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  • Dr. Suzanne Nixon, Ryan Bartel Foundation Board Member

Helping Teens Find Their Social Footing

The necessary discussion all parents need to have with their children and teens is returning to school may elicit feelings of reluctance, doubt, anxiety, fear and sadness.

The necessary fact all parents need to realize is this is a normal and typical reaction. With the prolonged period of COVID-19 and the shift from in-person to online schooling, the teenage brain, wired for social connection, goes haywire. The internal teenage brain says, “Where are my friends, who can I chill with, where is my tribe, who can I share my experiences with?” Without this essential connection, teens are more apt to fall prey to feelings of depression and anxiety.

The best thing parents can do is LISTEN and normalize and accept their teens’ feelings. Do not judge, criticize, brush over or immediately say “it will be alright”. Those responses discount their feelings and experiences. Feelings of anxiety and depression will only fester and grow. Let your teen know it is typical to have these feelings and it is a result of the prolonged absence of social connection. They are normal.

When we affirm and accept feelings, the brain calms down. Internally it gives the message, “It is OK.” "Name it to tame it," as the child psychiatrist, Dan Siegal says. In the moments following, let your teen know you understand their trepidation in returning to school. With a sincere and compassionate heart, let them know you are there for them, no matter what, to help them through this transition. Your words of acceptance will be an anchor of reassurance and support.

Dr. Suzanne shares a story to help you find your way back to school, back to social connections.


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