your adolescent or teen prioritizes getting good sleep as they head back to school. However, if your child is sleeping too much, that can affect their mental and physical well-being. Early start times at school can add to this issue, as an adolescent or teenager who’s always tired can have difficulty getting up for and functioning well in class.
To promote healthy sleep hygiene and habits, you can help your child develop a bedtime routine; encourage reduced caffeine use; limit social media and technology use; and encourage exercise, yoga, and mindfulness.
√3. Build a support network
Many adolescents, teenagers, and their families are carrying the burden of mental health issues alone. That’s because building a mental health support network can be difficult, as it can be tough to connect with and trust others. But that network can provide your child with essential support as they head back to class — and during the school year.
The people in your child’s support network should be active listeners who take your adolescent or teen’s well-being seriously. They should be people your family receives love and support from. You can find them in churches, at schools, on sports teams, or at other group activities.
√4. Encourage practicing gratitude
Practicing gratitude can be a powerful tool for adolescents and teens facing mental health challenges during the back-to-school season, as it can help shift their focus beyond the struggles or frustrations of life. By expressing appreciation for “the little things,” such as supportive friends or even the opportunity to learn, they can cultivate a more positive mindset and build their resilience. This allows them to navigate challenges with a more optimistic perspective. Consider encouraging your adolescent or teen to keep a gratitude journal or to do something as simple as creating a note on their phone that lists positive aspects about school so they can look at them on a regular basis.
√5. Establish a routine
Establishing a routine can greatly benefit adolescents and teens as they transition back to class, making it an important part of the mental health checklist in this back-to-school guide. Work with your child to create a structured schedule. When they implement it, they can experience several advantages:
- A sense of stability: A routine provides a sense of stability and predictability, which can help reduce anxiety and stress.
- Enhanced time management: Following a routine helps students effectively manage their time, allowing for a better balance between academics, extracurricular activities, and personal commitments.
- Improved self-care: Incorporating self-care activities into the routine, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and time for hobbies, can contribute to better mental health and overall well-being.
- Better focus and productivity: A structured routine helps adolescents and teens stay organized, prioritize tasks, and maintain focus, enhancing productivity and reducing feelings of overwhelm.
Provide Mental Health Days
After your child is back at school, you may find they need an occasional “rest” day — a break from the stress and anxiety of school, peers, and social performance. This allows their nervous system a chance to reset and calm down. These mental health days should be structured to include proactive activities that provide rejuvenation and connection, such as going for a walk or spending one-on-one time with a parent. Be in tune with your adolescent or teen’s needs to determine when and how often a rest day is necessary.
Back-to-School Guide: Wrapup
As you prepare for the upcoming school year, remember the importance of prioritizing your adolescent or teen’s mental well-being. By using the mental health checklist in this back-to-school guide, you can create a supportive and nurturing environment that will help ensure a positive start to school and set the tone for a fulfilling academic journey.
Embark is the most trusted name in teen and young adult mental health treatment. We’re driven to find the help your family needs. If you’re looking for support, contact us today.