Depending on which student you talk to, back-to-school season may be a welcome shift back into a familiar routine with friends, an anxiety-inducing transition that raises fears about classwork, bully, and school violence, or a complex combination of both. While back-to-school jitters are normal, there are signs that your child needs more emotional support.

Offhand remarks about a "back-to-school necklace" could be an unexpected sign of this struggle. A meme that pairs the phrase "back-to-school necklace" with suicidal behavior is a case in point. Mashable isn't sharing more information about this term in order to prevent suicides. If you are a student who found this story through that search term, please consider talking to a trusted friend or adult about your feelings.

It's clear that parents are worried about what their kids will experience this school year if teens use this term as a way to indicate they aren't thrilled to go back. A recent survey of 532 parents by On Our Sleeves, a national movement for children's mental health, found that 80% of respondents are worried about issues such as racism and discrimination, school safety and violence, and ongoing challenges related to the Pandemic.

When children make references to phrases like "back-to-school necklace," it's possible they are trying to express frustration but have no intention of doing so, according to Ariana Hoet, clinical director of On Our Sleeves.

She says that some children feel like things won't get better, and those are the ones she worries about.

It's important that parents take such references seriously so they can determine the extent of their child's anxiety. It can be hard for parents to discuss mental health with their kids. Parents can intervene before the situation becomes a crisis if they watch for certain warning signs and engage in nonjudgmental conversations.

Warning signs of suicide risk you should know

Children who are anxious about going back to school may experience headaches or stomachaches. They might stop participating in family activities. They may refuse to go to school if they are experiencing an anxiety disorder.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's vice president of mission engagement says that warning signs of suicide risk can be seen in three ways.

Graphic of a list of suicide warning signs.

Learning the warning signs for suicide risk can help parents intervene before a crisis. Credit: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

A teen might say that they want to end their life, but they could also say that life is pointless or that they don't have anything to look forward to. Their behavior might include using substances and searching online for ways to end their lives. If they become sad, angry, or agitated quickly, that could be a sign that they aren't doing well.

Marshall says that there are warning signs that tell us that this is a good time to look for something. It might be a good time to ask about suicide.

Asking if an adolescent feels suicidal doesn't make them more likely to attempt it. Marshall says that parents can calmly note to their child that sometimes people feel bad about themselves and may want to end their life, and then ask if they've ever had those kinds of thoughts.

How to talk about back-to-school anxiety

Parents tend to focus on the positive aspects of school when talking to a child who is nervous. Parents might emphasize that the pain of a break up or a drama between friends will ebb and flow. Teens have yet to gain distance from these challenges, so the intensity of their pain can last a long time.

Marshall says that talking about how a child feels is important to helping them cope. She wants parents to listen and not make their child's concern small. They should listen to what their child is saying and not try to fix the problem for them.

Some parents don't want their children to feel bad, so they might avoid those feelings. In a recent On Our Sleeves survey, almost all parents said it was important to talk about mental health issues, but the majority of respondents said they didn't have those discussions with their own parents. The campaign has a list of questions for children to ask.

Marshall says to ask adolescents and teens what might help with back to school anxiety. It is possible for parents to speak candidly about the risks of certain online experiences and to help children set limits. The stigma that surrounds thoughts of wanting to die can be lessened if parents frame suicide as a health issue. It's possible for a teen to talk about how they are affected by those feelings.

How to help your child with back-to-school anxiety

School staff, including a counselor or psychologist, should be contacted by parents if they are concerned about their child's well-being, according to a middle-school counselor. Parents can ask that their student's name be kept out of the public eye if they raise concerns about discrimination. In order to help resolve a conflict and give the affected teen additional support, counselors can take this information and bring students in to discuss it. It is possible for parents to encourage their children to talk to a counselor.

It is not always possible for adolescents to identify what is bothering them. If they're being harassed or discriminated against but the attacks are more like microaggressions than blatant homophobia or racism, the student may have a hard time figuring out why they feel uncomfortable. If the student belongs to a group that has been targeted by discrimination, it's important for adults to understand the student's feelings.

Marshall encourages parents to seek help without delay if they feel overwhelmed by their child's expression or experience. It could be as simple as reaching out to a local mental health professional or organization for resources and peer support. Before talking to their child about getting help, parents don't need a plan. It is possible for a parent to let the child know that help is available and that they will figure it out together. The parent needs to follow through.

McNeiley says to take internet slang related to mental health seriously, even if parents don't think it's a big deal.

She says that kids may not realize that tomorrow is better. We don't know what their mind state is, so we want to be cautious.

Please talk to someone if you are feeling depressed or suicidal. You can call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 988, or the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860. Text the word "start" to 741-741. The help line is open from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays. Email You can use the 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline at if you don't want to use the phone. International resources are listed here.