Any transition can create stress, and going back to school is a big transition for teens. At the start of the school year, they may be navigating a mixture of social anxiety, academic pressure, disrupted routines, unfamiliar situations, and other challenges, all at once. Whether they are excited, anxious, or somewhere in between, all teens are likely to experience some stress around going back to school. Here, we outline 6 ways parents can help teens manage stress and get ready for a great year.
1. Be on the lookout for symptoms.
Teens are not always up front about feeling stressed, and sometimes they don’t recognize the symptoms in themselves. Parents can keep an eye out for any changes in teens’ behavior that might signal stress. Common signs include getting angry or upset more quickly, expressing worry or negative thoughts, difficulty concentrating, changes in eating or sleeping habits, and complaints about headaches, stomachaches, or other physical symptoms. Knowing the symptoms can help you identify stress and tend to them before they escalate.
2. Encourage them to talk it out.
Like adults, teens sometimes ignore their stress and hope it will just go away, but stress has a way of intensifying when we keep it inside. Whether they talk to a parent, friend, or therapist, just sharing what’s on their minds can help teens feel better and more in control. Before the school year starts, investigate potential sources of stress with no-pressure questions like, “What are you most excited about this year?” and “What are you least excited about?” A few weeks after the start date, check in again to see how they’re acclimating and offer your support.
3. Clear physical and mental clutter.
A new school year can be a fresh start, so it’s a great time for your teen to get rid of anything they no longer need. And, as author Eleanor Brownn says, “Clutter is not just physical stuff. It’s old ideas, toxic relationships, and bad habits. Clutter is anything that doesn’t support your better self.” Make the end of summer a time for the whole family to do a little conscious clutter clearing. For the physical stuff, give teens three boxes labeled Donate, Storage, and Trash/Recycle and ask them to assess what they’ve outgrown. For the rest of it, brainstorm any attitudes or habits you and your teen can let go of to support a stress-free school year.
4. Set intentions.
Setting intentions keeps teens focused on the positive and can help them feel proactive and empowered. Take some time to talk about their hopes and goals for the year ahead and how you can support them. Include goals for specific achievements (like “make the honor roll” or “try out for the dance team”) and how they want to think, feel, and act (like “stay open to new experiences” or “be kind to myself and others every day”). Setting intentions can be as simple as writing down a few powerful statements to post by the mirror, or as elaborate as crafting a vision board. Consider setting intentions together so you can champion each other’s progress and celebrate successes.
5. Get organized.
Teens with consistent schedules report higher levels of self-control and emotional well-being, according to a study by the University of Georgia. Before the school year starts, talk to your teen about what they think will help them stay organized and keep stress in check. Work together to create routines for getting ready for school, mealtimes, study-time, and bedtime. And set up your family’s shared calendar with a few dates for fun and relaxation in addition to their academic and extracurricular activities. Having something to look forward to can take teens’ minds off their worries and remind them that it’s also important to play.
6. Seek specific stress solutions.
Every teen deals with stress a little differently, and you can help them find the right recipe. Most likely, your teen needs a mix of mindfulness, relaxation, good sleep and food habits, unprogrammed time, exercise, nature, and social interaction. But to target specific kinds of stress, look to stress-soothing tools. Meditation and mindfulness apps and fun fidgets help teens calm anxiety. Teens who struggle with sleep could try a weighted blanket or listening to sleep stories on one of the apps shared above. And if your teen needs help getting organized, try a 5-star planner like the Class Tracker. Each of these solutions supports teens in developing healthy habits to manage stress and make the most of the year ahead.