By Elena Mikalsen, Ph.D.
Section Chief, Department of Psychology
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio
Most children will have anxiety about starting middle school or high school. They worry about being good enough for sports or other electives, being smart enough for their pre-advanced placement and advanced placement classes, and fitting in with peers who all seem taller, prettier, smarter, and more socially savvy than they are. Each year brings new anxiety and most children will have some degree of anxiety and worry on their first day of school, even when it’s not their first year of middle or high school or even if they have many friends going with them to the same school.
How to help your teen feel that she fits in
The most common worry for teens is fitting in with a new, and usually much larger group of peers. Adolescence is the time when teens struggle to find their identity and struggle to figure out which group of peers they wish to fit in with. Schools have multiple groups for teens to try and there will always be a group that will accept your teen. Reassure your child that he will absolutely find peers and acceptance. Encourage him to express his interests but also to try new things. Adolescence is a good time to experiment and try new hobbies. Encourage him to try different extracurricular activities, based on not just abilities but also interests. Especially, encourage children to try something outside of what their group of peers is doing, as often teens get stuck choosing activities based on whether they will grant an automatic acceptance to a clique.