As summer vacation draws to a close, there is often a noticeable increase in teenage stress levels. An actual shift in their mental outlooks takes places. Why? Very simply, summer is "laid back"; school is not. Our kids have been taught that doing well in school equates to functioning within the negative aspects of high pressure, tough competition and ever-increasing intensity to perform. I'd like to suggest we begin to change this mindset.
Laid back does not equate to lack of curiosity or distaste for learning. Not by any means. Summer is the time when teens turn their attention to extracurricular activities they enjoy. Some love to read; others to write. Some grab a camera or a paint brush. Some kids get a job to make money or improve their resume. Others volunteer with organizations that bring value to their lives.
All these activities empower kids in the process of growing up. It is abundantly clear that when teens engage in activities that matter to them their motivation, focus and commitment soar. We need to help our teens create a 'summer attitude' and the subsequent mindset and positive attitudes year round. Kids are more motivated, more relaxed, and better able to achieve their optimal mental and emotional states during school breaks. Their world seems to be a better place.
Now, let's take that same approach and help your teen apply it to the academic year. In other words, we need to look at school from a different perspective.
Too many of our teens view school as a prison -- therefore school vacation becomes the equivalent of freedom. More than one of my clients has described school as "being trapped in a cell for the majority of the day and occasionally being set free to walk the yard."
There are ways for parents to help reduce the negativity their kids experience with the beginning of the school year. You can teach your teen to be resilient and ready to reenter school in an advantageous working mode. In fact, it's critical that you, as parents, help your teen hold onto that exciting place called 'summer' year round.
At the heart of the issue is the fact that too many students view school in a negative light. They literally have a sense of doom and negativity when it comes to school. I'll come back to this in subsequent blogs. Right now I'd rather we address how parents can help reorient their kids to think about school differently.
When I talk with teenage clients I've found that merely changing the structure of words can change their mindset and approach to school. Being positive, "What will you have gained when the semester ends?" is far more motivating than, "how do you plan to get through the semester?" Once kids learn to frame their thinking in a positive manner they want to acquire new skills, achieve a better understanding of a subject and learn ways in which their new knowledge can benefit them. In other words -- they become interested and motivated. Parents can help with this by simply asking "What will you have at the end of the semester that you don't have now?"
Heading back to school is a stressful time for students and one of the best ways to relieve stress is through physical activity. Create situations where you and your teen can be active together. Playing basketball; walking the dog; playing in the snow -- anything physical and fun. Family activities don't need to stop when school starts. And they don't need to stop when it gets cold either. Build a snowman for crying out loud.
Make the time to play together. There is an added bonus to this -- your teen communicates with you because you are doing things together.
The best gift you can give your child is to step back during school. Stop checking grades. Stop emailing teachers. Teach your teen what it means to work hard and succeed -- by allowing them to do it on their own. Stop pushing; let them fall. They learn resilience and self-reliance.
Teens, like any other age, model positive and healthy behavior. And actions always speak louder than words. When you are a model of what is healthy your teen will emulate your behavior. The difference in your teen will amaze you -- throughout the academic year and beyond.