Welcome to the 2019-20 School Year! The beginning of school is always an exciting time, full of energy, anticipation and a bit of nervousness - for both students and parents. During this time parents should be attuned to their children's emotional and social needs in addition to academic requirements and extracurricular activities.
Transitions. Research has shown that the highest risk periods for alcohol and other drug use
among youth are during major transitions in children's lives, such as changing schools.
When children enter middle school, they experience new academic and social situations. It is at this stage of early adolescence that children are likely to encounter drugs for the first time.
As adolescents advance from middle school into high school, they encounter additional social, emotional and educational challenges. At the same time, they likely are exposed to greater availability of alcohol and other drugs, drug users and social activities involving substance use. These factors all can increase the risk that they will use substances.
A final transitional period is when teens leave home for college or work and are on their own for the first time. Parenting doesn't end here and a continuing dialogue about the risks of alcohol and other drugs and the importance of staying safe is important.
Tips for talking with your child about school.
"How was your day?"
Every afternoon, parents all over the world get the same frustrating one word answer. Now is the time to break this pattern. Fortunately, it can be easier to get your child to open up when they are nervous and feeling insecure about the start of a new school or school year. Here are some ideas to get your child talking about school and what's going on in their life to get beyond the standard "OK" response.
First, despite any reluctance to share the details of their private world, know that talking with your child about school shows you're interested in what's going on in your teen's life. This in turn boosts your child's mental health, happiness and well being. It also shows your child that you are there when they are ready to talk.
Staying connected to your child can help you balance a respect for their independence and privacy with your need to know what's going on. It can also help you pick up on the moments when your child is ready to talk. And when you're in touch with your child's feelings about school, you're more likely to see problems before they get too big. This way you can work on overcoming challenges together. Finally, talking about school issues is a great way for you to express your family values about things like following the rules, doing your best and what it takes to do so, e.g., maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle. This can segue into a discussion about family rules relating to substance use.
Timing and Conversational Style. To ease the transition from school or after-school activities to home, avoid asking lots of questions right away. You can just let your child know that you're glad to see them and talk about non-school topics for a while. Saving questions about homework for later can also take the pressure off. There may be days when your child doesn't want to talk so try to sense their mood and pick the right moment. Some days there might not be a right moment at all.
Ask simple, positive and specific open-ended questions about parts of the day, e.g., what did you like best about school today? Who did you hang out with today? Which classes met
today? What projects are you working on at the moment? Or try focusing on future plans such as the links between his schoolwork and what your child wants to do after he is finished with school. For example, "how's the webpage you were designing in information technology coming along? Are you still thinking you might want to get into web design after graduating?"
Conversation tips for the beginning of the school year.
Listen to Your Child's Concerns. Keep asking questions about what may your child's biggest worries be: Are you nervous about new teachers? Do you doubt your ability to make the [name of sports team, school play or other competitive activity]? Are you afraid it will be hard to make new friends?
Validate Your Child's Feelings. Acknowledge that change can be hard, especially the transition to high school, but don't let your child convince themselves that they is doomed to failure. Offer a balanced outlook by acknowledging the challenges of starting a new school, but also recognizing that a new school or school year may offer exciting new opportunities.
Learn About the New School Ahead of Time. Quite often, anxiety stems from not knowing what to expect. If your child can gain a clear understanding of what his new school is going to be like, they may have a more positive attitude. Conduct as much research as possible about the new school before your child starts. Most schools have websites that offer a wealth of information so make sure your child is able to navigate it. Talking to a guidance counselor or coach ahead of time can also be helpful.
Encourage a Fresh Start. Remind your child that at a new school there is a whole group of kids who do not have any preconceived notions about who they are. Therefore, if your child wants to change up their activities, style or any other facet of her being, she can do it now.
Explain that a fresh start can help your child become an even better version of themselves. And that they can create positive change for their life and surround themselves with the type of friends she wants to have now that they are entering into a new phase of their life.
Create a Plan for Making New Friends. Talk to your child about what types of extra-curricular activities they are interested in joining such as playing a sport, trying out for a school play, musical or debate team, running for student office or joining a club.
Watch Out for Academic Problems. While children need to advocate for themselves, parents should not be afraid to reach out to their student's teachers to ask how they are doing in class and what you can do to make the academic adjustment easier.
Seek Professional Help if Necessary. If your child is having a particularly tough time adjusting to a new school, don't hesitate to get help. Schools have guidance counselors for just these issues and some schools have Wellness Centers with trained therapists. If your child isn't making friends or starts struggling academically, they may be at a higher risk for substance abuse issues. So speak to your school's guidance counselor or Wellness Center therapist or your child's pediatrician to request a referral to a therapist.
