As parents, we try to prepare our children for the real world the best that we can and we hope to excite them for all the wonderful possibilities that lie ahead. For instance, as we prepare to put our kindergartner the bus for the first time we say encouraging things like, “You’re going to love school”, and, “You’re going to make so many new friends!” It isn’t uncommon for parents to also say things like, “School is a place where you will learn so many new and exciting things!” We describe teachers as people they can always go to no matter what and that school itself is a “safe place”. When issues with friends arise we might tell them, “You don’t need to be friends with everyone but you need to include everyone when you play”. Overall, we describe school as a happy and comforting place to be.
Sadly, as our children grow we are seeing more and more adolescents battle with increased stress and anxiety surrounding their scholastic achievements, social environments, and self-identity. These stressors include the pressures of college, achieving good grades, excelling at athletics, and dealing with social pressures. As a result, the school-life balance becomes reality that many adolescents struggle with. Consequently, it is not a coincidence that anxiety and depression among children and teens have become more prevalent than ever before causing many teens to fail classes, miss school, use substances and engaged in self-destructive behaviors.
As a therapist, I constantly hear statements like “I will never get into a good enough college for my parents” or “B grades aren’t good enough…. I might as well give up.” Even in the realm of after school activities I have heard statements such as “Sports isn’t about the fun, but if I am good enough for a scholarship to play.” Even more disheartening is the notion that many adolescents attribute their marijuana or substance use as their main source for coping with their stress/anxiety.
Then of course there is our new digital age, filled with social media and all the pressure that comes along with growing up in a technologically advanced world. Traditionally adolescences has been a difficult time for many individuals. However, in today’s world our children are subjected to realities that we as parents just do not understand. A world whereby validation is not so much about the person you are but more so about how many likes you receive on an Instagram picture. Additionally, issues such as bullying, harassment, substance use, sexual activity, and so on have been exacerbated by social media.
All of the aforementioned makes us wonder: What can we do to make school exciting again? How can we bring back the kindergartener who is excited to show you the art project that he/she made, or, the little boy who scored his first goal who runs over for a hug? How can we encourage our children to continue using their teachers as a resource? How can we make school a “safe place” again? As a parent and therapist, I ask myself these questions all the time. Below are a few resources to help…