6 Back-to-School Safety Tips
If you’re a parent or caregiver, consider this your guide for encouraging communication, safety planning, and healthy coping strategies as your kids prepare to go back to school.
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
September 6, 2023
Table of Contents
September marks back-to-school season for many teens and their families around the country. This means new notebooks, new locker combinations, and a new opportunity for parents to speak with their kids about their mental health and back to school safety.
Research shows that nearly half of adolescents ages 13 to 18 years report having a mental illness at some point in their lives, meaning there’s a good chance that at least one student in your child’s classroom is struggling with their mental health. Teens today are faced with higher levels of stress, anxiety, and pressure than past generations, which can all contribute to mental health challenges. Plus, there’s the added fear of bullying, mass violence, and rising suicide rates among youth.
As a parent, you’re probably thinking about child safety, so we have several safety tips to support your loved one’s mental health throughout the new school year.
6 essential tips for back to school safety
As your child heads into the school year, remind them that you’re always available to talk, listen, and lend support. “When we keep lines of communication open about what we’re struggling with, it helps people feel safer sharing more vulnerable thoughts and emotions,” says Charlie Health’s Chief Clinical Officer and co-founder, Dr. Caroline Fenkel, LCSW. Dr. Fenkel encourages parents and other support figures to remind kids, teens, and young adults that it’s normal to feel “big” emotions and that sharing these moments is a useful coping skill.
It’s also helpful to have a respectful discussion about expectations for the school year. Here are a few points to consider for school-year safety:
- Is there a curfew?
- What are the rules around seeing friends on weekdays and weekends?
- If your teen is old enough to have a driver’s license, discuss sober driving and other safety concerns.
2. Discuss a safety plan
Set up a secret text word for your teen to use when they need help without explaining in front of others.
Create a list of emergency contacts in both your and your kid’s phone.
Review the school layout, including exits, emergency exits, and safe assembly areas.
Talk about reporting bullying or suspicious activity to a trusted adult.
Discuss responsible phones usage.
High school is full of uncomfortable and sometimes even dangerous situations. Between unchaperoned social situations, bullying, and incidents of mass violence (there have been more than 400 mass shootings so far in 2023), there are plenty of worrying situations for parents and teens alike. That’s why we suggest reviewing safety procedures and creating a plan for emergency situations.
Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Create a codeword that your teen can text you when they need help but don’t want to explain in front of other people. This might be useful when they’re in an uncomfortable situation, such as at a party where everyone is drinking and they want to be picked up.
- Create a list of emergency contacts in both your and your kid’s phone so that everyone knows who to contact if needed.
- Review the school layout, including exits, emergency exits, and safe assembly areas. It’s also important to understand your school district’s emergency procedures, such as lockdowns and evacuation plans.
- Ensure that your teen knows how to report bullying or suspicious activity to a trusted adult.
- Discuss how to responsibly use phones and other devices, including how to communicate during emergencies.
3. Help your teen create a routine
Another safety tip is to emphasize the importance of a healthy routine. While summer tends to be a time for spontaneity, the school year is defined by school bus schedules, the homeroom bell, and extracurriculars. Establishing a routine at the start of the school year can help teens safely and confidently adjust to having less flexibility and being students again. Healthy morning routines, in particular, can set individuals up for success and prepare them for the day ahead.
A healthy morning routine may include waking up at a consistent time and eating a balanced breakfast. Also, setting aside a few minutes for mindfulness or deep breathing in the morning can help reduce stress and set students up for a good day. Choose a time, meal, and morning exercise that feel attainable and enjoyable for your child and family.
4. Set social media boundaries
In addition to creating a healthy routine, consider limiting unhealthy habits such as too much time on social media. Although social media is a great tool for connecting with friends, platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok can actually cause symptoms of depression, loneliness, and isolation. Plus, filters and photo editing apps can affect young people’s perception of beauty and self-worth, which can lead to harmful habits such as eating disorders and negative body image.
Educating your teens on responsible social media use and setting social media boundaries can help improve focus, mental well-being, and safety. One way to approach the conversation is by working with your teen to set boundaries together.
Here are a few questions to help you get started
- Why do you use social media?
- How much time per day are you spending on social media?
- How are your decisions shaped by social media?
- Are you neglecting any responsibilities to be on social media?
- Do you ever share personal information on social media?
5. Encourage self-care
Between homework, friends, family, sports, and other extracurriculars, it can sometimes feel like teens don’t have a moment to themselves. Parents can help protect their teens’ mental well-being by encouraging them to practice self-care. Self-care refers to any activity or practice that a person can do to nurture their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Here are a few examples:
- Physical exercise to boost endorphins, even if it’s just taking the dog for a walk or a few laps around the block
- Practicing yoga, mindfulness, or meditation
- Breathing exercises, such as 4-7-8 breaths: breathe in for four seconds, hold for seven, then exhale for eight
- Positive affirmations, such as
- I am special and unique in my own way.
- I am worthy of love and respect.
- I am kind and I deserve kindness in return.
6. Seek professional mental health support
If you think your child or another teen in your life is struggling with their mental health, it’s never too soon to begin that conversation. Speaking with a therapist or another mental health professional is the first step in getting the right care to keep your child safe.
Back to school support at Charlie Health
Going back to school is a big deal for both parents and teens. Between academic pressure, social dynamics, and bigger issues like bullying, there are plenty of reasons for parents to be concerned about mental health and back to school safety.
If this sounds familiar, Charlie Health can help. Our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) offers support—including groups and individual and family therapy—for teens and young adults from the comfort of home. We offer evening and weekend sessions so school and extracurriculars don’t interfere with your teen’s healing journey.
Charlie Health’s team of compassionate mental health professionals is trained to address various mental health conditions, including major depression, anxiety and panic disorders, and mood disorders. Our treatment team specializes in multiple therapeutic interventions, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) skills, and will create a personalized treatment plan for your teen.