“Back to School? Make it Cool: Tips for Teens on Making This Their Best Year Ever”

By: Aaron Welch, LMHC, NCC, CSOTS

To quote from the classic Christmas Carol, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”…only, it’s not. Not for many teens. For many, the beginning of each school year is a time of anxiety, stress, and fear. There are many potential obstacles that teenagers face as they enter the halls of learning. Will they be socially accepted? Will they make the team? Will I sit alone at lunch for another year? What if I fail my classes? Will I even graduate? The academic and social pressures often cause students to feel like there is a black cloud hanging over their head before they even start.

But there are ways that parents can help. There are tips that can help teenagers to break the chains of failure, anxiety, and rejection. Some are external helps; better boundaries, time management, and coaching for better social skills are tools that can truly help a teenager move ahead in their school career. Yet, it all begins from the inside-out. External changes are very limited in how much they can help a teen if the inner world of that teenager is not growing. The external changes that can help a teenager in the world of academia must spring forth from an inner change of attitude and approach.

So, the following are just a few quick tips that will help this school year to be the best one ever. They are listed from the inside-out:

1. Be Positive: As with many areas of life, our attitude determines a lot about how we handle every situation. It is very important, as the summer comes to a close, that parents help their teens to mentally prepare themselves for school. Many are excited to come back and see their friends but the majority approach the school year with a negative expectation about their classes and work. Parents must be understanding about the feelings of their teenagers. Parents must empathize with their children about how tough school can be. Teens desperately want to be heard and, if they believe you are really listening, they will be much more receptive to you. Since they have to go to school regardless of their feelings, parents should encourage teens to “go for it” instead of railing against the challenges of school. Helping teens to “embrace” the hardships of school and then helping them to deal with the challenges is a key. If a teenager can attack the challenges of school it will help their self-esteem and will help change their attitude to a more positive one. Help your teen to change their patterns from negative to positive thinking. It can be done. If need be, take your teen to a life coach or counselor who specializes in helping adolescents. Your teen may resist at first but, if you find the fit in a professional, your teen will not only endure it but may very well enjoy it.

2. Be Healthy: One area that works against teenagers during the school year is that many of them subscribe to a very unhealthy routine in their lives. They stay up late, they eat lots of junk food and drink an abundance of soda, they eat tons of sugar and many are sedentary in their leisure time. All this makes for a tired, emotional, stressed-out student. Parents should talk to their teens about tweaking their routine in a way that will help them succeed in school. I’m not talking about turning the home into a prison camp but simply adjusting the routine so that teens have more energy and a higher tolerance for the stress of school. Eating more protein, especially in the morning, will help them avoid the midday crash, getting enough sleep is vital to mental focus and coping skills, even a little cardio exercise daily will help expel built up anxiety and stress, and talking about healthy ways of dealing with anxiety will go a long way in preparing the teen for a great year. Teens must be coached on how to cope with life stress in positive, healthy ways.

3. Start Quickly: If parents can motivate their teens to get a fast start in their studies it helps to immediately build positive momentum. This not only helps them academically but it also empowers the teen by boosting his confidence and avoiding the feeling that they are behind and will never catch up. Positive momentum can really help the teen to have an outstanding year. To that end, I advise that parents become very intentional about encouraging and helping their teenage student for the first few weeks of school. Sit with them and work on homework, encourage them in what they do well, be upbeat and positive with them. Teens may resist this a bit (or a lot) but, deep down, almost every teen longs for the approval of and connection to their parents. The hardest part about momentum is in the beginning. It is slow to get something going but, once you do, it can plow through difficulties and obstacles in ways that will amaze you. Don’t let your teen get behind the eight ball early.

Finally, let’s look at what the overriding theme should be in your home as you approach this school year. Parents should sit down with their teen and emphasize that their grades are important but they do not determine the teens worth or value. So many teens face the pressure of parental and teacher expectations concerning academics that they often begin to believe that they are only valuable if they perform well. Our kids should be very aware that we love them and value them for who they are, no matter what. Your teen must have no doubts that, even if they fail a test, they are still treasured at home. This doesn’t mean you have to sit back and watch your teen struggle (although sometimes failing can be a great learning lesson). It just means that you remember that your son or daughter is worth far more than a grade in a class. This vote of confidence removes the pressure from the teen and frees them up to actually perform better with less anxiety.

Parents, Teens……the school year is upon us. I hope you work together to make this year the BEST year you have ever had.

Aaron Welch is a licensed mental health counselor, nationally certified counselor and certified sex offender treatment specialist. He strives to fight for the hearts of his clients and empower them to build a legacy that impacts the world. He is part of a team of experts at “The Lifeworks Group, Inc”. For more information about Aaron or Lifeworks, please visit www.lifeworksgroup.org or www.legacycounselingservices.org or call us at 407-647-7005.

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