Back to School

Back to School Angst

The frenzy usually starts in August. Kids of all ages and school grades must say farewell to another lazy summer and prepare for the upcoming school year. Friendships and “romances” formed during the summer in neighborhoods, summer camps, and on vacations become precarious and unpredictable; will they continue into the school year, or fade away like the hazy days of summer? Will old friends still be waiting when school starts again, or will they have moved on to other alliances? What will the teachers be like in their new school grade? Who’s going to hang out with the “popular crowd,” the “jocks,” and the “geeks?” Who will end up “going steady” with whom? Who will make the football team or the cheerleading squad?

Let the school-days “angst” begin! Frazzled parents give a weary sigh of relief that their children and teenagers will be once again consumed with academic and social endeavors. But at the same time, they stare in dismay at the price of a pair of jeans that their daughter simply must have!

Fitting In

In terms of child development, a young person’s primary affiliation during these years is with their peer group. Parents suddenly become unbelievably old-fashioned and ignorant; younger siblings become intolerable pests, and teachers are endured only with boredom and out of necessity. When “back to school” days roll around, children from ages six to sixteen suddenly develop a fixation on peer social groups and activities; the most important thing in their lives is to belong. And it is towards this goal that “back to school” frenzy is squarely aimed!

First up is the wardrobe for the upcoming school year. Each student, regardless of age, must have the appropriate attire in order to “fit in.” Kids have little concept of what things cost; it’s difficult for them to accept or understand that a pair of so-called designer jeans like Lucky Brand that sells for around $70 per pair isn’t any more attractive or durable than Wrangler jeans that sell for around $40. The right brand of jeans, shirts, shoes, jewelry and cosmetics is absolutely essential for “back to school” success. Show up on the first day of school wearing an off-brand of sneakers rather than Nike’s, and the whole year goes up in flames – first impressions equals “geek.”

Then, there are the school supplies. Notebooks have to be “cool.” Pens and pencils must be elementary school “chic.” Art supplies simply must be top-of-the-line. Just try convincing a seventh-grader with “back to school” jitters that blue oil paint is blue oil paint, regardless of its brand!

Finally, there are the extra-curriculum activity “back to school” acquisitions. Only geeks have used musical instruments – they must be new to indicate a child’s economic and social status. “Jocks” must arrive on the first day of school with all the socially necessary athletic accouterments, even down to name-brand socks. Drama Club thespians must have the expected line of cosmetics (and be experts on their application) on that all-important first day of school. Anything less spells year-long disaster, and parents are always to blame!

“Back to school” is a phrase that sparks excitement, relief, and high anxiety among students, parents and teachers. Those first few weeks of the new term are fraught with confusion, fear and exhilaration. Nobody’s the same as they were last year. And by October, kids of all ages are yearning again for those carefree days of summer vacation.

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