What else can parents do besides talk to their children about school?
One clear protective factor is parental supervision and monitoring. This is to assure that your child does not spend too much unsupervised time with peers. When youth begin to spend more and more time away from home, monitoring their behavior and whereabouts is challenging. Supervision helps parents recognize developing problems, promote safety and stay involved. Remember the "4 Cs" of supervision which can help you with this challenging task: Communication, Clear Rules, Checking Up and Consistency.
Communication with Other Parents. Regular communication with other parents keeps you involved in your child's activities. It creates a sense of community and provides you with resources to learn about and deal with any problems. Having a solid community and resources results in a strong safety network for your child and informs you of potentially risky situations. So use the BTI Parent Lists to reach out to other parents. And if a parent isn't a BTI member, then use our Refer a Friend feature to let them know about BTI.
Additionally, some of our participating schools offer parent-led support groups that meet regularly throughout the school year (e.g., Redwood Parents Connect and Drake Parents Connect).
Communication with Your Child. Have ongoing, productive conversations with your child about substance use. Developing good communication skills helps parents catch problems early, support positive behavior, and stay aware of what is happening in their children’s lives. Key communication skills include questioning and listening/observing.
Regarding questioning, the kind of information you receive depends a lot on how you ask the question.
Show interest/concern. Don't blame/accuse. For example, instead of, "How did you get yourself into this situation?" say, "That sounds like a difficult situation. Were you confused or unsure about what to do?"
Encourage problem-solving/thinking. For example: instead of, "What did you think was going to happen?" say, "So, what do you think would have been a better way to handle that?"
Regarding listening and observing, know that youth feel more comfortable bringing issues
and situations to their parents when they know they will be listened to and not be accused. When listening to your child, remember to use these "active listening" skills:
For more specifics on how (and how not) to communicate with your child, see our list of Talking Tips.
Clear Rules. Establish your family values and rules. Clearly state your expectations that your child will not use alcohol, marijuana, nicotine or other drugs. And that your child should never get in a car with anyone under the influence. These should be non-negotiable rules. Setting limits helps parents teach self-control and responsibility, shows caring and provides safe boundaries. It also provides youth with guidelines and teaches them that following rules is important for their success in life. Other rules may include not being alone at home (your own or another home) without a parent present unless special permission is granted.
Consistency. Establish that there will be consequences if your child violates this rules and follow through each time. Use a firm and calm tone of voice and avoid arguments. It is normal for kids to react negatively when they receive a consequence. Your child may get angry, act out or isolate themselves when consequences are enforced but don't react - be consistent with your rules.
Offer encouragement each time a rule is followed. Never miss an opportunity to encourage behavior or acts you would like to see repeated. When giving praise for cooperation, make it simple: “Thank you.” Do it right away. Be specific about what you like.
Set curfews, and expectations regarding checking in. This lets your child know that you care about his or her safety and that your rules are important. This is hard for some parents who simply want to trust their children. Children also often resist these efforts.
Checking Up. Get to know your child's friends, especially new ones. Youth tend to be uncertain about themselves and how they "fit in". At times they can feel overwhelmed by a need to please and impress their friends. This can leave children open to peer pressure. Knowing your child's friends and peers helps parents improve communication, reduce conflict and teach responsibility. Youth do not always make wise choices in picking friends. Help them see what qualities they should value in friendships. But be patient and observe and try not to react if you don't approve of your child's choices in friends - it may pass.
Encourage your child to invite their friends over, meet and greet each one - and be sure to have snacks on hand. Watch your child interact with his or her friends.
Take every opportunity to reach out to parents when your child is invited over to a friend's house. Use the BTI Parent Lists to do so. Don't be shy about calling or texting the hosting parent to confirm that they are home (and thank them for having your child over.)
How do you supervise when you are not at home? Know your child's schedule. Have your child check in with you when he or she reaches home or their destination. Call your child at varying times. Surprise your child with a random visit or call.
For a list of additional specific tips and "tricks of the trade" to monitor your teen, go to Monitoring Your Teen.
Finally, get up to speed on upcoming events such as Back to School Dances. Learn about your school rules, consequences and share these and your expectations with your child. Know what parties are coming up so you can discuss ground rules in advance.
We realize that every child and family is unique and what works for one may not work for others. Please share any additional tips you have found useful - or transition challenges you have faced - in the comments below.
We hope you have a terrific school year!