By Cary Quashen
August is back-to-school time. As a high risk teen counselor, I know that returning to school can be risky, especially for our tweens and teens, as they move from childhood to adolescence. And as your tweens make the transition from elementary school, I would encourage you, as a parent, to never fall victim to the myth that you can now stop parenting your kids when they reach 12, 13 and 14 years of age. Once a parent, always a parent!
It’s hard for parents and kids to get back into a workable routine when the school year rolls back around. Part of the difficulty arises from the lack of structure summertime brings, and the perception that we owe our teens more freedom – after all, it is summer! But it’s never too late to establish structure. And structure can be introduced at any time.
Here’s a strategy that can help with a smooth school transition. Just like we do at the New Year, when most of us set new goals and resolutions, back to school is a perfect time for parents, tweens and teens to do the same. It’s time to talk about what to strive for this year and what to avoid. How will this school year be different than the last? How will this school year affect their futures? And as your tweens and teens transition to a new school, what will that feel like? Knowing and understanding that tweens are moving from a one classroom setting with one teacher to a multiple classroom setting with multiple teachers is a helpful discussion and eases the back to school pressure that anxious tweens may be feeling. Make sure your discussions include conversations about your kids’ friends, classes and activities for the coming school year – and all of their concerns, founded or unfounded.
As for re-establishing structure, make sure you start a back-to-school routine now. Start a daily schedule of when to get up and when to go bed. Contrary to their belief, our teens still need 8-10 hours of sleep every night. And they need to be able to get up on time every day.
Set an expectation with regard to homework, such as what time it is expected to be done every day. Make sure that you review your kid’s homework. It’s unfortunate, but true, parents often set expectations, but are often too busy to follow up on the expectations they set. Homework can be especially daunting for tweens and teens as they move into a multiple classroom environment with multiple homework assignments.
Make time for dinner and dinnertime conversation with kids on a daily basis. Our kids are often with their friends 24 hours a day. That’s right, 24 hours a day. I say 24 hours a day, because electronic technology (cell phones and computers) provide constant contact. Numerous studies indicate that most parents spend fewer than 15 minutes a day talking to their tweens and teens. Dinner is the perfect way for all families to connect with their kids and have a variety of conversations.
Last, but not least, always keep an open communication with your kids. As they come home with problems, make sure that you empathize with them and let them come up with workable solutions. As parents, our tendency is to bubble wrap and insulate our kids from risk. They don’t learn anything that way.
Cary Quashen a nationally recognized high-risk teen expert who specializes in teen recovery issues working with mental health and substance abuse issues. He is the founder and president of the Action Family Foundation Parent and Teen Support Group Programs and Action Family Counseling. He can be reached at (661) 297-8693.