Five Issues Kids Face Today

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

While returning to school in the fall should be a time of excitement for children, it can present issues that cause stress. These include:

1. Falling behind academically

Missing a few months of school in 2021 and attending hybrid school for part of the past school year means many students have acquired gaps in their education. This can be deeply troubling for students who have worked hard to earn good grades.

Work around: “This past year has been readjusting to being back into a school setting for a lot of kids,” said Shelagh Thompson, mental health counselor with Oswego Health. “I feel that as time goes on, they’re going to be continuing to adjust to being in school for six to seven hours a day, a teacher in charge of the classroom and having that their school day spent with the teachers. Online learning is a whole other platform of learning that most of these children had not experienced except for COVID. They’re adjusting to that and then going back to being in class.”

2. School violence

With school shooting frequently in the news, it is little wonder some children may feel unsafe about returning to school.

“Safety is a big issue for kids,” Thompson said. “Unfortunately, this year with what happened in Texas, that question of safety comes to a lot of kids’ minds. Am I safe to be in school? Who will protect me? I feel that the school districts have tried to rally around and find solutions to reassure kids that they’re safe.”

Work around: She advises parents to limit exposure to media and assure them that their school administration is working to make their school as safe as possible.

3. Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is especially injurious because the taunting can go far beyond the schoolyard. In mere moments, anyone can see a hurtful photo, video or comment and it can remain online indefinitely.

School officials have little control over what students do off-campus and social media provides bullies with the perfect platform to instill fear and to dominate others. Shifting learning to online during the pandemic only made the issue worse.

“I’ve seen with my caseload and with my own children, the level of cyber bullying increase,” Thompson said. “Kids had that protection of not having to see a bully for a year and a half. Now they’re into a setting with peers. Cyberbullying spills over into school.”

Work around: Limiting online interactions and teaching children to report their concerns can help curtail the problem. Parents should also instruct their children to never say anything hurtful about others—even in jest—online or in-person.

4. Vaping

While use of cigarettes has decreased among youth, using vape devices such as Juul has skyrocketed. The FDA and CDC state in their 2021 Annual National Youth Tobacco Survey that more than two million US middle and high school students said they used e-cigarettes, accounting for 7.6% of that demographic.

Work around:  Kristin Botwinick, licensed clinical social worker and clinical director of Professional Counseling Services in Camillus, wants parents to learn about the dangers of vaping.

“Be very aware that as popular as vaping has become and although it doesn’t have the stigma of cigarette smoking, it’s proving far more dangerous for cardiopulmonary health,” she said.

Breathing water vapor seems harmless. However, the liquid refill pods use chemical flavoring agents and most of them contain nicotine. Ninety-five percent of all refill pods come from China. These goods lack the rigorous level of scrutiny for product safety compared with products manufactured elsewhere.

In late June, the FDA denied market authorization for Juul products for sale in the US. However, consumers may still possess and use them, and other e-cigarette brands remain unaffected.

5. Mental health issues

With all the typical and non-typical challenges facing children going back to school this year, parents should reach out to their school’s mental health support if their children are not returning to their baseline mental health after a few weeks.

Work around:  “Families are reaching out for help more than ever,” said Jennifer Meyers, master’s in school psychology and nationally certified as a school psychologist. Meyers has been practicing 20 years in Phoenix Central Schools and is CNY representative of the New York Association of School Psychologists.

She counts the reduced stigma surrounding mental healthcare as one positive outcome of the pandemic.

“Reach out if your child needs help,” she added. “These resources are available. The ongoing need for mental health staff at school is the most important it’s ever been.”

Parents may notice behavioral changes, lower grades and children withdrawing from activities they used to enjoy, social activities with peers and family activities.