By Kiran Dhillon / Opinions Editor
For many teens this fall, the idea of the start to school is significantly less exhilarating than most back-to-school ads make it out to be. In a social climate where many students nationwide are especially uneasy about returning to classes, it is more important than ever to recognize back-to-school anxieties as significant hindrances to students’ educational progression.
In the last few years, mental health has become a buzz topic in schools. According to the Associated Press, students’ mental health reached alarming levels in 2021. Much of this increase in frequency and severity results from the COVID-19 pandemic, which raised awareness of the vulnerability of youth mental health and emphasized its importance.
Back-to-school anxiety isn’t limited to nervous excitment to begin a new school year or the thoughts of chaotic classwork and schedules. Since recent periods of online learning and the longevity of summer break have largely kept students at home, going back to an environment where social interaction is extremely prominent can be a significant weight to bear while simultaneously aiming for a solid start to the school year. More specifically: going to Harpeth Hall is one big social interaction.
Returning to a busy school environment is all but inevitable for students. Even so, having to readjust to an academic setting can cause notable discomfort. According to the Child Mind Institute, students are forced to “get used to the old social expectations again — spontaneous hallway chats, answering people’s questions, having conversations they don’t really want to be having,” which can result in anxiety that detracts from the attention paid to academic activities.
Back-to-school anxiety is ever-prevalent across the nation. Its obstructiveness to students’ education must be considered and validated as a real hindrance to students’ well-being and academic performance. To that end, even general anxiety should not be dismissed as solely “nerves” because it can certainly inhibit a student’s learning, especially if addressed later in the year.
The waning yet still lingering COVID-19 pandemic has taken a notable toll on teens’ mental health at school. As previously stated, returning to in-person learning after long swaths of online learning has caused immense fatigue and social anxiety. According to the Associated Press, a recent report from the Center for Disease Control found that 44% of high school students said they experienced “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” during the pandemic.
When coupled with the pressing concerns about contracting the virus, pressure to wear masks consistently and the frequent announcement of new COVID-19 variants, the consequences of remote learning continue to have significant effects on students returning to classes.
With the pandemic as an additional stressor, back-to-school anxiety among teens has heightened tremendously. While going back to school this year marks a return to relative normalcy, students continue to grapple with the chaos of COVID-19 and its social repercussions while simultaneously attempting to reset to school’s demanding environment. For many students, the early days of the pandemic caused significant, lasting changes in how they interact with others. Those changes continue to shape how teens interact with each other every day, right now, whether in person or online, through popularized social media platforms.
Failure to see school anxiety as an obstacle to learning jeopardizes students’ peak learning capabilities and only sets them up for consistently-poor performance throughout the school year. It is important that students’ shared struggles and worries are properly recognized and validated in educational settings to help ease students into a normal and enjoyable school year.
Even though COVID-19 isn’t affecting Harpeth Hall directly right now, the effects of the recent pandemic remain. To that end, it is vital that the community helps one another in times of tumult, which include back-to-school anxiety. At Harpeth Hall, we are grateful to have an excellent counseling department. With the upper school counselors just an email away, it is an excellent resource for students who seek professional support for their mental health.
Beyond administrative departments, some of the most valuable support for mental health could come from peers. Despite a potential lack of deep friendship, even a simple “How are you doing today?” or “Can I do anything for you?” could mean volumes to someone whose mental health is lacking on that particular day.
Especially with back-to-school tension resting on many people’s shoulders, it is imperative that each member of the Harpeth Hall community recognize any anxieties in one another and extend a helping hand to anyone who may need it.