Navigating the Transition: How Returning to School Affects Adolescent Mental Health

5 Oct by HPA/LiveWell Eating Disorder Treatment, Mental Health Services

The transition into a new school year often has a negative effect on adolescent mental health. While many are excited at the prospect of reuniting with friends and engaging in new learning experiences, the return to school can also trigger an array of complex emotions that impact your child’s well-being. At HPA/Livewell, in Albany, NY, we are no stranger to the effect school has on a child’s mental health. In this blog post, we will explore how a return to school affects adolescent mental health and provide insights into how parents and educators can support them during this transitional period.

Social Pressures and Anxiety at School

Returning to school often means reconnecting with peers, which can also mean dealing with school social pressures and anxieties. Adolescents might worry about fitting in, making new friends, or maintaining existing relationships. The fear of social rejection or judgment can lead to increased feelings of anxiety1. Adolescent social dynamics are often the source of the largest stressors in their lives. It’s paramount for parents to foster an environment where open conversations about friendships and social dynamics are encouraged. 

Academic Stress and Performance Pressure

The academic demands of school can contribute to academic stress and performance pressure for adolescents, especially as they reach high school or begin to search for higher education options. The pressure to excel in classes, manage homework loads, and perform well in exams can take a toll on their mental health. Often, parents and educators are the primary source of academic stress2, so it is critical to communicate that mistakes are a natural part of learning and that seeking help when needed is a sign of strength. As parents, it is critical that you encourage a healthy balance between academics and self-care to help alleviate undue academic stress.

Body Image and Self-Esteem 

Adolescence is a time of significant physical and emotional changes. Returning to school can bring heightened self-awareness and body consciousness, leading to concerns about appearance and body image. Peer comparisons and societal standards can contribute to lower self-esteem3 and social anxiety. Fostering a body-positive environment at home and helping your child gain confidence in themselves despite the natural changes to their body will alleviate this stress. It is crucial as parents that you are aware of the implications a return to school can have on your child’s self-esteem, so you can support them throughout the year. 

Bullying and Peer Relationships at School

Unfortunately, the return to school can also expose adolescents to bullying or strained peer relationships. Bullying, whether in person or online, can have severe consequences on mental health4. Schools often have robust anti-bullying policies and create safe spaces for students to report incidents. Open dialogues about bullying and respectful communication with your child so that they can feel empowered to stand up against mistreatment.

The Importance of Communication During the School Year

Open communication between parents, educators, and adolescents is pivotal during your child’s transition back to school. Adolescents need to feel heard and understood as they navigate the challenges of returning to school. Being open to conversations about stressors, anxieties, and concerns allows your child to express themselves without judgment. Schools often offer counseling services and support groups to address mental health needs.

We delved into how a return to school affects adolescent mental health, and how you as a parent can support them during this difficult transition. Returning to school can often be difficult for adolescents, characterized by a blend of excitement and challenges. Acknowledging the potential impacts on mental health and proactively offering support is essential. By fostering open communication, promoting self-acceptance, and creating a supportive environment both at home and in schools, we can help adolescents navigate this transition while safeguarding their mental well-being.  If you believe your child is struggling with the stress of returning to a school environment, or are looking for a therapist near Albany, NY, call 518-218-1188 to reach out to HPA/Livewell or learn more about our Intensive Outpatient Program for Eating Disorders. Our dedicated team is here to address them and provide you with the care you deserve.

With our new online therapy capabilities, HPA/LiveWell can now offer mental health services to anyone within not only the Capital Region, the Hudson Valley region – Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck, Newburgh, White Plains, Kingston, and surrounding New York cities, but we can offer mental health services and eating disorder treatment to anyone throughout New York state.

Students Peer Pressure and Their Academic Performance in School, www.researchgate.net/profile/Jerald-Moneva/publication/330818074_Students_Peer_Pressure_and_their_Academic_Performance_in_School/links/5d42ea934585153e59342677/Students-Peer-Pressure-and-their-Academic-Performance-in-School.pdf. Accessed 22 Aug. 2023.

Sangma, Zeetha M, et al. “Perception of Students on Parental And Teachers’ Pressure on Their Academic Performance.” Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences, vol. 17, no. 01. January.

Voelker, Dana K, et al. “Weight Status and Body Image Perceptions in Adolescents: Current Perspectives.” Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 25 Aug. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4554432/.

Rigby, Ken. Consequences of Bullying in Schools – Sage Journals, journals.sagepub.com/doi/epdf/10.1177/070674370304800904.