Ashley Hodges, MSW, LCSW

School. As a parent, what feelings were elicited for you as you read that word? Was it excitement? Worry? Dread? Stress? Pressure? For some, school is all about fun, friends, and an ease of fitting in with peers. While there can surely be excitement surrounding the social atmosphere, a genuine feeling of love of learning, and of being challenged academically, for many, school brings about feelings of anxiety and/or dread. The school setting can be an awkward environment for many students. For some, this anxiety is experienced as an internal dialogue: “Is the teacher going to call on me again,” “This class is impossible,” “Everyone but me seems to get what we’re doing,” or, “Will I have anyone to sit with at lunch today?”

Although anxiety around attending school is usually rooted within a deeper issue, school refusal affects 2-5% of school aged children (www.adaa.org). No parent wishes for their child to experience feelings of discomfort or alienation when going somewhere where they will spend the majority of their formative years. As parents, we hope our children will spend their school days engaged in learning and developing as social beings, comfortable in that ever-shifting set of demands and opportunities.

Some reasons students experience anxiety or fear about attending school may include:

1. Social Media. Technology can be a great and wonderful tool. Many schools encourage students to use technology for homework, projects, and even class work. While the benefits to using technology are numerous, there are complexities and negative aspects to its ever-growing use in schools, as well. Navigating social media as a pre- teen/teenager can be emotionally fraught and can exacerbate the feelings of stress and anxiousness a teenager may already experience.

2. Academic Stress. Stress for students during the academic year is understandably higher than during the summer months. Academic pressure--whether emanating from the home environment or the demands of the child’s program--can start to mount at a very young age and typically continues well into the college years for many students. Stress of this magnitude will affect a child’s physical and emotional wellbeing if not appropriately managed in a healthy way. In one related study, students self report having unhealthy levels of stress. Not only are they stressed to elevated levels, but students are also reporting they are unsure of how to appropriately manage that stress, which for some becomes chronic and year-long.

3. Social Conflict. Pre-teens and teenagers are at a developmental stage where friends play a more crucial role in their everyday lives and development than ever before. Your child will be testing limits while trying to negotiate new autonomy, independence, and a sense of who they are; this is developmentally normal, even desired. In doing so, however, there can emerge new family conflicts, intensification of emotions, and misconstrued communication that can leave previously happy households feeling like hormonally-fueled war zones.

At Wellington Counseling Group, we are committed to helping your young person navigate this difficult and confusing time in their lives. Our summer group titled, The Journey From Summer to Fall & Everything After, will tackle topics that pre-teens and teens are interested in discussing, and this summer, we will be running two separate groups: One for students in grades (entering) 6th-8th and one for students in grades (entering) 9th-12th.

Our group leaders foster a safe and inviting environment where pre-teens and teens can feel comfortable opening up with peers their own age to have honest discussions about their school experiences and how to manage and navigate the everyday challenges they encounter and will face in the Fall.

For more information, please contact Ashley Hodges, MSW, LCSW by phone at: (312) 738-8285, or email at ahodges@wellingtoncounselinggroup.com.

Resources:

Nieghmond, Patti. National Public Radio. School Stress Takes a Toll on Health, Teens and Parents Say. December 2, 2013.

Shaffer, Leah. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Social Media and Teen Anxiety: How parents can help their kids navigate the pressures of their digital lives—without pulling the plug on the positives. December 15, 2017. https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/17/12/social- media-and-teen-anxiety

Shapiro, Margaret. The Washington Post. Stressed-out teens, with school a main cause. February 17, 2014. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/stressed-out- teens-with-school-a-main-cause/2014/02/14/d3b8ab56-9425-11e3-84e1- 27626c5ef5fb_story.html?utm_term=.80366ff47907