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What to Do When Your Teens Aren’t Ready to Go Back to School

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A student with head on school desk, face down
iStock/AntonioDiaz
Help your teens make a smoother transition as they head back to school.

The summer, back-to-school sales started in July — a sure sign that whining is about to begin at my house: “We just got out of school! Why do we have to go back so soon?”

This time of year brings a mixture of frustration and excitement for the teens in my family. They love getting new school clothes, seeing their friends again and driving themselves to school, for those who have a license. But they don’t relish the returning structure of earlier bed times, homework and the possibility of getting Mr. or Mrs. Meany for a teacher.

Even though our teens have been through the going-back-to-school scene for years, they still need our help to make that transition as smooth as possible. Always start with prayer. Then help your teens avoid unnecessary stress and find the right balance between school and the out-of-school hours during the day.

Avoid unnecessary stress

Even with all the back-to-school reminders, there were still times our family didn’t pick up school supplies until the last minute. That only brought more stress and anxiety for our teens. Everything went into rush mode. But school supplies aren’t the biggest issues. Here’s how we can help our teens better adjust to school-year changes:

Express expectations clearly. Now is the time to establish expectations and goals for the coming school year.

  • Do they need reminders about who can be in the car with them when they’re driving?
  • Are you revisiting curfews?
  • Are you creating space for homework? One mom set up a special area for her son to do his homework — not in his room where he’d have too many distractions. They talked through the what, when, where and why. That cut any arguments during the school year over getting his work completed.

Have those conversations before school starts so your teens understand your expectations.

Go over their schedule with them. Several weeks before school starts, your teens will probably receive their class schedule. This is a good time to talk with them about their classes and teachers, along with any potential problems or concerns. Then together, strategize ways they can respond to those issues in a healthy way.

Help them get organized. Sometimes the stress of the new and unknown can overwhelm teens. By guiding them to take baby steps, you can help relieve some of that stress. I know one family who together pulled out all the notebooks and binders and put them in order of class schedule, marking each subject and period number. So simple, but it dramatically reduced their teen’s stress. Help your teens think through how they’d like to organize their locker, supplies and clothes. By brainstorming with them, you can bring a sense of excitement to an otherwise mundane task.

Find the right balance

Once you and your teens have eliminated possible stress points, you can focus on making sure stress stays at bay by balancing school, social and personal time.

Encourage sleep. Teens need sleep — and a lot of it. But with smartphones, Netflix and extracurricular activities, sleep often gets pushed aside. And when teens are sleep deprived, they’re cranky and don’t handle stress well. Since a regular bedtime is healthy and necessary for academic success, start at least a week before school by making sure your teens get to bed at a decent hour. (Studies suggest they need at least nine hours of sleep a night.) That also means they disconnect from technology. Have them leave their mobile devices and laptops outside their bedroom at night. I know parents who have a technology “box” where everything gets stored by 9 p.m. Why let your teens get distracted through the night with texts and other temptations to stay awake?

Limit extracurricular activities. No, your teens don’t have to be involved in everything. Let them pick an activity a semester. If the activities are adding to their stress load, however, you don’t have to feel guilty about saying no.

Keep them active in a Christian group. Negative peer pressure is powerful — especially at the beginning of the school year, but so is positive peer influence. A positive Christian youth group teaching a biblical worldview will not only encourage great friendships, but also keep your kids grounded in biblical truths.

Milton Berle was probably thinking about teenagers when he said, “The human brain is special. It starts working as soon as you get up, and it doesn’t stop until you get to school.” Of course he was kidding, but parents can do a lot for their teens by teaching them that with school, along with so many things in life, it’s the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. Starting on the right track with good back-to-school decisions can help teens adjust to a new school year.

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