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Ask Dr. London: Back to School Blues

Well, we’re about three weeks into the new school year. After the initial expressions of jubilation, reuniting with friends, and feeling one year older, I’m starting to hear grumblings: “I don’t want to be back, there’s so much work,” “They have so many ridiculous rules,” “This teacher is already giving a test,” “I wish I were at ‘XYZ’ school…”

So, let’s try and shift our negative mindsets a bit, reevaluate the current situation, and realize maybe it’s not so bad after all. Here are a few practical, easy to do, recommendations of how to jump-start your brain and get you into the right mindset for a great new school year.

Shift your Mindset. First, realize that misery loves company. It just takes one person’s negative attitude to shift an entire mindset of people. This seems to be especially true with adolescents (all of you) who are especially susceptible to each other’s viewpoints and opinions. Teenagers crave acceptance and fear feeling embarrassed and standing out from one another. For this reason, teenagers tend to conform with their peers, even when they know it’s not a personally good choice. Conformity can be a dangerous move and people will sometimes clearly do what others do, even when it is objectively wrong. Don’t believe me? Check out Asch’s conformity studies to see how if just one person in a group says that a clearly shorter line is longer than the other, people will soon agree with him, even though he is clearly and objectively wrong.

Be Patient and Let Time Do Its Thing. It is perfectly natural to feel out of sorts in a new situation, even if you were here last year. We get it, change is hard and life is always changing. This year, some of your teachers may be new, you have a new place in the academic and social structure of the school, you have new expectations and stresses placed on you (school, familial and personal). And let’s face it, not all of us do so well with change. So, be a bit patient with yourself and realize that once you become accustomed to your new schedules, to seeing new faces and to dealing with enhanced responsibilities, things will start to feel a bit more palatable and more like your normal routine.

Let People In. I know that it can be hard when you feel alone and that no one can understand what you’re going through, but let people help you. If you’re new and shy but another student is asking you to lunch, go for it and join them. Our student body is an overwhelmingly warm and welcoming group so put yourself out there and get to know your classmates. You’re all in the same boat, trying to stay afloat together.  

Take Responsibility for Yourself. Recognize that you are now a young adult and capable of handling your own problems. You don’t have to wait for a teacher to call your parent or for your parent to reach out to an administrator. If you’re having a problem with a teacher, set up a meeting to speak with him or her. If you’re upset with a friend, tell them you’d like to work things out.  Did I mention that you have the coolest, most understanding, and amazing school psychologist on staff who is always ready to help you? But in all seriousness, now is the time to get in the habit of being responsible for yourself. As Ralph Waldo Emerson most perfectly articulated in his essay “Self Reliance,” “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”

Get Involved! Join a club, sports team, theater production, newspaper or other extracurricular activity. For a small independent school, the Hebrew Academy has so much to offer. Not only is this a great way to get out of your rut, but it’s an easy and natural way to form bonds and relationships with people in school whom you would not form friendships with otherwise.  

Take some Perspective. Okay, so it’s alright to feel sad and down for a bit. It’s a feeling and it will pass. But then stop feeling sorry for yourself. Truly, you have it way better off than so many other teens your age– you’re in a small and intimate private school setting, where you have teachers and staff that genuinely care about your well-being, where you are able to practice your religion freely. This is really a blessing. Remind yourself how difficult it is to be Jewish in this year 2018 in different parts of the world and even in our own United States of America. Sometimes a little perspective is extremely helpful and makes you realize that your life problems aren’t so major after all.

Put a smile on your face. No, I’m not being hokey. Really, force yourself to smile. When smile, you activate ….take a look at Dr. Richard Wiseman’s one minute psychology video on the power of smiling.

Finally, send your questions to me, your very own Dr. London and friendly school psychologist.

I’ll be waiting!!!!

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