With the school year approaching, for many adolescents there is a sense of disappointment about the end of summer. Even for kids who may enjoy school, nothing quite compares to the freedom and leisure time they get during the summer. The back-to-school blues are challenging to deal with. However, there are some things that parents and families can do to minimize the impact of the back-to-school blues.
- Set Reasonable Expectations: Kids face a lot of pressure nowadays to perform academically, and the stress of trying to maintain unrealistically high grades can be a detriment to their overall wellbeing. Changing this can come from the parental level, whereby parents can set reasonable expectations for their children around grades. It’s important to have a conversation about the philosophy behind grades, and establish clearly within the family what the expectations are. Requiring Straight A’s, for example is NOT a reasonable expectation, even for the most brilliant child, as there are many factors beyond a child’s control that go into grades. It can ease a child’s mind to know that their parents will not be disappointed if perfect grades are not attained. It also creates a valuable teaching moment where parents can remind kids that school is about more than grades, it is about their education and their social and emotional development.
- Create a Balanced Schedule: Scheduling is often a challenge for families. There are many extracurricular activities that involve time, transportation, and logistics. This can increase levels of stress and overwhelm for parents and kids alike. Mapping out a balanced schedule ahead of can ease this burden and help everyone feel like the schedule is manageable. A balanced schedule also takes into account leisure time and time for activities that align with a family’s values. A useful tool to ensure a schedule is balanced is to use a Values Wheel. A Values wheel is similar to a pie chart that contains sections for all the things a person finds important. There might be a section for Family, Education, Spirituality, Physical Activity, Friends, etc. Each section looks like the spoke of a bicycle wheel, and in order for that wheel to roll, each spoke needs to be in place. Every day should allow time to be spent on ALL of the sections of the chart, even if it is only a few moments. Without it, the day becomes unbalanced, and you will be dealing with a flat tire that doesn’t roll.
- Get Some Sleep: It is widely believed that most adolescents (and adults for that matter) don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. The effects of sleep deprivation can be profound, and are particularly influential on a person’s mental health. If an adolescent is not operating with enough sleep, it will be very difficult for them to keep up with all the responsibilities they face or to find emotional equilibrium. Lack of sleep contributes to a sense of overwhelm and anxiety, and these effects can manifest in a variety of mental health issues, including Eating Disorders.
- Encourage Balanced Nutrition: While there are many divergent ideas about what constitutes good nutrition, the most important element in nutrition is that it be balanced. It’s important for young people to get enough food, of all types and kinds, encompassing all food and nutrient groups, in order to function most effectively. It is easy to get drawn into scrutinizing food, thinking about which foods are better than others, etc. and frankly that can be detrimental to an adolescent. Teens need a variety of food, and a lot of it. Encourage balanced nutrition, without agonizing over food choices and other aspects of what they are eating, just make sure they are eating plenty! Lack of adequate nutritional intake can be a trigger for an eating disorder, and can create a pattern that is very hard to break.
The start of the school represents a change for families and adolescents, and while change can be exciting it is also stressful. By focusing on the positive aspects of the change, and starting out the school year with a balanced approach, you can turn the Back-to-school Blues into a schoolyear that rocks.
Matt Keck, MFT is the CEO and Co-founder of Cielo House Comprehensive Eating Disorder Treatment program. Working with Adolescents in the specialty Adolescent Treatment Program, he has seen the importance of a balanced approach to the responsibilities Teens face, and works with Teens and families to find balance in all areas of life.