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What to Do When Teens Are Scared to Go Back to School

Reading Time: 5 minutes

“I’m scared to go back to school.” There are many reasons why a teen might be feeling this way as summer gradually comes to an end. Whatever they’re going through, it’s important for parents to validate their emotions and help them cope with back-to-school stress.

Understanding why a teen is scared to go back to school is the first step in addressing their anxiety. After clarifying the issues, parents can support teens in building healthy coping skills for back-to-school stress. Later in this article, Ryan Fedoroff, M.Ed., offers tips for how to deal with going-back-to-school anxiety in teens.

10 Reasons Why a Teen Might Be Scared to Go Back to School

Even though it comes around ever year, the shift from summer vacation back to school is a big one for teens. It’s natural for kids to feel some stress around dealing with change. That might be change in their daily schedule, activities, peer interactions, and responsibilities. And for many adolescents, the turmoil and unpredictability of the past couple of years have magnified their anxiety. 

Even though the majority of students (65 percent) say they prefer in-person learning, IRL school comes with stressors as well as benefits. Here are some of the reasons why a teen might be nervous to go back to school:

  1. Bullying 
  2. Worries about academic pressure—often particularly anxiety producing for teens who struggle with perfectionism
  3. A history of experiencing extreme anxiety in school
  4. Concern about other students’ behavior: In a recent survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, 56 percent of schools reported increases in classroom disruptions due to student misconduct
  5. Scared of being rejected or “cancelled” by peers
  6. Anxiety about school shootings 
  7. Fear of COVID contagion
  8. Post-traumatic stress related to the 2020 shutdown and remote schooling
  9. Social anxiety
  10. Nervousness about the unknown—a new school, new classes, new teachers, etc.

3 Evidence-Based Strategies for How to Deal with Back-to-School Stress

Experiencing challenges and stress can actually help teens grow emotionally, if they have the right tools to cope with it. A study of adolescents going back to school after COVID closures helps shed light on the coping skills that are most supportive for young people’s well-being and development. The researchers found that three specific cognitive, emotional, and behavioral coping skills helped students experience “stress-related growth”:

Positive Reappraisal

Similar to reframing, this strategy refers to the ability to attach a positive meaning to an event or challenge in terms of personal growth. For example, a student who has experienced a panic attack in school in the past might be scared to go back to school because they’re afraid it might happen again. Instead, they can focus on how they recovered from the attack and the tools they learned for dealing with anxiety. In this way, the event becomes a positive experience because it helped them gain mental strength and skills.

Strengths Use

Using your strengths means activating your natural abilities and characteristics to deal with challenging situations and events. Hence, a teen who is nervous about going to a new school can lean on their strengths to help them cope. They might use humor and curiosity to get to know classmates. Or they might use perseverance and bravery to push through their fears. Research shows that teens whose parents help them become aware of and use their strengths have better well-being, life satisfaction, and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the ability to exert control over one’s circumstances and environment. That’s the opposite of the helplessness and lack of control that teens often experience during this stage of life, when their freedom and power are necessarily limited. 

Emotional Processing

Emotional processing refers to the way a person deals with and expresses their emotions during times of stress. If a teen is able to express “I’m scared to go back to school,” that’s a step in the right direction. Therefore, parents can praise their children for being honest and clear about how they’re feeling, even though it may not be easy to admit. Being open about their emotions lays the groundwork for processing their anxiety and finding tools for coping. 

Signs That a Teen Is Scared to Go Back to School 

These symptoms of back-to-school anxiety indicate that a teen needs additional support to navigate the transition to the classroom:

  • Unusual levels of clinginess
  • Restlessness and appearing fidgety
  • Stomachaches and headaches for no apparent reason
  • Getting upset or angry more easily
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Expressing negative thoughts or worries
  • Crying all the time
  • Difficulty concentrating

If teens exhibit any of these symptoms, it’s essential to talk with them about whether they’re nervous to go back to school and help them build stress-management skills

Back-to-School Stress Tips

Ryan Fedoroff, M.Ed., Newport’s Vice President of Learning and Development, recommends the following approaches for how to deal with going-back-to-school anxiety in adolescents.

  • Establish morning and evening routines. Stick to a schedule, including a regular wake-up time, breakfast, family meals at night, and a set lights-out—preferably with phones turned off an hour before bed. “Kids thrive in an environment that feels predictable, and it can help to calm any anxiety or stress about going to school,” Ryan says.
  • Ask open-ended questions. How should a parent respond when a teen asks, “Why am I scared of going back to school?” or “Why am I nervous to go to school?” The best way, Ryan says, is to ask more questions so you can better understand what they’re feeling and the reasons for their anxiety. 
  • Offer affirmations and validation rather than solutions. You might not be able to fix whatever your teen is nervous about. But you assure them that it’s natural to be nervous and they are not alone in feeling this way. “Let your teen know that it’s normal and okay to be feeling a range of emotions at this time,” Ryan says.
  • Connect with your child’s school. If a teen is nervous about their ability to handle their academics, stay in touch with their teachers about assignments and expectations. Parents can also reach out to the school guidance counselor to let them know about a teen’s back-to-school anxiety. 
  • Visit a doctor or mental healthcare provider. If being scared to go back to school progresses into symptoms of acute or chronic anxiety, more support is necessary. “If you see concerning or potentially dangerous behaviors in your teen, talk to a professional for guidance,” Ryan says.

Treatment for Teen Trauma and Anxiety at Newport Academy 

When a teen is struggling with anxiety, trauma, depression, or another mental health condition, going back to school can bring the issue to a head. Adolescent behavior in the classroom, as well as a teen’s level of functioning at school and in extracurricular activities, can help parents and other adults gauge their mental health. If things aren’t going well as teens transition back to school, treatment may be necessary—for the adolescent as well as the whole family.

At Newport Academy, we address teen mental health through the lens of connection, particularly family relationships. We help teens process school-related trauma while supporting families to build greater harmony and better communication at home. Contact us today if your child is struggling with back-to-school anxiety. Our Admissions experts will help you find the right treatment options and start on the path to healing


Front Psychol. 2021; 12: 643443.

Front. Psychol. 2017 Oct; 8:1707.

Pew Research Center