The first-day-of-school jitters nearly did me in as a kid. Our military family moved ten times, so I got used to the stomach aches and stares that came with every new school.
I can’t imagine making those big moves as a kid in today’s digital culture. The cliques are far more visible. The fails are far more public and weaknesses, far more exploited.
This digital layer of scrutiny and exposure sends my admiration and respect for kids today to heroic levels.
Tech and Anxiety
Reports of tech-related anxiety* and depression in kids on the rise, which can put a whole layer of angst on first-day jitters. And while there is no one-size-fits-all solution to ease that stress, helping your child manage his or her technology can help diminish it.
Tips to Help Ease Stress
1. Unplug more. Discuss the power and emotional pull of the smartphone and how it can escalate the stress of starting school. Remind kids that the edited, seemingly perfect version of life people post on social media doesn’t represent reality and that constant comparison can be harmful.
While we recommend families establish a phone curfew every night for health reasons, it’s especially crucial in the weeks leading up to the first day of school. Other simple ways to ease stress this school year: Turn off all push notifications during school hours and use parental control apps to help with time limits and safety.
2. Make time to talk. Ask your child what concerns him or her most about starting school. Then, just listen. Acknowledge your child’s fears and try to relate or find common ground. Let your child know that worry is normal, it can help protect us, and everyone experiences it from time to time. Some of the stresses they might share: Finding friends and fitting in, who they will sit with at lunchtime, having the right clothes or fashion sense, being able to find their classes, opening the combinations on their lockers, sports or music auditions, body image and appearance, school work challenges, and more.
3. Visualize the first day. Help your child map out his or her classes. Based on your child’s feedback, talk through possible awkward or stressful situations that might come up to help build his or her confidence and reduce worry. Often just getting a fear from your brain to your lips can strip power from fear. Brainstorm one-liners your kids might use to introduce themselves to new people or positive responses that might deflect a negative comment.
4. Practice the present. Anxiety* can be triggered when we live more of life in the future — imagining the what-ifs — than living in the right now. Who hasn’t imagined tripping in the lunchroom or falling down the stairs? A few simple tips: Teach kids to practice deep breathing, to challenge their negative thoughts, and to talk/think about life in the present tense.
5. Encourage. Without going over the top (because kids can smell inflated praise), remind your child of his or her strengths. Fear creates a wall that blocks our view of past accomplishments. Provide that recollection for your child. Give truthful reminders of your child’s strengths, talents, and unique qualities.
6. Help kids with balance on and offline. A new school year represents a clean slate. There’s no need to bring bad habits along. So make the changes you’ve always intended to make. Set time limits on technology and stick to them. Help your kids prioritize face-to-face time with peers. Know what’s going on in your child’s online life and make sure his or her digital community isn’t unraveling your parenting goals. Pay close attention to new friends and your child’s demeanor on a daily basis.
* It’s important to note that while the word “anxiety” is commonly used, the American Acadamy of Pediatrics says that 8% of kids are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. If your child’s stress level becomes serious, please seek professional help.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her onTwitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures)