Summer is over and kids are back in school! Let the fears and illnesses set in! Anyone wishing their child was staying on the elementary bus this year? My oldest started high school and I have one in middle school and at the end of every school day as I'm getting a report on who wore what, who said what, and who looked at me like... I find myself fearing my own parenting skills. Being a teenager can be the most fun or the most torture based on what? Where in the pecking order you fall? To quote a favorite movie, because that's just the way I roll, "Who decides?" (Can't Buy Me Love, 1987) It can be terrifying to think of your kids suffering at the hands of others and maybe worse, causing others to suffer. The statistics on teenage depression and anxiety are on the rise, suicide is a growing epidemic, and there is no shortage of what possible things can go wrong. How can parents best equip their kids to enter the battlefield hallways of the nearest school building and expect them to rise and shine? Here are a couple suggestions:
I Feel Pretty: Not just a hilarious movie and excellent old song, feeling good about yourself goes a long way for teens, probably for us all if we're being fair. Let's not forget the life stage of a teenager is identify vs. identity crisis! No doubt, there will be some trial and error in this department for every teenager but don't be afraid to let them figure it out. How they look to you isn't near as important as how they feel about how they look. Help your kids understand a balance between fashion trends and their own identity or at least open a conversation about it. Try to support their personal exploration of style while working to draw attention to what they notice about how they feel and where it's coming from.
Birds of a Feather Flock Together: This is a tricky time for parents as your role takes second place to the social group they choose to spend time with. This is normal behavior for teenagers and believe it or not, it's a healthy experimentation in attachment for them. The "friends" group will rise in significance for your teen. Pay attention to who their friends are. If you want to know your child, know their friends. Encourage social behavior, get togethers, and outings. The choice of friends will make or break a high school experience. Help your kids choose their friends wisely. Which leads me to my last point.
Belonging: Core attachment needs live in the heart of every human being regardless of age. These include a need to feel a sense of belonging, a longing to believe we are acceptable no matter what to someone, and that we are enough- just the way we are. Let your kids know these needs are being met at home with you. This will free them up to begin building healthy relationships with those around them. Kids are more at risk when these needs are not met at home. They will be inclined to seek approval and acceptance from somewhere else, anywhere they can find it. Remember this isn't just because they are teenagers, it's because they are human. Be sure they know their needs are met with you.
Back to school is a blessing and a curse for parents. We have plenty to worry about but hopefully keeping these things in mind will get you all off to a better start. Good luck and have a great school year!