Ever wonder how your kids really feel about returning to school? This back-to-school photo is one of thousands that make the start of a new school year look like fun and games for teens. While seemingly innocuous, photos like these can contribute to kids’ stress by making them feel that they should be this happy, when really, they’re grappling with a lot of conflicting emotions. If your kids give you generic answers about school or act like the start of a new school year is no big deal, read below to find out what’s really going on in their heads.
1. I am so freakin nervous. They may not show it on the outside, but their insides are doing a few flips. And let’s face it, they have a lot to fear. Are they in for a boring year or an exciting one? Will their friends still be mad at them about what happened last year? Will that cute boy or girl ever notice them? Will they fit in, be popular, have the same lunch period as their friends? The new school year is rife with possibilities and anxieties, and teens know it and feel every single one of them.
2. I hope I don’t screw up. They remember their mistakes from the previous year. They know their reputation, both socially and academically. They’re worried their teachers have preconceived notions about them and their friends will remind them of past missteps. They are desperately hoping for and need a clean slate.
3. This could be the year… of achievements, of goals reached, of dreams coming true. They are hopeful they’ll finally find a boyfriend/girlfriend (or at least a date for Homecoming). Thoughts of that elusive A (or for some, just a passing grade) fill their minds. Even if your kids give no indication that they care one iota about grades, they still crave affirmation of their abilities. They dream about making a team or winning the lead role in the school play or earning a place in the district art contest. Even if they don’t verbalize their aspirations, trust me, they have them.
4. I hope I fit in. Even the most outwardly confident kids (and sometimes especially those) have insecurities about their place in the peer world. Teens want to belong. Period. They are under tremendous pressure – pressure I’m confident we adults have managed to wipe from our memories in the interest of self-preservation – to be accepted, to be welcomed, and to be secure in their social group. Just one friend makes all the difference. We know it and they know it.
As a teacher, I try to be hyper-aware of students’ feelings during the first few weeks of school. I urge parents to spend less time worrying about the minutia of the back to school process (buying the perfect class supplies or clothes) and more time really reading your teens’ attitudes when they come home from school. Ask your kids about the things that matter to them and share your own stories about fresh starts, complicated social relationships, and great teachers or classes that impacted your life. Validate their feelings by understanding what worries them and providing both empathy and life experience to guide them through those first tough weeks of a new school year.