TAMPA - New friends, homework, long hours... It's all part of going back to school. It can be stressful! Not just for the kids, but you too!
Alex Burton is 14 years old. We at ABC Action News have been nearby as she has grown up. She is the daughter of one of our station's directors.
This year, we are watching her as she begins what experts say is the most stressful year in her young life.
"You don't know a lot of people and you are the new kid. You don't know what to do." Alex just started high school at Middleton Magnet High School. "It is new people and new teachers and you have to get used to them," she said. "At lunch you don't go with teachers, as you did in middle school. You go by yourself."
"Research has shown that ninth grade is the most difficult," said Kim Moore, the school's assistant principal. "It's a larger campus, kids go to different classes. It can be overwhelming." She said the transition can be so difficult for students, that all Hillsborough County schools have a special program in place over the summer called GAP.
During the one-week-long GAP summer program, Moore recommends students be outgoing. "I tell them the goal is you want you to know at least five people," said Moore. "I want them to know at least five people so that you can have someone to sit with when you go to lunch."
While 9th grade may be the most difficult, each year from Kindergarten to senior year includes some form of stress.
Dr. George Northrup, a Tampa psychiatrist, says the key to keeping your kids feeling happy, safe, and secure begins with you. "Keep a sense of calm yourself," said Northrup. "If you don't make it look like a big deal, you won't stress your kids out any more."
The age of your child and his or her grade level help determine which issues they might face.
For instance, younger children and parents sometimes struggle with separation anxiety. For this stresser, Northrup recommends letting your child get used to being without you, and start slowly if necessary. "Something as simple as going to a friend's house," suggests Northrup. "It's also a good idea to go to the school and get used to it - not only for them but you."
He also offers advice for anxious moms and dads. "It's an old standby - take one good, deep breath, and let it out. Remind yourself that it is unlikely that anything particularly bad will happen to your child."
Northrup also reminds us to "parent in the present." Society is forcing kids to grow up faster. The more you know about their lives, the better. Any change in behavior could be a sign something is wrong. "Acting out can be as simple as change in sleep habits. Some kids recognize they wont have to go to school if they are sick or throw a tantrum."
And even though Alex is only 14, she recognizes the best advice of all is to have support and use it. "You should talk about it to your friends, teachers and parents."
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President Barack Obama says Nelson Mandela earned his place in history through struggle, shrewdness, persistence and faith.