For millions of students, the start of the 2021/2022 school year will be the first time attending school entirely in-person, in a classroom full of others since March 2020. A lot has changed since a year and a half ago, including the mental state of many students. Along with having masks and new rules as a part of each day, many students now also contend with social anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues related to post COVID stress.
Although this back-to-school season presents new challenges, there are things that parents can do to help their teens have a happy and successful school year and support their teen’s mental health.
Take time to listen.
As a parent, it can be easy to assume that we know how our teens are feeling. After all, we were once a teen ourselves. But it’s important to remember that your teen is not the same person as you. Their circumstances are not the same as yours or what you experienced when you were their age.
It’s important to sit down with your teen and give them a chance to share their thoughts. Try to avoid saying, “I know how you’re feeling,” because you likely don’t know exactly how they’re feeling. Instead of making statements that are assumptions, try asking your teen open-ended questions. For example, you might ask, “what concerns you most about returning to school?”
Your teen will likely not share all their thoughts during a single conversation so give your teen multiple opportunities to talk to you.
Validate what you’ve heard.
It is important to validate what you heard by paraphrasing in your own words what they’ve shared. Validating lets your teen know that you heard and understood them correctly. It does not necessarily mean that you agree with what they’ve said or that you condone any negative behavior—but validating shows that you understand their in-fact concerns and what’s true to them.
Let your teen know that they’re not alone.
Many teens are feeling confused, fatigued, worried, lonely, and have other negative emotions. Teens often feel like they’re the only ones feeling the way that they are. For example, they may see others with friends and then feel like they’re the only one who is by themself and feeling lonely. It can be helpful to share examples of others who may be feeling a similar way as your teen to help them realize that they’re not alone.
Help your teen build confidence.
The pandemic changed most teens’ routines, including interacting with their peers. Many students are returning to school with feelings of insecurity and low self-confidence. You can help your teen become more confident by reinforcing perseverance, acknowledging that mistakes are ok, praising their efforts, encouraging new opportunities, and helping to develop positive self-talk and self-worth.
Don’t be afraid to seek professional help.
Therapy can be an effective way to help teens improve their mental health – especially when nothing else seems to be helping. The longer you wait to seek help, the more severe your teen’s problems may become. Getting therapy can help prevent minor issues from turning into major problems and help prevent an individual’s mental health from further declining. For more information on ways to effectively support your teen contact firstname.lastname@example.org.