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By Susan Parmelee

Once again, summer break flew by, and here we are getting our teens back to middle school and high school and off to college.

I find this a challenging time of year, as we go from easygoing beach days, sleeping in, impromptu meals, to a much more structured schedule that often requires household adults to enforce rules that do not apply during summer vacation.

I have many great memories of fun summer nights when I was a teen and as a family, letting bedtimes slide. The imminent start of the school year always came with a panic in shifting sleep schedules.

Although our teens get 30 extra minutes in the morning this year, it is still important to prioritize sleep for their developing brains and bodies.

Though sleep specialists recommend teens get an average of eight to 10 hours of sleep a night,  the CDC found that 72.7% of high school students were getting less than eight hours on school nights.

This can have significant impacts on students’ mental and physical well-being, as well as on their academic performance. We can help teens with this transition by helping them establish healthy sleep habits.

Build up to the time shift by slowly adjusting their sleep schedule in 15-minute increments, encourage regular exercise, limit naps to 30 minutes or less a day (some sleep scientists discourage adolescent napping), and avoid screen time right before bed.

It can also be challenging for teens to juggle the demands of school, extracurriculars, and jobs.  Parents should try to validate these challenges, while helping them develop tools for managing these demands.

Some teens might find it helpful to plan and stay ahead with a wall calendar or personal planner, where they can mark the dates of their exams, important assignments, and any other commitments they may have.

Planning out their semester can also give teens the opportunity to say “no” to other activities if their schedules are beginning to fill. Helping teens organize their schedules builds important skills in time management, boundaries, and workload expectations.

Families with young people transitioning to middle school, high school, or college have the added factor of supporting their child through a major life transition. We can ease the discomfort by helping them establish a consistent and organized homework and school-day preparation routine.

It is good to establish a quiet, distraction-free workspace, and to encourage a consistent homework time. Help avoid rushed mornings by choosing school clothes and packing backpacks and extracurricular equipment the night before.

As your teen becomes more structured and organized, be sure to praise and encourage them for successful efforts and improvements. Forethought and focus are usually not the strong suit of most young teens, but with a little routine and preparation, we can help set them up for less stress and more success.

Older teens who are transitioning to college will likely require a more hands-off approach as they begin to adjust to life away from home. However, it is still important to offer our teens guidance that will leave them feeling capable and empowered as they begin to embrace adulthood.

Have open discussions with college-bound teens about their fears, expectations, and anxieties. Listen without judgment or comment, give them space to process their feelings, and ask them what they need from you.

If they are open to it, brainstorm solutions to their concerns and help them find resources that they may not have thought of previously. For example, many new college students might not know how helpful it can be to get to know your professors during office hours or how to access campus resources such as mental health counseling or academic workshops.

Though the summer beach days and late movie nights are over for now, this academic year is a great opportunity for your teen to conquer challenges and develop new skills.

Transitions can be very challenging for any teen, but with proper support, positive encouragement, and appropriate guidance, you will likely be amazed at how your teen has transformed during this academic year.

Susan Parmelee is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and executive director of the Wellness & Prevention Center: wpc-oc.org. She can be reached at susan@wpc-oc.org.

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