School is around the corner and many teens are feeling the Sunday Scaries. There is so much pressure put on teenagers today to get into the right college with the right degree in order to obtain the right job. This unhealthy expectation creates high levels of anxiety and depression in our youth, starting as early as 6th grade. Trust me, I’ve seen it. Teens compete with each other for top grades, parents don’t tell other parents where their child is applying to college, siblings hope to carry out family legacies and parents pay tutors by the thousands to help their senior write the perfect college essay. Here are a few ideas of what parents can do this school year to alleviate some of this stress in their own homes.
- Ask new questions. Is the first thing you say to your teen when you see them after school “how did you do on your science test?” or “did you get your math grade back yet?” Stop greeting your child this way! You are creating the dynamic that the only thing you care about is their grades. They are not robots sent to school to bring home an “A” to headquarters. Instead you can ask who they sat by at lunch, what their plans are for the night and what the high point of their day was.
- Praise your teen for the effort you see them putting into their work, not the grade they obtain. Statements such as “I saw how hard you worked on that project and I am so proud you found time to dedicate to it.” We aren’t graded in our adult lives because that’s not the real world. Our boss doesn’t tell us that we got an A- for the day. Often success comes from hard work, so let’s start to teach our teens that. We all measure success differently, but I can tell you that I don’t attribute any of my successful moments to the “A” I got on my 11th grade math final.
- Think about the silent messages you pass along to your children around academic expectations. When you say to your daughter, “your father and I both went to Yale, as did your grandparents. We were all very happy there, but you can decide to go wherever you like”… your daughter is actually perceiving that you are saying “you have to go to Yale because we all did, and if you don’t go there you’re not good enough for our family.” Teens are very good at reading between the lines, but they can also make up their own narrative when stressed and feeling insecure. Even though you may not have that expectation of them, they may think that you do.
- Make family gatherings a “school-talk” free zone. Teen’s hate when you start asking about school in front of Grandma and Uncle Joe. The more you pry and try to show off you son’s recent academic accolades, the more it feels like you are performing a root canal on him. If you ignore the signals that he doesn’t want to engage with the family on this topic, he will quickly clam up and leave the room as fast as he can. Try getting on your teen’s level by playing Fortnite or asking when the next season of Riverdale is premiering.
- Model your own ways to relax. If your teen sees you screaming, yelling and running around like a chicken without a head every day, they will start to internalize this type of coping mechanism. Find time to take care of yourself as a parent and get control of your own stress. Model healthy relaxation habits and prioritize your down time. Your positive vibes will be helpful to their mood.