By The Parents Perspective
August 20, 2014
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girl in shop

Now that Labor Day is approaching, it's appropriate to review the most recent outbreak of Back-To-School Disorder (BTSD). This is a newly-recognized psychological diagnosis (so new, in fact, that I just named it) characterized by premature dismissal of summer, abrupt embrace of fall, and excessive accumulation of shopping bags on your kids' bedroom floors. BTSD has quietly reached epidemic proportions, so I am hereby launching an awareness campaign to slow the progression of this growing threat to public sanity.

BTSD has crept up on us slowly. When my own kids were younger, we began noticing Back-to-School sales occurring earlier and earlier each summer. When the trend became undeniable, we took a stand as a family and began consciously ignoring those sales. It took a family meeting, careful censoring of newspaper ads and TV commercials, and pre-screening of all U.S. mail before dropping it on the table in the front hallway. (This was in the days before email and the internet, so censoring objectionable material was a lot easier).

It's one thing to begin Christmas advertising just after Halloween–Christmas is a wonderful time of year, something to be looked forward to! Similarly, Valentine's Day promotions beginning just barely after the New Year seem almost tolerable and understandable–there really isn't that much time between the first week of January and the second week of February, right? And, after all, love and chocolate are timeless.

But it's another thing entirely to begin threatening kids and their parents with Back-to-School imagery so far ahead of an event which, for most of us, is dreaded. Sure, some kids are excited to go back to friends and teachers, and some parents are relieved to resume adult routines. But for most kids and parents, summer days are precious and fleeting; why should we do anything to hasten their flight? This is my unproven theory, but history will likely bear me out on this: I believe that the recent year-round school movement has its roots in BTSD. All this talk about going back to school occurring so early in the summer probably prompted childless policymakers in windowless rooms in colorless administrative buildings to propose year-round school.

Who's ready for Back-to-School sales closer to Memorial Day than to Labor Day? Who wants to think about school at the beginning of July? We're still celebrating the birthday of our country, for goodness sake; let us enjoy our hot dogs! Back-to-School reminders early in the summer are tantamount to taunting kids about their dentist appointments weeks before they have to say "Ahhhh." Parents know better than giving too much advance warning for upcoming unpleasant events in kids' lives; going back to school should be no different.

So here's my plan to combat BTSD, and my advice for enjoying every possible minute of your summer:

  1. Do not, under any circumstances, begin thinking about shopping for back-to-school until a maximum of 5 days before the first day of the school year. For some of you, that's mid-to-late August, but for many of you, it's still not until after Labor Day. No new clothes, backpacks, school supplies, or other paraphernalia until the very last minute. And if last year's clothes, backpacks, and school supplies are acceptable, all the better.
  2. Schedule your summer vacation for the week (or two weeks if you're lucky to get that much vacation) just before school starts, allowing, if you must, a couple days for shopping after your return. This will take you and your kids out of your usual shopping district until the very last minute and leave little time to develop BTSD.
  3. When you do finally go shopping, tell your kids it's "fall shopping," not "back-to-school shopping." Heck, we use little white lies all the time to shelter our babies from upset–this is a really tiny white lie. By not using the "s" word in your shopping plans, you spare your kids (and yourselves) some of the BTSD anxiety that word conveys. Sure, if they're old enough to read the signs in stores, they'll get the message soon enough, but you can distract them with the cool selection of colored pencils and notebooks.
  4. Impose a quarantine by avoiding playdates and sleepovers at the homes of BTSD victims lest the contagion spreads.

And now relax—there are still 126 days until Christmas!

Plus: Enjoy the last days of summer with this amazing activity finder

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).

Image via Shutterstock.


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