The Stress of Returning to School
As we advance further into August of 2008 parents and students are thinking about returning to school. In many states across the nation, schools closed at the end of May and, therefore, are preparing to open sometime within the next two to three weeks.
The symptoms of schools preparing to open can be seen in department stores everywhere. My wife and I, while recently shopping in one well know discount store, were careful to avoid the crowded isles where parents and teens were gathered to purchase everything from pens, pencils and notebooks to clothes to wear when the new semester begins. As I observed this I thought about a recent article I read about the return to school and wondered to myself whether any of these parents had given as much thought to emotional issues as they had to material purchases.
Here is a brief summary of that article:
The Partnership for a Drug-Free America published the results of a new survey done of 6,500 adolescents across the nation. 73 percent of the teenagers in the survey reported that the stress of school is the primary reason why they turn to drug abuse. By stark and shocking contrast, only 7 percent of their parents believed that their teenagers would use drugs to deal with stress. This gap between what teenagers are thinking and what parents believe about their children is troubling and disturbing.
As I watched these families make decisions about school supplies and clothes I thought about the survey and imagined many of them would reject the contents of the survey as mere nonsense, or they would think "well, that affects others, not my children." Thirty years of a psychotherapy practice has taught me that we had all better think again.
For one thing, youngsters are under much more severe types of pressures than their parents ever experienced. For instance, youngsters today are aware of the changed job market in the U.S. today and of the fact that there are fewer career opportunities than years ago.
In addition, drugs are much more prevalent in and around the schools today compared to even a few years ago. Actually, even the types of drugs that are available to youngsters are more dangerous compared to the past. At one time, the primary worry about drug abuse among teens was alcohol and marijuana. That picture has dramatically changed so that youngsters now have within their reach, cocaine, methemphetamines and addictive prescription drugs.
Parents need to talk to their adolescents about the dangers of drug abuse. Ideally, this discussion needs to start a lot earlier than Middle and High School but, as the old saying goes, "better late than never."
I always caution parents of children of all ages that talking means "listening" as well. It is vital to family health that there be a two way dialogue between parents and children. There is a lot more to parenting than just being a disciplinarian.
Part of this two way communication process is that parents not only listen to their childrens' complaints about school and other issues, but empathize with them as well. Lots of emotional support and love never hurts.
Bottom line: Parents need to help their children learn how to cope with stress in ways healthier than turning to drugs and alcohol.
Your comments are welcome
Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, PhD