All over the Country teenagers will be starting their first year in high school or returning to high school. Typically I would recommend that parents think back to their first day of high school and how they felt and what they were expecting high school to be like and how they were expecting there other kids to act. I did this to help parents relate to some of the feelings their teenager maybe having as a way for parents to help their teenagers starting high school. This may help parents with some of the issues facing their teenagers, but teenagers starting high school or resuming high school in 2022 do so with mass school shootings occurring on a regular basis and we are still dealing with a deadly pandemic. Therefore, high school students are facing additional issues besides the typical first day of school issues. They are facing life and death issues, we never had to face in high school. Additionally, they see that the government is doing very little to protect from gun violence. Therefore, today’s teenagers are facing overwhelming issues we never had to face when we went to high school. This can make it difficult for parents to be able to completely understand the feelings teenagers and having starting high school.
High school students, in fact all students, are starting school when there is a significant increase in the Coronavirus due another new variant. As a result, many people including teenagers are contracting the virus and having to be hospitalized (CDC). The number of people contracting the virus is similar to the numbers we were seeing a year ago (CDC).
Therefore, high school students are starting high school not knowing if they will or will not contact the virus. Yes there are vaccinations they can get and they can wear masks, all of which decreases their chances of getting the virus, but some governors, school boards and parents are refusing these options. People are objecting because they say the precautions are not necessary and do not work. However, teens are hearing that the virus is spreading rapidly in most counties in the country. In fact, some counties such as Los Angeles County and considering returning to indoor mask mandates (LA County Public Health). Having to keep up with homework and after school activities, such as sports, is a lot for most teenagers without having to worry about the pandemic. Teenagers are worried about it because I hear them tell me about their concerns and some students would prefer to go back to remote learning due to the threat posed by the virus.
In addition to worrying about contracting the virus, students return to school having to deal with mass shootings. According to the Gun Violence Archives, there has been more than one mass shooting a day so far this year. The Gun Violence Archives also report there has been a 50% increase in mass shootings since 2020. Unfortunately, the recent shooting at the school in Texas showed we have not improved how we handle these shootings. The police waited outside for 77 minutes while children and teachers bled to death. Since most teenagers have smartphones, they have access to all of this information. They know the number of shootings are increasing, police are not handling the situations and the government refuses to pass laws that can have a real impact on gun violence. They also see the news that the mass shootings are a problem for the United States and they seldom occur in other countries. Given this environment, it is no surprise that we are seeing a significant increase in depression and anxiety disorders in teenagers (CDC). Teenagers today are not crazy and do not live in a fantasy world. They have access to the news very easily and they are very aware about what is occurring in our Country. Based on what the see and the lack of help by the government feeling anxious and depressed is a normal response.
One other issue, besides worrying about contracting the virus and mass shootings, students have missed an entire year of high school. Therefore, students who are sophomores never had a freshman year and have no idea what to expect. Teenagers who were enjoying their high school experience have missed out on an entire year. Therefore, students starting high school and returning to high school in 2022 are doing so facing many issues that students usually never face. For example, the main issue is adjusting from remote learning to being back in the class. Their school days are longer, they have more homework and they are around more people. This is not a simple adjustment. As a result of all the issues we have seen a significant increase in depression and anxiety in high school students (CDC).
Parents hopefully you can remember everything teenagers and you are facing as your teenagers start high school. You may need to contact your teenager’s school and ask for assistance from the school. You may need to seek out a psychotherapist who specializes in treating teenagers and have your teenager participate in psychotherapy. There is no shame in doing this because teenagers are facing tremendous mental health issues and many need help. Since the pandemic and school resuming, there has been a significant increase in the number of teenagers needing psychotherapy (CDC). In fact we are running out of psychotherapist who are able to treat these teenagers. No one planned on how to adequately handle the number of teenagers needing psychotherapy due to the pandemic.
Parents all you can do is to be patient and listen to your teenagers and seek the help you feel is appropriate. Also do not forget yourselves. Parents are under a great deal of stress too and you may need psychotherapy too. If you try to work together and are patient with each other, you should be able to handle the stress teenagers are facing due to the pandemic.
In addition to the pandemic, students starting high school still deal with common anxieties most teenagers have faced over the years. One common stressor for many teenagers are the stories they have heard about how seniors picking on and teasing the freshman students. Another common fear for freshman is that they are going to get lost on the campus and not be able to find their classrooms. Your teenagers are at a point in their life where they want to make a good impression on the other students. At their age image is very important. Therefore the idea of being teased by the seniors or getting lost on the campus can be very stressful and also create a great deal of anxiety for a student starting high school.
