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Surviving Back To School

For many kids, ‘back to school’ has always been a fun day full of anticipation, curiosity and excitement. Some want to show off their new look or see how others have grown and matured during the summer. However, due to the current economy, many children will be starting their first day of school wearing the same clothes that they wore on the last day of school this past year. They might be living at a different address, because their parents might not have been able to keep up with the expenses of their former home. Their family structure might have changed. Now they may live with only one parent due to a divorce, maybe they have to live with relatives because of finances or maybe even they’re now in foster care.

Many teens and young adults take on the guilt themselves when a family is in crisis. They feel responsible for their family’s situation. Not to mention that child abuse, teen depression, teen suicide and teen runaways are at the highest numbers in history. As a child, I always thought everything that went wrong in the household was my fault. The guilt was so unbearable that it hurt my self-esteem and caused me to act out in school. I spent so much time thinking about my family problems that I could never concentrate on anything, and I was always tired.

The children in these dysfunctional homes must be made to understand that none of the problems - economic or otherwise - are their fault. Not even if they hear their names mentioned during fights. There is nothing the child did to provoke abuse and it is absolutely unacceptable. If their parents are not getting along, or if their parents have problems with drugs or alcohol, the child is not the reason. Once the child understands that he/she is not responsible for the family’s problems, the relief from their guilt alone will let them focus on things like their schoolwork and their own growth. They will be able to move away from choosing bad alternatives for themselves. The children will find they have more energy, will be able to sleep better and have a better outlook on things. Once I realized these things myself, I was able to become a good student academically and even excelled in sports.

For those teens and young adults that are facing more serious problems such as abuse or thoughts of suicide and running away, here are some ways of getting help.

The first source is usually right in front of them, their own school. Most schools have a school social worker or counselor that deal with difficult family situations every day. Kids will find these professionals offer more options and assistance than they would expect. Some young people might find it less stressful to try a school they don't go to, perhaps a friend’s school. Where ever makes them feel more comfortable and open to receiving help. Another option for a troubled child to turn to is local community centres. Aside from offering sports-related activities, many centres also have social workers and counselors on staff to give help and options to young people. Finally, local churches and synagogues may have outreach programs or social workers and counselors on their staff, as well as offer support groups and hold 12-step meetings. The pastor many times will have knowledge of where a young person can get help. If one church doesn’t seem to have these facilities, try a different one. It does not have to be the one you belong to.

Some other great sources for young people who are thinking of suicide or running away, or who have run away, are The Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or and The Salvation Army’s Teen Support Line at 1-877-803-8336. These organizations also offer assistance to concerned friends and/or family members who don’t know how they can help a child in need. Please remember that many times when the child gets help, it results in the adults in the family getting help as well. Moving from one dwelling to another or not having new clothes isn’t that important. What is important is to learn to deal with all the other problems so they don’t rob a young person of their school years.

When dealing with difficult problems, school often moves to the back-burner and can become a burden. Young people need to realize that their education is one of the most important aspects of their lives. Old clothes can be creatively altered to look different and bedrooms can be interestingly transformed. However the well-being and happiness of the young person wearing those clothes and sleeping in that bedroom can’t be easily changed.


Steve, youth advocate and young adult author, has been the leader of youth help groups and has spoken on national television for many years. Runaway is an excellent tool for professionals and concerned parents or adults to gateway conversations with a young person to discuss these difficult matters. To order Runaway, please visit or call 1-800-431-1579.

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