As children and teens head back to school, their anxiety levels may increase, especially for those who have not had regular social interactions over the past year, those who identify as LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning or other sexual identifies) and those struggling with mental health issues. Additionally, an increase in screen time and social media use over the past year may cause children to have more anxiety when transitioning to a school environment and being around larger groups of people.
Lack of social interactions
Many children have not been in a school building for over a year. Anxieties may increase due to children not being able to build meaningful friendships outside of virtual settings and creating a new routine after being at home for a prolonged time. Children may have missed out on extracurricular activities like sports, clubs and afterschool programs, settings that support their academic and personal development and social interactions
How to support: A great first step is to talk with your child about what to expect when returning to school. Make sure they understand the mask requirements and social distancing practices that their school will be enforcing. Talk to them about their fears and concerns regarding returning to school. Children and families can start to ease into a more social environment safely by still wearing face masks. If needed, practice small social interactions by going to a park or having your child host a small get-together with a group of close friends. These small interactions can help children ease into sudden exposure to a large group of people when school starts again. If you or your children are unvaccinated from COVID-19, it is important to follow the CDC guidelines to stay safe.
Students who identify as LGBTQ+
Members of the LGBTQ+ community are three times more susceptible to bullying than their straight peers. When asked, 46% of students stated that they were bullied because they are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Individuals who are part of the LGBTQ+ community may feel nervous when returning to school due to the return of bullying in a classroom setting or a lack of community and sense of belonging.
How to support: There are many ways to be an ally. It is important to educate yourself on the complexity of the LGBTQ+ community and have conversations with your child about what they need to feel supported. The Trevor Project is a good starting point for learning more. Encourage your child to join clubs with individuals who have similar identities. Building a support group is one of the greatest resources you can provide for your child.
Mental health issues
There is a wide array of mental health issues that children are currently struggling with, including chronic anxiety and depression. Many children are struggling because they have not learned the proper way to care for their mental health.
How to support: Families should check-in with their children about their feelings, especially if they notice a change in their child’s behavior such as a loss of interest in their favorite activities. Families seeking more guidance may want to encourage their child to speak to a counselor or therapist during hard emotional times. Through talking with a mental health professional, children can learn healthy approaches to addressing their stressors.
Social media-induced anxiety
Social media has a big influence on the younger generation. It can influence the way children act, dress and think and can even cause a student to feel more socially anxious. Many social media platforms have continued to cover the ever-changing concerns regarding COVID-19 which can cause emotions ranging from fear to excitement that the pandemic “might” be over. Social media platforms also have a way of increasing anxiety due to the constant stream of information, regardless if it is a creditable source or not.
How to support: Limit your child’s social media use or try to take a social media cleanse. Taking a break from social media can give students and families a sense of relief by not allowing other people’s opinions of the pandemic to cause paranoia.