Preparing Your Teen for the School Year – How to have “the talk”

Summer is winding down and your teen or tween will soon be stepping into another school year of new experiences, personal and academic growth, new friends, new classes—and a whole new slew of challenges. Whether your child is entering the intermediate level, middle school or high school, there are a few helpful tips and tricks to add to your parental toolbox from a mother of two and adolescent development and behavioral expert, Dr. Jennifer Salerno.

Fostering a trusting, two-way relationship with open lines of communication is one of the key factors to ensuring your tween or teen will have a successful school year. Why? If your child trusts you and feels like he or she is seen and heard by you more than anyone else in their life, your teen will be more likely to come to you when common, yet challenging scenarios present themselves—like peer pressure, romantic relationships, gossip, academic pressure and stress. Studies show that having a strong relationship with your teen is one of the biggest positive influences on their behaviors.  

Get ready to navigate the school year with confidence, poise and understanding with these tips taken right from Teen Speak!

  1. Show empathy. Admit you haven’t been to school in 2019. Things are a bit different for today’s teenagers. You may be a tad out of step with what it’s like to be constantly connected to your peers and have your life constantly broadcasted on social media. You could get away with a lot more in the 70s, 80s and 90s than you can today. Admit that it’s never easy being a teenager, but being a teenager today is harder than ever given rates of depression, self-harm and anxiety among young people are at unprecedented levels.
  2. Talk with, not at your teen. When discussing the upcoming school year, ensure you’re talking with your teen, not at them. It makes a big difference! Many teens are stressed about the big transition. Moving up a grade means facing more academic demands, a new teacher, and a changing social circle. It can be helpful to sit down and talk with your teen about successes from last year and about your expectations for them during the upcoming school. Instead of talking at your teen, include your child in a discussion about bedtime routines, morning routines, academic goals, and new social pressures. Listening to your teen and having a two-way conversation supports independence and decision-making skills.
  3. Foster self-worth and self-esteem. It’s no secret that teens live up or down to our expectations. Teens whose strengths are recognized will be motivated to develop those strengths. Teens who are always told something is wrong with them will wilt, and are more likely to use substances, report depression and anxiety, and have sex at an early age. Empower your teen to take care of and value themselves.
  4. Ask open-ended questions. Conversations with teens can be less than seamless when they would rather do anything than talk with you about planning for success. As easy it is to lecture, it doesn’t lead to a productive and honest two-way discussion. Open-ended questions allow teens to think through behaviors and possible alternatives to those behaviors. It’s pretty simple: open-ended questions are not easily answered with a yes or no response. If you’d like to have a conversation with your teen about time management, you could say, “How will you handle juggling your social life, school work and sports commitments,”  instead of “Are you OK with all the commitments you have this year?”
  5. Remember that teen behaviors are normal. The biggest thing to remember when you are frustrated with how your son or daughter is behaving is that they have no control over the changes happening in their bodies that contribute to risk behaviors. They are riding a roller-coaster of highs and lows. Think about what it is like to go through menopause and middle age (or what you’ve heard about it), multiply that by 100 and put yourself in an environment where all of your friends and co-workers are going through the same thing. Sounds horrible, right? This is what our teens are dealing with every day. Often times, they’re all out of whack. This tornado of physical, cognitive, emotional and sexual changes can trigger risky behaviors like binge drinking, unprotected sex, texting and driving—the list goes on.

Returning to school is a big change for teens after settling into a summer routine. By utilizing the strategies outlined above, you can help ensure that your family has the best transition possible. For more tips on understanding and talking with your teen, check out the Teen Speak series at

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