Help Teens Prepare Emotionally for the New School Year

Back-to-school season can be a stress trigger for teens.

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

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I had to hound my daughter to take a shower or simply change her clothes. I thought she was acting lazy. But when her therapist admitted her to the hospital for suicide risk, I learned that personal hygiene had been too much to ask. All of her energy went into facing the day.

There is no suicide season. It happens year round and for every child there are different stressors and back-to-school season can absolutely be a stressor. School’s social and academic expectations can exacerbate anxiety and leave a child feeling overwhelmed. It’s a good time for parents to check in.

What Should You Say?

Ideally parents are not coming out of the blue with questions like, “How was school today? Any thoughts of ending your own life?” That’s a bit jarring. The idea is to set a routine of checking in with the young person and giving them vocabulary around around their emotions along the way. It can be as simple as “How are you settling in with Freshman year?” Or maybe “Anything about middle school have you feeling a bit lost?” Open the conversation.

Parents shouldn’t wait until things are in crisis mode. Dr. John Ackerman, a clinical psychologist and suicide prevention coordinator for the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research in Columbus, Ohio says parents should “build up equity and check in when things are good.” A teen needs to know where they can go for help. They may blow you off the first couple of times you ask by saying, “I’m fine, Mom, really.” Or maybe, “Dad, I just have a morbid sense of humor. I’m not suicidal.” But Dr. Ackerman says, “Having that comfort is key and it reduces a lot of burden and provides hope and support.”

What Should You Look For?

Mandy’s son was an angsty teen. He hid in his room and long sleeves no matter the weather. It wasn’t until later in therapy that Mandy learned his chosen wardrobe was to hide his self-inflicted cuts.

The first person to know that something is off is frequently a close friend of your child. Teens tend to confide in friends before parents, making it important for parents to note changes in…

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Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

Bonnie is an award-winning syndicated columnist and opinion editor for The Louisville Courier Journal @WriterBonnie