As secondary school students across Australia returning to on-site classrooms, Professor Brett McDermott, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, offers advice for parents and carers on how to best support teens making the transition.
For parents helping teenagers return to school, McDermott says, that firstly, it’s important to talk openly with them to find out whether they’re nervous about going back to school, and if so why.
It may be study stress, friendship issues, or general anxiety about having to go back into the classroom after so much time spent at home.
Reassure them that you understand why they may feel unsettled by the change and encourage open dialogue (ReachOut provide this useful advice on how to encourage effective communication with your teenager).
“Currently, the main challenge for teens is having to adjust to the ‘new normal’,” says McDermott.
For a lot of young people, the lockdown period will have offered respite from the everyday stresses of being a teenager and secondary schooling.
“And although some teens are very driven by the prospect of seeing friends again, for others, staying at home was a relief from daily peer interactions and the pressure to do well at school. For them, home may have provided a very comfortable environment for the last two months or so, and that can be very hard to pull away from.”
Remember the bigger picture
If your teenager is reluctant to return to school, McDermott advises being empathetic but not losing sight of the bigger picture.
Which in this case is that “school is likely the best place for them when it comes to developing into a fully-fledged adult,” he says.
“The challenges of adolescence – developing a strong moral compass, forming and sustaining healthy relationships, and understanding right from wrong – are a key part of shaping every young person’s future.”
“And the best way to do this is by interacting with people every day. These daily social interactions add up – you slowly build a skillset – which helps us develop a sense of who we are. It takes practice, and for most of us while we’re young, that happens at school – not while staring at a screen in our bedroom.”
So while it’s helpful to acknowledge your teen’s worries and speak openly about them, when it comes to dealing with their unwillingness about returning to school, it’s important to remind them that school is the best place for them.
Getting back into a good routine
To ensure a smooth transition back to on-site learning, McDermott suggests setting a steady routine before the return. Or if they have already started, doing so as soon as possible. This way, they have some time to get back into the swing of things, especially as staying up late and sleeping in is common for teens and, for some, can be a difficult pattern to break.
“Encouraging your teenager to get ready the night before, making sure they enough sleep, wake up early, eat a good breakfast, and generally get back into a good routine, can really help,” he says.
Take a look at these useful tips on helping teenagers develop a daily routine.
A shared experience
Some teenagers may feel anxious about going back to school while COVID-19 is still a consideration.
According to McDermott, the best way parents can help alleviate that anxiety is to empathise while demonstrating complete confidence in the decision.
“Most teenagers still look to their parents for reassurance,” says McDermott, “so if you’re showing confidence and adopting a pragmatic ‘everybody goes to school and it’s safe to return’ approach, they’ll likely follow your lead.”
If your teen is feeling apprehensive about mixing with their peers again, McDermott recommends reminding them that they’ve had several years of good social interaction and that you don’t lose your social skills overnight.
“Remind them that even though they’ve not seen their friends for a while, their inner wiring for good communication, and building and nurturing relationships is good to go.”
Face-to-face catch ups with some of their closest friends outside the classroom might also help, as can reminding them that they are not alone.
They have this amazing shared experience and that is beautiful thing – even if the pandemic itself certainly wasn’t.
Find more information on how to know if your teenager needs further support with their mental health.
Cyberbullying and teenagers
With teenagers having spent so much time online during lockdown, the risk of cyberbullying and/or harassment and intimidation online may be a consideration for parents. ReachOut have plenty of helpful information about cyberbullying and what you as a parent can do.
It’s natural for teenagers to be concerned that they may have fallen behind with their school work during the time of remote learning. They may also be worried, says McDermott, about their future prospects post-COVID-19.
“Students have told me that they’re concerned about educational and job opportunities being affected due to the pandemic and have a fear of missing out,” says McDermott.
“However, students need to realise that they're graded against each other. Everybody's had this experience, so they're not worse off because everybody's in the same boat. If you were on a certain percentile before, you're on exactly the same percentile now. Also, the percentage of people going on to university or vocational training will be exactly the same.”
“Remember too that staff and faculty fully appreciate the situation students are in and have a lot of compassion and desire to help. Consider seeking support directly from your child’s school and teacher if your teenager continues to have serious concerns though.”
ReachOut have developed a range of helpful resources for parents on your teen, study stress and coronavirus.
This content is proudly funded by one of Beyond Blue’s Major Partners, Future Generation Global Investment Company.