As parents, you can talk to your teenagers about your first days days at high school and reassure them that the stories they hear about Freshmen being targets for the seniors are greatly exaggerated. Also you can try to go with them over to the school before it starts and walk around the campus so they can get use to where everything is at their new school. Another thing you can do is remind them that everyone makes mistakes so if they do get lost the first day it is not a big deal. Remind them there will be a lot of other kids starting their first day of school too and there will be other kids getting lost. This is also another opportunity to continue to establish an open relationship with your teenager. The more you talk with each other, you increase the likelihood that they will feel comfortable coming and talking to you about issues they will have while in high school.
Another issue facing some students is starting all over. In middle school may be everyone knew them and they were in the “popular group.” Now no one knows them and they need to start all over. This may be frightening to them, but remind them there will be many times in life when they will need to start as the new person. Also remind them, if they were able to do it in middle school, they can do it in high school too. Be sure to encourage them to have faith in themselves because it won’t happen over night. Now for many students middle school was a nightmare. They may be looking forward to starting over. Again remind them if they have the desire to try they can do it. All the Freshmen are starting all over just like them, but also to be patient because it may not happen as quickly as they like.
Also before school actually starts is a very good time to establish what your expectations are regarding grades and after school activities and hanging out with friends. At this time is a good time to establish what your expectations are homework, after school jobs and weekend curfews. If you establish an understanding between yourself and your teenager before these situations arise you can save yourself a lot of time arguing with your teenager. However as you establish these guidelines you want to have a conversation with your teenager about these issues. Remember your teenager is starting to enter the adult world, if you simply just tell them these are the rules, they will feel that you are being unfair and they will try to find a way around your rules. If you have a discussion with them about the rules they will feel that their opinions were respected, they are more likely to feel that the rules are fair and are more likely to follow the rules. It is also a good idea to write a contract with all the things you agreed to. If you write the agreements down and there is a misunderstanding you simply need to refer back to the contract. Also this is another opportunity for you to establish a relationship with your teenager where they feel comfortable enough to come to you and discuss any problems they may be having. You are also role modeling to them how to have an adult discussion and how to negotiate fairly and respectfully with other their people.
Of course you also want to take this opportunity to discuss with your teenager the fact that they are going to be faced with making decisions about alcohol, drugs and sex. This is a good time to provide them with the education they will need in order to cope with these situations. It is even more important today because technology has changed a number of rules. For example, if a girl texts a nude photo to a boy, he is guilty of having child pornography. Yes it was mutually agreed to but they are still under 18 years old so it is a crime. Texting is another area where they can get into trouble. If someone takes a text as a threat they can get into trouble for bullying or assault. As I said, technology has changed the rules and many of us have not been able to keep it. Therefore, remind them that information they may receive from their friends may not always be accurate. Furthermore, encourage them that at any time if they have any questions or concerns regarding these matters or any other matters you are always there to listen and to talk with them.
One thing to remember is acronym HALT. I teach this often with anger management, but it helps with communication too.
H – hunger
A – anger
L – lonely
T – tired
If either one of you are having these feelings, it is generally not a good time to have a discussion. Also if either one of you is feeling like this and you may not be listening to each other. Therefore, if either one of you are having these feelings or don’t feel like talking, then it’s better to postpone the conversation until you are both ready to talk.
Lastly, remind them that they are starting a brand-new phase in their life and it is normal to feel anxious and stress. Also remind them that these feelings are normal in the beginning but they usually quickly disappear after they have started school.
Besides having to face the pandemic, high school students today also have to face the issue of school shootings, as I mentioned above. Sadly, this is another stressful subject you may want to discuss with your teenager. Develop a plan with your teenager about what they would do if there was a shooting at their school. Also discuss with them what to do if they hear rumors or have concerns about how another student is acting. Finally, discuss how you can help if they are feeling worried or not safe at school. It is sad, but this is the world we live in today. Talking to you teen can help decrease anxiety and help you to maintain open communication with your teenager.
A few things you can do on the first day of classes to help with any anxiety are you can get up in the morning with them and have breakfast with them before they go to school. You can also put a note of encouragement in their backpack that they will find when they are at school and this can help reassure them and remind them how much support they have at home. Finally, you can arrange to be at home when when they get home from their first day of high school so you can talk about it with them. Also plan to have a family dinner to discuss everyone’s first day of school and offer encouragement where needed. These are just a few ideas to help with the transition process.
One final issue to remember, since there has been a significant increase in anxiety and depression in high school students, many students are having difficulties in class and completing their homework. If they are having difficulties, they may be entitled to a 504 plan or an Individual Educational Plan (IEP). Most school districts will offer you a 504 plan because it is easy for the school and costs the school no money. However, if your teen is having significant problems with school demand in writing that they be evaluated for an IEP. There is nothing to be ashamed about and an IEP will not prevent your child from going to college or getting a job. If you need further information regarding IEPs refer to my articles regarding IEPs or contact my office regarding an IEP consultation.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children and teenagers. He has over 25 years experience working with teenagers. To learn more about his private practice in Pleasant or the work he has done over 25 years visit his web site at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/Drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.