Insight Behavioral Health – After weeks of sleeping in, family vacations, and spending time in the sun, students will soon be embarking on another school year with early morning bus rides and long days in the classroom. For many students, going back to school is an exciting time, but it also comes with feelings of anxiety and stress.
According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health is a growing problem for our nation’s students. More than 1 in 3 high school students experienced sadness or hopelessness in 2019, a 40 percent increase since 2009. The same year, approximately 1 in 6 youth reported making a suicide plan, a 44% increase in ten years.
Poor mental health in students is more than simply feeling down. It impacts all areas of an adolescent’s life, from school and grades to behavior and health. The good news is we know that when young people feel connected, are able to form strong bonds at school and home, and have access to the support they need, they are more likely to successfully navigate their mental health and wellbeing.
As a parent, in order to make this your student’s best school year yet, it is essential to take an active role in establishing healthy habits and mindsets. From planning ahead for a new routine to prioritizing sleep and limiting screen exposure, here are six tips to support your student’s mental health as they prepare to go back to school.
Start the Year With a New Perspective
Although summer vacation may seem brief, students can change a lot in only a couple of months. New experiences, spending time with loved ones, and growth spurts can all alter your child’s perspective and attitude. As we enter a new school year, now is the time to start talking to your child about establishing new habits and behavior.
For example, if they made poor decisions last year, talk to them about how they can use better judgment this year. If school was a struggle last year, what can your child do to find meaningful friendships or study differently? Also help your child identify what they enjoy doing and encourage them. Whether it’s playing sports or joining a club, having a positive outlet for being creative and meeting new people makes a big impact in managing stress and anxiety at the start of a new school year.
Plan Ahead for Your Daily Routine
If your child is anxious about starting a new school year, talking about and planning ahead for their new daily routine can help eliminate many of the unknowns that cause stress. Spend time together thinking about what their new schedule will look like. This can include what time they should wake up, the importance of preparing clothes, backpacks, and lunches the night before, and everything they are responsible for before walking out the door. Likewise, discuss after school routines, including clubs and practices, how your child will get home, and setting aside time for homework and studying each evening.
It can also be helpful to plan a school walkthrough before the first day of school. Identify where your student will board the school bus and help them find their locker and classrooms. Be sure to attend any open houses or back to school events your child’s school has planned. This is a great opportunity to meet teachers, learn about rules and expectations, and ask questions.
Make Sleep a Priority
With longer days and fewer responsibilities, many students experience a relaxed sleep routine during the summer months. Although most young people think they can easily adapt to early mornings after sleeping in all summer, it can be a big struggle for those who do not plan ahead.
The circadian rhythm in young people (the internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle) shifts two or more hours in just a matter of months. This sudden change in sleep schedules disrupts equilibrium and affects everything from mood and anxiety to behavioral problems in students.
Making sleep a priority is one of the best ways you can prepare your student for a positive and healthy year ahead. Starting a few weeks before school begins, wake your child a little earlier each morning (about 15 minutes) and get ready for bed a little earlier each night. Exposure to early morning sunshine is an excellent way to help them reset their biological clocks. Also, encourage your child to eat a small healthy breakfast. Not only will this help them wake up, but they will also be more alert and have higher levels of concentration and problem-solving capabilities after eating.
Limit Screen Time
It’s no secret that too much screen time and social media exposure can have a detrimental effect on young people in many ways, including mental health. In the digital age we’ve seen increases in cyberbullying, anxiety and depression, and other health-related issues like obesity and eye fatigue skyrocket. Experts say students should spend no more than two hours in front of a screen each day, yet the average American young person spends five to eight hours online. Many older students with smartphones are connected from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed.
Although it may be difficult at first, there are many things parents can do to limit time behind a screen and encourage their children to spend more time outdoors and focusing on academics. Making bedrooms a “no screen zone” and moving televisions, computers, and tablets into common areas can help regulate how much time your student is spending online and the types of content they are accessing. Setting firm limits on screen use, such as no video games on school nights and no devices before bed, allows students to wind down and focus on homework and family time.
Parents should also be a good role model and limit their own screen time in front of children, especially during dinner and family activities. When kids see you sticking to your own rules, they’re more likely to follow your example. For more ideas and resources on managing technology in your household, check out The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Tips to Reduce Screen Time.
Make Time for Play and Relaxing
Whether it’s acclimating to a new environment or managing homework, a new school year can be overwhelming for students. This year, don’t underestimate the importance of downtime and unwinding. After a long day, children need time to exercise, play, and wind down mentally and physically. Giving your child dedicated time to pause, relax, and engage in fun activities will inspire creativity, help them eliminate stress, and improve school performance.
Have a Plan
For students who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, it is important to define what support and resources they need before starting a new school year. Speak to your child’s mental health professional to determine if medications and treatment plans are up to date and effective. You may also want to schedule regular appointments throughout the year to check in. It is also important to make time to meet with your child’s teacher or guidance counselor to learn more about resources that are available at school.
Saying goodbye to summer and returning to school is difficult for everyone, but it is especially complicated when students are struggling with their mental health. As we prepare for another year, one of the most important things we can do is to remind students that it is OK to be overwhelmed, nervous, or even unsure how they’re feeling about going back to school. By respecting their needs, offering support, and giving them resources to navigate challenges that come with change, they will have the foundation for a successful and fulfilling school year.
Insight Behavioral Health is passionate about helping people manage all aspects of mental health. For more information and to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed professionals, contact us today at (810) 275-9333 in Flint or (312) 567-2000 in Chicago.