In the next month, you will be bombarded with all things “back to school.” Aside from the sales flyers and ads, you will be counseled on how to prepare your kids for the first day and how to help them get back to an academic mindset. But what is often ignored – and, ironically, WAY more important to your children – is the social aspect of returning to school.
Your kids will tell you that the beginning of a new school year is a social crapshoot. Or, as Forrest Gump’s mom would say, “You never know what you’re gonna get.” Some friends haven’t seen one another in two months and are worried about reconnecting. Some fade away over the summer, while new, unexpected friendships have blossomed. Some former enemies have become friends, and vice versa. And some are in limbo, neither party knowing where they stand with the other.
It’s amazing that all this change can happen over a short summer break, but it does. When it comes to kids, especially teenagers, relationships evolve and devolve at warp speed. I can guarantee you that your kids are more worried about where they stand with their peers than just about anything else. I promise you they’ve spent more time thinking about whether their friend group is still intact than they have about their summer reading assignment. So let’s tackle what you can do, as parents, to help your kids transition smoothly into the back-to-school social network.
First, do not be shy about jumping into this conversation with your children. They’re already thinking about it, so you’re not introducing a problem that hadn’t occurred to them. Start by asking, “So what do you think your friend group will look like this year?” Then sit back and listen. Try not to interrupt. Let them talk through where everyone stands with one another and pay attention to their reaction to the changes.
Second, if they are having problems with a friend, share your own experiences and insights to help them work through an appropriate response. For instance, regardless of what other people might have said and done, always encourage your children to take the social and ethical high road. Everyone should have a bottom line, and they should refuse to lower themselves to actions they’ll regret later. For some, it is refusing to say a bad word about another person. For others, it’s avoiding confrontation and choosing to let friendships die slowly. Some prefer to get everything out in the open, but their bottom line is that they will avoid hurtful statements and focus on how they feel. The thing is, your kids are still figuring out who they are and what their bottom line is. As parents, you know them better than anyone, so you can advise them on ways to handle various scenarios. One caveat: Be sure to help them with responses that suit their personalities and comfort levels, not your own.
Third, do not, under any circumstances, involve yourself in your kids’ squabbles or friendships. Your job is to guide your child behind the scenes, not intervene on their behalf. Your kids will gain and lose friends on a consistent basis (just as we do as adults), and they must learn how to do both gracefully. Responding appropriately to relationship changes is a life skill, and the sooner they learn it, the better off they’ll be. They won’t learn these lessons if you “save” them from heartache or frustration. They must experience these emotions to grow and mature as adults who know how to be good friends.
Fourth, on the other hand, do not tolerate any behavior that makes your child the victim of bullying, verbal, or physical abuse. It is far too common nowadays to see children resort to self-hurting and even suicide when they can no longer bear the barrage of attacks from bullies. If you sense your child is facing this trauma, you must involve the other parents, school officials, and even the police to intervene and provide support and safety for your child. If you notice your child withdrawing, becoming anxious, or exhibiting a major change of personality, you need to get to the bottom of it. Even if you feel your child is overreacting or being too sensitive, that doesn’t change the way he or she feels. Be sensitive and seek counseling if you are in any doubt about your child’s emotional well-being.
Remember that if your kids are happy in their social life, it frees them up to concentrate on academics and goal-setting. Social acceptance is a basic need you can help them meet by providing support and guidance from your own experiences.
Rebecca Deurlein is the author of Teenagers 101: What a top teacher wishes you knew about helping your kid succeed, and CEO of Teenager Success 101, a one-on-one tutoring and path to success company. She blogs and writes internationally, speaks to parents across the nation, and loves every minute of living in Sugar Land, TX. Find her on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Huffington Post, or through her own blog A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding Teenagers. All can be accessed at www.rebeccadeurlein.com.