All across America, students are heading back to school this week. This can be a bittersweet time for parents. On one hand, your kid is growing up, moving to another grade, another big milestone is passing you by. That part can be tough on a parent. But on the other hand, you are ready to get them out of the house, out of your hair, and back into a routine. That part can bring you some joy. It's also important to remember that going back to school can bring about some serious anxiety for your kid, especially during the teenage years. There are hundreds of worries running through their minds as they approach the first day of school, but here are the top three concerns I see in just about every student every year.
1. Will I be accepted?
This is by far the biggest concern every teenager has pretty much all of the time. I don't care how popular they are, how established they are, or how many friends they have. This is the biggest anxiety they live with every day. This concern is amplified at the beginning of a school year, especially if a student is moving to a new school (e.g. elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, or moving to a new school district). If you don't believe me, just look on Instagram at how much effort students put into their "first day of school" outfits. It's important to remember that teens have a ton of pressure on them to fit in, to be liked, and to be accepted. This will always be a bigger priority to them than just about anything else at this stage in life. The biggest question they are asking is, "Will I be accepted?"
2. Will I be successful?
Every year of school comes with a new set of challenges. New buildings, new classrooms, new classmates, new teachers, new rules, new expectations, new things to learn, new methods of learning, and it happens all at once. That can cause some serious stress on a student. As adults, we have to recognize the kind of pressure being put on young people from all different directions. I'm not saying they shouldn't have to face the pressure, but we do need to acknowledge it. You don't have to believe the pressure is bad to recognize that it is real. On top of the academic pressure is the expectation to succeed in sports, in band, in theater, in student government, etc. Going back to school swings the door of pressure and expectation wide open on every student. They are asking themselves, "Do I have what it takes? Can I cut it? Will I be successful?"
3. Will I be o.k. with who I am?
This question is a little harder for students to articulate, but in their core they are really wrestling with this. Because of the pressure to be accepted and to be successful, they struggle to be themselves and to be o.k. with it. They're also still trying to figure out who they want to become. One of the most common ways they do this is through trial and error. That's why a 7th grade guy will have 12 different hairstyles over the course of one school year. They are still becoming who they want to be, and at the same time they want to be o.k. with who they are. The biggest test here is when they are rejected and when they fail. Those are the times when students struggle the most to be o.k. with who they are. But they are also the times that shape who they are becoming the most. As adults we have to be aware of this and help them hold the tension of discovering who they want to become and being o.k. with who they are right now.
So as parents and adults who care about them, what can we do to help ease their concerns?
1. Show them that they are loved. Unconditionally.
2. Remind them that they can't earn their worth.
3. Pray for who they are and who they are becoming.
Commit to those few things this week and this year, and you might be surprised by how much of a difference they make in the life of a student.