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Originally posted in The Globe and Mail

As a carefree summer comes to an end, teens need reassurance as they return to the pressures of school

How I Spent my Summer Vacation, by Jason Lovesey:

I had a really cool summer. What I liked best was that I stayed up every night until 3:30 and never – not once – got up before noon. What did I do that late, you might ask. I went on Facebook. I talked to my friends. I watched videos.

What else did I do with my time? I drove around with my friends a lot. We partied. I won’t lie to you, I used substances that I’m not supposed to. I did stuff with Reyna – you know what I mean – until we broke up. But we weren’t officially going together anyway. And I played video games a lot. I mean a lot. I tried to get a summer job, but you know how the economy is and all. So I mean it wasn’t my fault that I had so much uninterrupted fun time.

Going back to school can be a shock. For most students, the shift from carefree summer to school brings a number of unwelcome changes. Teens may differ in how they appear to greet the new school year. They may be unhappy:

“I don’t want to go back to school. I hate school.”

Or they may talk about it positively:

“To tell the truth, I kind of miss it.”

But for all teens, there are a number of strong negatives that come automatically with the resumption of school.

You re-enter that part of your life where you have to spend most of your time doing what you don’t feel like doing. That’s a big one.

All of the worries about your future reappear as a cloud that hangs over you – a cloud that, along with you, was on vacation over the summer. Once again, you have to think about how what you do now affects what will happen in the future. It is called anxiety. Some teens are more successful at screening it out, but it is always there nonetheless.

You are once again fully immersed in the school social scene. It’s gone on over the summer, especially via the Internet and texting, but once school resumes it’s there for the whole school day, and in person. The drama goes up a notch.

And, once again – for six hours a day – you are exposed. You are physically present in a world where you feel constantly judged. How do I look? When I say stuff, is it cool or stupid? Am I walking right? It is the return of self-consciousness.

Oh, and – of course – homework.

“The thing about homework is that it ruins my life. I would have a nice life if I didn’t have homework. But I do, so I don’t. And that’s the truth.”

As a parent you want to be aware that this is going on with your child. With the return of school, stress goes up. A lot. You can’t change that fact. Some things in their lives you cannot fix. The cure for the transition from summer to school comes only when they are actually back in school. And while teens do not exactly get used to it, they do gradually shift over to their school-year selves. It is a fact that during the school year, teens are under significantly more stress than during the summer.

But there is one thing you can do that may not sound like a lot, but can be genuinely helpful. Talk to them. Recognize that the transition can be hard. What to say?

“I guess it’s kind of hard going back to school after the summer.”

Or: “The school year sure can be different from summer.”

Or maybe: “I know sometimes the thought of being back in school can be a real downer.”

The above may sound stupid, and your teen may say so.

“Yeah, well, duh.”

But the words are good to say anyway. It gives them a chance to vent, to say what is almost certainly in their heads.

“Yeah, I don’t see why they make kids go to school. It’s a waste of time. I think they just do it so kids won’t have a good time because they’re jealous that they’re not a kid.”

They hear what you say, and it does give them a chance to share what has to be troubling them – whether they show it or not. No teen sleeps well the night before it’s back to school. The point is that you are making a connection with the more vulnerable parts inside them. And with that they are not so alone.

“At least my dad gets it a little that school a lot of the time sucks.”

It does make them feel better. You are on their side.