As social workers in the field of education work to help students return to the classroom during this persistent and deadly pandemic, they are finding students more traumatized and fearful than they realized. The on-again/off-again guidance coming from the adults in the room as to whether masks are required, or vaccinations are indispensable, or social distancing could do it, or if you want to protect yourself and your family just stay home, has raised the anxiety level in students and greatly diminished their trust in their elders.
That's Not All
While working to sort through the controversy surrounding COVID measures, social workers have uncovered a pervasive traumatic environment that is affecting not only students but also their teachers, parents, administrators, and public officials. Interviewing students to learn their concerns about attending "in-person" school in the fall, or preferring to learn remotely for another semester, social workers discovered students were suffering from multiple traumas beyond COVID causing them to mistrust not only their parents and teachers but also civic authority including police and political leaders.
Social workers began to realize that students from elementary school through high school are completely aware of the existential threats our society and our planet are facing; and they are concerned.
- Global Warming - Students are more aware and accept more readily than many adults in their life the threat to humanity's survival that climate change poses. They see the water rising in Florida and California burning down while our leaders in Washington continue to debate and deny.
- Racial Injustice - They witnessed the George Floyd murder and multiple random shootings of black men by police and watched as our civic leaders continued to debate the need for police reform.
- Covid Denial - Imagine the doubt and confusion students felt watching half the country refuse vaccination after their grandparents had died out of sight in the hospital from COVID complications.
- Jan. 6, Attack on the Capital - Social workers found that the riot at the Capital on Jan. 6th caused more anxiety among teenagers than adults. Institutions and societal norms students thought were beyond question suddenly evaporated. This traumatized students to the same degree the sudden death of their parents would.
- Mass Shootings – (defined as incidents in which four or more people are shot in one location at roughly the same time.) By this definition, there were 614 mass shootings in 2020 that did not go unnoticed by young school-age people.
Do Not Sell Youth Short
Adults tend to overlook the information absorption rate of young people. Students do not miss a thing and almost instantly develop an unexamined worldview. When the adults closest to them do not take the time or cannot explain what students see happening all around them, students develop what is known as "free floating" anxiety. As more and more unexplained negative phenomena impact students' consciousness, they become suspicious and trust no one. This is the psychic condition social workers are seeing all too often as they attempt to prepare students to return to school in the fall.
Sheltering Doesn't Work
Social workers suggest that parents across the country begin an open dialogue with their children about what is going on around them. Do not believe that you can "shelter" your children from the unpleasant. Usually, they have heard about it before you and will form unexamined opinions that often lead to further conflict and anxiety. Talk openly with your children about what is happening. That will create an opportunity to offer guidance and, perhaps, relieve some fear.
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