Reflecting on September’s A Talk in the Park, I can’t help but notice that the tips for a smooth, less anxious back-to-school transition could be applicable to people of all ages!
Who doesn’t feel more balanced with the correct amount of rest, some down time with family, and healthy eating habits? See below for some tips and tricks to start your year off right!
Anxiety-easing tips from School Counselor, Nina McNealy, MS:
1. Is your child…Physically prepared? Well-rested and well-fed?
2. Is your child… Emotionally prepared?
3. Think of making visits to new school/classroom/bus stop/playdates with classmates & school friends.
4. Structure the school week:
6. Seek help if problems persist or escalate.
Sleep Recommendations (adapted from the American Academy of Sleep)
Newborns (0 – 3 months): 14 - 17 hours
Infants (4 – 11 months): 12 – 15 hours
Toddlers (1 – 2 years): 11 – 14 hours
Preschoolers (3 – 5 years): 10 – 13 hours
School Aged (6 - 13 years): 9 – 11 hours
Teens (14 – 17 years): 8 - 10 hours
Adults (18 + 64 years): 7 – 9 hours
Older Adults (64 +): 7 – 8 hours
9 Tips for Minimizing Back-to-School Stress
1. Start a healthy sleep schedule and stock up on healthier foods.
2. Take breaks to notice your breathing.
3. Do one thing at a time.
4. Don't forget to do things you enjoy.
5. Reduce pressure and expectations.
6. Notice when you jump onto the train of thoughts.
7. Appreciate who you are.
8. Be open to new experiences and see the same things with fresh eyes.
9. Use mindfulness when you do your homework or take tests.
Summer Book Club
What Made Maddy Run:
The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen
A Talk in the Park’s August meeting was centered around ESPN columnist Kate Fagan’s book What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Athlete.
I hadn’t yet read the book when I entered the community center that night, but I would leave not only eager to do so, but also very interested to learn more about the pressures students and athletes are under in a world where anxiety and depression rates have soared and the role of social media comes into question.
Athletic and academic pressures start earlier than ever. Everyone in attendance could agree on that. A young mom in the audience shared that she is present because she is already feeling the pressure for her kindergarten-aged child to perform. Listening to her I am at first grateful I was still so blissfully ignorant at that point in my children’s lives. Seconds later I am reminded of the time I was told I needed to get my son on the highest-level sports team available to him - as soon as possible – if he had any hope of playing sports for the high school. He was 8.
Our panel (consisting of a high school counselor, psychotherapist, and former D1 college swimmer) tell us that perfectionism starts young, and especially in people-pleasing girls. The ease and frequency of social media use to portray a perfect identity perpetuates this falsehood. Worse, the impact this has on others may result in never-ending comparisons, inaccurate self-talk, anxiety and depression.
Licensed Psychotherapist Erica Martin shares, “Most of my middle and high school clients verbalize mixed feelings about social media. On one hand, it keeps them connected. On the other hand, it also allows them to be privy to all of the times they are being left out. It is the proverbial double-edged sword.” She goes on to say, “It is important as a therapist that I understand that this is their world. We work a lot on self-identity and how to avoid falling prey to the pressure of ‘being perfect’ and overachieving.”
“Regardless of its merits or perils, social media takes up a significant amount of brain space for many kids and, let’s face it, adults too,” says high school counselor Samantha Straub. “It’s a huge distractor. The lure of the next notification, combined with the comparison-culture that social media seems to breed, seems to be causing some kids angst.”
So why do our kids think that they mustn’t ever fail? Is it social media? Their parents? Their peers? Why do they not give themselves permission to get help? A parent at the meeting expresses frustration that the idea of Maddy going on medication (in the book) is never mentioned. Another parent shares that athletes don’t like to go on medication because it might alter their performance. In this moment I am paralyzed by the idea of how hopeless one must feel to think they have to choose between their mental health and physical performance. Yet Maddy didn’t even want to run anymore, so how did she get to the point of suicide?
Why are more people not talking about suicide, and depression, and anxiety? It’s okay to talk about it, professionals including our panel say as much. If someone is depressed, they have likely already thought about suicide so will need to talk about it. It’s important that we ask the hard questions:
In this way social media might even be seen as a positive. It can be a “wonderful platform to check in on a friend, be an ally to those in need, or to promote important causes,” according to Samantha Straub. “Social media is not going anywhere, so I think it’s important to recognize and praise moments when kids use social media for the good of others or their community. One mom shares with me after the meeting that even though the subject matter was incredibly heavy, the entire discussion left her hopeful. “There are resources, and we are fostering a supportive community receptive to having these difficult, personal, conversations, whereas I don’t think that was necessarily true a few years earlier.”
(1) The Happiness Effect: How Social Media is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost by Donna Freitas
(2) Girls Just Want to Have Likes: How to Raise Confident Girls in the Face of Social Media by Laurie Wolk
(3) Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour
(4) Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls by Lisa Damour
(5) Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives by Rachel Simmons
*Some of the recommended books were based on the fact that Maddy was a girl.
REFLECTIONS AND TAKE-AWAYS FROM OUR MONTHLY SERIES, A TALK IN THE PARK.
The planned discussion for A Talk in the Park in June 2019 centered around finding balance in high school experiences as well as life beyond high school.
How does a student keep it genuine, concern himself only with his own unique needs, and avoid being swayed by the things that everyone else around him is doing?
It is easy to get caught up in thinking that one ought to follow the college and career plans of the majority, but we appreciate the reminder that everyone’s future needs are going to look different. How does a student go about finding his unique path while keeping this in mind? Our panel of former Severna Park High School students included Gabby, Lily, Izzy, Julia, and Sean.
Student panel member and opening speaker Gabby shared that as early as her middle school years, she longed to attend William & Mary University. When she did not receive an acceptance letter from William & Mary, things took an unexpected turn. Gabby somewhat reluctantly opened her mind to the prospect of college life somewhere else other than her “dream school.” Her guidance counselor suggested that she consider Elon University.
Gabby had a positive undergraduate experience at Elon, meeting lifelong friends and faculty mentors, and discovering her passion for civil rights work. She went on to pursue her law degree at, of all places, William & Mary. The challenges she faced during her college selection process helped her to develop a strong sense of resiliency. Her “failing forward” lesson was well-received.
We took note of Gabby’s advice about the Pumpkin Spice Latte (“PSL”) mindset. Work on your “Personal” character first, then second priority is your time as a “Student.” Finally, that third priority is “Leadership.” Of most importance is your own personal self care, then your studies, and finally your additional leadership positions or extracurriculars.
The panel of students were all in agreement that there is nothing wrong with simply being good at one thing, rather than being involved in many activities and potentially juggling too much at once.
Student panel member Julia encouraged the students in attendance to “know yourself.” Understand your own limitations, and involve yourself in activities and classes that feel right to you. Explore some standard classes that sound fun or interesting to you.
When asked for tips on relieving the stress that many of today’s students face, the panel agreed that it is helpful to get involved in your school and community. Attendees were encouraged to consider joining the Unified Sports program at SPHS, a church or youth group, retreats, and meaningful clubs such as Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.
The panel commented to the attendees that they saw hope in the fact that this conversation was even taking place. They said they rarely had opportunities to discuss such topics in an open forum like Parenting for a Different World’s A Talk in the Park. It is a great start.
One parent shared that it would be wonderful for our children to simply be told more often, by families as well as school administrators, “You are enough… just as you are!”
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