Getting Teens Ready to Go Back to School

Getting back to school calmly and smoothly can play a big part in setting the stage for a successful school year. This week we are reposting a Parenthetical post from August 2013 that discusses ways to prepare your teen for getting back into the routine of school. Share your tips on starting the school year off right in the comments section.


After 45 years, I still vividly remember anticipating the first day of middle school. I was both terrified and excited. There was the excitement of seeing old friends, starting new classes and exploring extracurricular activities. On the other hand, there was the anxiety of unfamiliar teachers and academic expectations, having to take showers after gym, meeting new kids and adjusting to school year routines. Getting off to a good start can make life less stressful for both parents and teens and can help set the stage for a more successful school year. Here are some suggestions for parents to help ease the transition back to school.


  • Help your teen adjust to a new sleep schedule. During the summer many teens prefer to sleep in during the day and stay up late at night. When school starts teens have to adjust their sleep schedule. This transition can make the start of school more difficult if it’s done suddenly, leading to morning battles and difficulties concentrating at school. Because it takes about three weeks for the body to adjust to a new sleep schedule, encourage your teen to begin his or her bedtime well before school starts. You might suggest that they set their alarm 15 minutes earlier every  other day until school begins.
  •  Work with your teen to set up an environment to promote good homework habits. Make sure that s/he has a place to record assignments that s/he will have access to at home. Designate a homework area equipped with adequate light and supplies. Try to minimize distractions (e.g. no TV, video games, loud music …). Work on designing a regular schedule for homework, even if it varies by day of the week due to extracurricular activities.
  • Discuss your expectations in terms of study hours, screen time, TV, cell phones, bedtime, etc. For those issues you deem negotiable, involve your teen in setting expectations together. The clearer the ground rules and the more involved your child is in setting them, the more likely he or she will abide by them.
  • Try to establish a regular habit of conversations about their school day, including their homework and projects and their teachers expectations. The first few weeks are the best time to create some habits that can build a foundation for the rest of the year. Specific questions usually work best. Rather than asking open ended questions like, “How was school today?”, try more specific ones like, “Who did you sit with at lunch?”, “What were the best and worse things that happened today?” or “Who’s your favorite teacher this week and why?”
  • Get them thinking about the opportunities they will have for new friendships and how they might want to handle themselves as they meet new kids. Help them to be open to expanding their circle of friends.
  • Ask your child about his or her goals for the new school year. For example, do they want to try out for a new sport, get involved in a new extracurricular activity, make new friends, improve their grades in math? Help them think about what they can do (and how you can help) to achieve rejuvenated goals.

 We would love to hear your ideas for getting the school year off to a good start. We invite you to take a moment to share your tips below.


SteveSteve Small is a Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Family Relations Specialist for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension. He and his wife have been married for 30 years. They are the parents of 3 former teenagers and a new son-in-law.


4 comments Getting Teens Ready to Go Back to School

  • bridgeta

    The last two years, school Lunches have become an issue with my teenage daughters who just entered the 10th and 12th grade. Basically they don’t like the school lunches, and I can’t blame them. Before school started this year, my husband and I decided to talk with them about what options they have. We agreed that they will eat school lunch once a week, and pack a lunch 1-2 times a week. The other 2-3 days a week, we have given them a weekly allowance to purchase lunches at local restaurants or stores. I am concerned about them eating out 2-3 days a week, because I think they will make bad choices, run out of money, and/or be hungry. However, I realize that teens need to learn how to meet their nutritional needs and follow a budget. So, I discussed with my daughters making better choices like subway, looking at the nutrients, calories, and the cost of items they choose. We also agreed that they can always pack veggies and fruit from home to supplement their lunches. This way they are not just eating a hotdog or hamburger and a pop for lunch three times a week.

  • Becky Mather

    You guys seem to have come up with a great compromise. We have struggled with school lunches at our house too. Our situation is complicated in a different way. Our school district is rural with no open campus and no place to go for lunch. This solves the eating out issue, however, the school lunches themselves are terribly unhealthy. The older kids packed their own lunch and the youngest we make lunch for. We limit school lunch to once a week and really encourage them to choose the salad option on that day. Any one else have trouble with school lunches that are not healthy? Anyone manage to sway their school district to make changes?

  • Aparent55

    We also live in a rural school district with closed campus. We’ve never had the school lunch issue though because my kids have never taken school lunch. My daughter is now a Junior and my son is in the middle school. As a parent, I used to get a lot of other parents praise school lunch because it saved them time, it saved them money, it was one more thing they didn’t have to worry about int he morning. My kids have always (yes even in kindergarten) packed their lunches and taken them to school. When they were younger, I got a good sense of what they were actually consuming (uneaten food came home) and felt that I was setting them up with good life habits (who has hot lunch prepared by somebody else every day as an adult?. The kids are able to make great food choices in their lunches now and choose to pack fruits and vegetables daily. Even as I shared these feelings with my pro-school lunch parents – I was told “you are too harsh on your kids, they shouldn’t have to make their own lunch at this age etc. etc. etc.) It is sure paying off now though- I don’t have to help or supervise what goes in their lunch box, it is more cost effective, more nutritious and I know they are eating what is in their lunch because they made the food choices based partly on what they like to eat.

  • Becky Mather

    Wow, great work. I’m guessing that it is never too late to start having your kids make their own lunch. I have noticed that teens’ relationship with food changes as their bodies and minds are changing. Some kids experiment with and choose a vegetarian diet, others are starving all the time because they are growing so fast, and still others have erratic schedules that necessitate erratic eating times. Seems like this age might be a good time to offer kids more control over their food choices. Anybody had any success with getting kids to make their own lunch after they have entered adolescence, since I am already behind the eight ball here.

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