Back-to-school anxiety and jitters are normal every fall. But after more than a year of virtual schooling brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the resumption of in-person learning has amped up a range of emotions for teenagers going back to school this year. For many, the prospect of seeing friends again has them eager to return. But for the anxious teen, returning to on-site learning can be filled with apprehension and back-to-school anxiety.
Fears about new variants of the COVID-19 virus abound. A full day of wearing masks seems overwhelming. Returning to peer interactions and the daily grind of school … exhausting. Anxiety in high school students is at an all-time high. Questions fill their mind: Am I further behind than my friends or others in my grade? Will we be forced to return to virtual learning or miss out on classes due to quarantine? How hard is it going to be for me to adjust from being at home to the hectic pace of high school?
“Symptoms of anxiety and depression can occur when a teen feels extreme worry, nervousness, or fear,” says Ken DeBlock, Shelterwood Executive Clinical Director. “Sometimes these fears or worries lead a teen to avoid certain activities or places, purposely withdrawing from friends and social situations.”
Parents can expect some distress and worry during the first few weeks of any transition; especially now, when teens are being asked to do many new things at once. It can be hard for a parent to know how to help a child with anxiety about school. Here are several tips on how to prepare your anxious teen to navigate this transitional period and help them handle their back-to-school anxiety:
Talk Openly About Their Back-to-School Anxiety
It’s important to dialogue with your teen to understand their fears and worries about going back to school. Their school anxiety may be from concerns about COVID-19, study stress, friendship issues, social anxiety in school, or just trading in the home couch for a noisy classroom.
This is an opportunity to listen to your teen, to create space to hear their concerns. Acknowledge what they’re feeling even if you don’t agree. Reassure them that you understand why they feel unsettled by the transition and may have anxiety in the classroom.
“The power of actively listening to your teen is possibly the exact therapy they need,” says DeBlock. “The key is to dialogue and allow them a safe place to talk out their concerns and worries.”
Last year affected extroverts and introverts equally. During virtual learning, some outgoing teens struggled to stay engaged and motivated, grasp the material, and remain connected to friends and teachers. Other teens, those who typically have difficulties in large-group settings, thrived. Talk to your teen about how both groups can feel anxious in the classroom when returning to an on-site learning environment.
Remember, your teen’s feelings are valid no matter what they are. You can help them work through their emotions in a healthy way by actively listening.
Reaffirm This is a Shared Experience
Feeling anxious during a pandemic is expected. Your teen is not facing these worries and fears alone. Share your own story of getting through a national crisis period – 9-11 or the H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak. Or talk about how a parent or grandparent faced the anxiety of Pearl Harbor, living in the 1930s, or other crisis situations. Stay optimistic and maintain confidence in how community helps navigate times like these.
Remind them about the fun components of going back to school. Take them shopping for clothing or school supplies; and if possible, include a friend of your teen that they haven’t seen face-to-face for a while. Help them jump-start the change from virtual to in-person by looking for other ways to safely interact with others. By creating small opportunities to share with others, you’ll reaffirm your teen is not alone with their concerns and back-to-school anxiety. This will help them cope better with their worries and build the confidence they need to feel more in control and less afraid.
Effectively Manage Your Own Stress
As a parent, you need to be mindful of your own emotions. Your teen can feed off your anxiousness.
Therefore, during worrisome times, it’s essential you find moments for self-care. Taking even a couple of deep breaths in a high-stress situation can help. So can daily exercise and eating healthier. By taking these steps, you exhibit strategies for your teen on how to handle their anxiety and take control of their emotions.
Invite your teen to join you on a walk the next time you need to “clear your head.” Parents are the biggest models for their kids. It’s okay to share how you positively deal with stress.
Common signs of extreme anxiety and depression in teens include: sleeping and eating disturbances, agitation, increase in conflicts, physical complaints, delinquent behavior, and poor concentration. If you see a major change from your teen’s baseline behavior that doesn’t dissipate over a couple of weeks, you may wish to seek local professional help. Or consider Shelterwood, a residential treatment center that strives to create an environment where teens know they are loved, valued, and have a purpose. Contact us now: 800.584.5005.