School’s back in session! And whether you’re the type of mom to a) loathe the end of summer break and miss your teenager terribly, or b) make a pitcher of mimosas to celebrate the morning your kid leaves, there are things to know to make back-to-school (and the school year) easier for both of you.
Back to school means different things for different students, and the emotions can vary from “I can’t wait to get back to see my friends” to “omigosh, I’m so freaking nervous about the whole thing.”
Let’s prepare now to help our teenagers through a demanding, often anxiety-enducing school year by getting off to a stellar start and maintaining that over the next 10 months.
1. Talk with your teen about what to expect.
The unknown can seem a little scary to anyone, but the start of a new school year can be an extraordinarily tough time for your teenager – especially if you’ve got a middle-schooler or freshman heading into the great unknown.
The American Psychology Association points to the developing teenage brain as a major culprit in causing a high level of social anxiety. You already knew your teen’s brain is a little, you know, “askew” we’ll say, so this fact might not come as a surprise.
Help your teen understand that, yes, it’s an adjustment with new classes, new teachers, new students and maybe even a new campus. Then remind them that the jitters they’re feeling now won’t last. It will be a little tough at first, but very soon they’ll have great new relationships built and will learn some cool new things.
Be a great listener this week and do the following:
- Remind your teen that everyone’s nervous when school starts. (But don’t diminish the fact that your kid has real feelings about this.)
- Emphasize what your teen can look forward to this school year.
- Look for clubs and activities to be involved in that’ll help establish friendships faster.
- Ensure your teen knows you’re open to conversations at any time about school work, teachers, social stuff – without judgement.
2. Help keep track of important stuff.
It should be your teen’s responsibility to schedule and keep an eye on the calendar for important due dates and events for school and activities. This can include project due dates and exams, club meetings, sports practices, appointments with the guidance counselor, etc.
But you know as well as I do that teens get sloppy – commitments aren’t tracked, deadlines are missed and appointments are forgotten. There are also things teens don’t even know they should be tracking, so help from Mom is still a necessity.
Keep a common calendar with all of your family’s responsibilities laid out for everyone to see, and hold your student accountable to adding to and keeping an eye on it. To keep everyone in your family on the same page, refer back to my recent post about using Google Calendar to help your teen track what’s important.
Make sure that your teen is on track for what needs to be done each high school year in order to plan for college – it’s something that too many students wait to long to learn about. Download my free checklist to get this essential stuff on the calendar: College Planning – A Checklist for What to Do in High School.
3. Establish consistent homework + study times.
Start the school year off with expectations for getting the dreaded homework and studying done each day. Your kid might be more independent than ever with getting work done for school, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t still (unconsciously) crave parameters and need someone to help with guidelines. The most successful students have a consistent system and timeline for completing homework after school.
Act as a guide here rather than a dictator about timing – let your teenager make the choice about what times make sense for her. Discuss the constraints your teenager has on weekdays after school (sports practice, club meetings, dinner) and ask when might be the best time to buckle down and dedicate to school work around those activities.
Then, get it on the schedule. It might be tough to keep consistent at first – this takes practice – but once it becomes a habit your kid’ll realize how valuable having set this time aside can be to plan for other (more fun) activities outside of study time.
4. Consistently check grades. Together.
Grades matter, especially for high schoolers. GPA is influenced from the very first semester, so it’s imperative that good study habits are in place from the beginning to ensure a great outcome for college applications later on.
Start by working with your teen to set a consistent time on the calendar that’s convenient for both of you to connect about how things are going in school and do a progress check on grades in each class. (I do this every 4 weeks or so with my girls.) By working with your teen on this, you’re showing that you’re invested in her education and you’re there to provide support and guidance if needed.
When challenges come up, like seeing lower-than-expected grades in a class, show your kid you’re her advocate. I’ve had awesome success in doing the following with my daughters:
- Remain calm and non-critical about a low grade or bad test score. Simply show interest. Let your teen talk about the struggles she’s having in the course and ask open-ended questions. Listen.
- Have an open discussion about the importance of maintaining good grades in school, with a perspective of what GPA means for college applications if that is a motivator for your student. Although it might be tough, try to keep blame from entering the conversation.
- Don’t immediately offer your own solutions. Empathize and brainstorm solutions with her, and let her lead from there. You can offer your advice, but let your teenager try solutions first. This helps her to learn to take ownership of problems and find satisfaction and accomplishment in working them out on her own. It also serves to remove that nasty-tense parent-teenager dynamic that can crop up even in the most mild of situations, and it shows your teen that you believe she’s mature enough to handle this type of challenge on her own.
- Remind her that you’re they’re if she needs you to help her implement any of the action steps going forward.
- After determining a plan of action for improving the grade or test score or whatever, set a time together on the calendar to check in on things again.
So, I’ve made my mimosas, and I still honestly can’t wait for these kids to come home. High school makes it really apparent that I only get them for another couple of years before they’ve flown the nest. The more I can help them get through these tough school years effectively and with lower stress, the better I feel I’ve done my job!
Let’s continue the conversation! Leave a comment below.