School started today for my teens. The start of a new school year can bring excitement, reuniting with friends, and a return to schedule. For many teens, the start of school may also come with stress as they anticipate the social and educational demands of school.
Between being always connected, extra-curricular activities, and increased choices in education, teens today have a lot of demands on them. Here are four ways to support your teen as they head back to school this year:
Sleep is important for mental, physical, and emotional health. In Dr. Jean Twenge’s book, iGen, she cites research which shows that lack of sleep can lead to increased risk of unhappiness in teens. A good night’s sleep improves concentration, productivity, and memory. As your teen moves into a new school year, help them develop good sleep hygiene habits. This includes no phones, TVs, or electronic devices in their rooms and developing a good sleep schedule where they go to sleep and wake up at relatively the same time each day. Keeping the bedroom and their bed as the place to sleep and not the place to do homework can also improve sleep hygiene.
As we all know, our bodies need food to survive. We also know that a lot of teens aren’t consistent in eating well-rounded nutritious meals. Making family dinner time a consistent event in your home is a great way to support your teen this school year. Research shows a positive association between the frequency of family dinners and teen success in school. According to this research, teens who eat dinner with family five to seven times a week were twice as likely to earn A’s in school than those who eat dinner with their family less than twice a week. As an added bonus, teens who eat dinner with their families tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and drink less soda than teens who don’t.
Encouraging (or requiring) your teen to disconnect from their phones and electronic devices for a specified time period each day is good for their mental health. In her book, iGen, Dr. Jean Twenge reports that 8th graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56% more likely to be unhappy than those who don’t. Constant connection to social media and their social circles increases teens feelings of missing out (FOMO) leading to a misconception of what other’s lives look like compared to theirs. Phones and electronic devices are a distraction to your teen’s concentration and productivity on homework as well.
As our children grow and develop into teens, they need our time and attention as much as they did when they were little – no matter what they tell you to refute that! One of the biggest ways we can support our teens is to put down our own phones and other distractions and be present and listen. Most teens are willing to communicate, and often do it in subtle ways. Family meals, encouraging our teens to come out of their rooms, and disconnecting from our devices and encouraging them to disconnect from theirs are all ways to create opportunity to listen to our teens. They usually have a lot to tell us if we’re willing to be present with them and be curious about their experience.
-Written by Heather Pace, LMHCA