Talking and trusting are key to easing back-to-school stress for teenagers

A middle-aged woman is good spending time with her son in a park

With new teachers, classmates, and expectations, back to school is full of uncertainties and anxieties. Stressful transitions increase the chances that a teen will turn to drugs or alcohol to cope.

Geena Crosby, prevention coordinator for youth and young adult services with the Prevention Action Alliance, said there are many ways to support teens during these times, starting with listening. She said that means allowing their feelings and concerns to be heard and not trying to fix the problem. And where possible, allow them to voice their own opinions and make decisions.  “Young people want to feel trusted, and they want to feel like they have some autonomy over their choices and what they do,” said Crosby. “And I think if we can have those open and honest conversations, that’s going to be the best option.”  While it’s easy to loosen discipline during trying times, Crosby said rules and boundaries actually build trust. She also noted that maintaining daily routines and ensuring everyone is eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep can help keep the family strong.

Parents also tend to feel anxieties and pressures at the start of the school year; however, Crosby said those concerns should not be projected onto kids.  “There may be things that they’re not even worrying about,” said Crosby. “And you talking about your worries is only going to increase their worry on top of everything they’re already concerned with.”

Crosby recommended staying connected to the teachers, coaches, and other adults at school and asking for help and support when needed. “If you’re worrying about your student and how they’re doing,” said Crosby, “then seeking out professional help, whether it’s within the school or outside of the school, to maybe help your student navigate some of those challenges or help you navigate some of those challenges with your student is going to be really important.”

According to the federal Monitoring the Future Survey from June, despite declines in availability, alcohol and marijuana use among eighth-, tenth- and 12th-grade students did not change significantly during the pandemic.