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How to help teens struggling with school in person during a pandemic


The teens have returned to school in person this year, but teachers and administrators are seeing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to haunt their students academically, socially and physically.

Between quarantine and virtual learning, high school students missed many milestones – homecoming dances, proms, lunches, cheering gatherings and all the normal everyday moments in between. .

Now that they are back to school, this wasted time manifests itself in the form of increased violence in schools, poor academic performance, cheating and mental health issues prevalent among students. While the headlines lament “Learning loss” some psychologists and administrators are more concerned about the emotional effects the pandemic has left behind.

“Time lost” during distance learning

“What we are seeing is that the behavior of the college crept up to the ninth grade”, child and adolescent psychotherapist Katie Hurley says TODAY Parents.

“Everyone worries about learning losses, but what nobody talks about are the social skills that have been lost and just the experience of growing up together,” said Hurley.

Although they were fortunate enough to be able to stay connected through social media like Snapchat, Instagram and text messages, due to distance and hybrid learning last year and the last quarter of the previous year, the high school students did not go through the developmental stages together. as they normally would, Hurley noted.

“Think about the first handshakes and the first kisses or the first crushes. It was all missed. So now there’s this catch-up and this urgency that teenagers just don’t know what to do with. They’ve really lost their ability. to communicate with empathy and to think with empathy, “she said.” So now they’re all trying to figure it out on their own, and there are a lot of hiccups. “

Dwayne Reed, a school administrator in Chicago, said he had observed similar scenarios.

“In my mind, if I was running the world, I would be doing 80 to 90% of all education right now, socio-emotional learning,” Reed told TODAY Parents. “We can get into math, science, reading, writing a bit later, but for now we need to start with the basics of kindness, conflict resolution, time management, building concern, care and compassion. “

A “huge adjustment” for adolescents

After spending an entire year learning remotely from home during the pandemic, Genevieve Rickey, 16, returned to school full-time in person in Voorhees, New Jersey.

“I feel like going back to school has been a huge adjustment,” said Geneviève TODAY.

After a year of waking up and turning on her iPad for school and ending her days at noon, Genevieve has gone on waking up at 6:30 a.m. and taking a car or bus ride to and from the city. school before going to dance practice every night, five days a week. The long days “definitely take their toll on the mental health of not only me, but my classmates, I’ve noticed,” she said.

Geneviève said it has become more difficult to concentrate at school. Last year, she noted, teachers were only teaching 20 minutes at a time. Going back to a full day of school made it harder for her to maintain her attention, and at the end of the day she feels like she has been “hit by a bus,” she said. .

“It’s just like the last two years of school is almost like a fake school,” she said. “We were kept saying ‘Oh, this year won’t matter that much’ because everyone knew it was a tough year. Now that we’re back in person it’s like ‘No, it’s a normal year ‘. and the pressure is back, and it’s just a lot harder than before. “

The pressure of university applications adds to the stress

For members of the Class of 2022, the return to school coincided with the start of their college applications, adding another layer of stress and anxiety to an already busy time.

Class of 2022 Andrew Dixon said applying to colleges was more stressful for him because he hadn’t been able to visit them all in person.Courtesy of Andrew Dixon

“The failure of my school’s virtual setup – due to the lack of internet access in rural America – really prevented virtual students from learning last year,” said Andrew Dixon, a high school student from Fayetteville, Tennessee. “If you were quarantined or concerned about COVID, you had to choose between your safety and your education. “

Andrew said the challenges of virtual learning have made it difficult for him and some of his friends to continue and pass their classes this year. “I think these struggles over COVID made my friends question the careers they dreamed of,” he said.

The college search process also felt profoundly different. “I’ve been fortunate enough to do tours,” said Andrew, “but a lot of those tours were during COVID. Some colleges gave me a map and told me to just walk around. have that lingering feeling of “Did I make the right choice? ‘”

Parents: listen more, fix less

As high school students navigate this post-quarantine world, how can parents best support them? Resist the instinct to save them, said Hurley.

Parents can see their children struggle, feel a sense of urgency and “go into problem solving mode very quickly”, coach and criticize them.

“What teens keep telling me is, ‘I just need someone to listen to me,’” Hurley said. “We need to spend more time listening to them, sympathizing with them, and then trying to help them figure things out.”

Hurley suggested helping the kids find ways to connect socially with friends outside of school. “Ask them, ‘How do we make this happen? What can I do to make it easier for you? “”

When talking to teens, ask questions from a place of curiosity instead of interviewing them or gathering information from them about their grades or doing in school, advised Hurley.

“I can definitely see that a parent’s instinct is to try to find a solution and try to solve a problem,” said Genevieve, who said she yelled at her mother when she upset her. about something like a math test result and her mom goes into action mode, ready to field a tutor and some extra help.

16-year-old Genevieve Rickey and her younger brother Andrew are attending their freshman year of high school in person in Voorhees, New Jersey this year. Courtesy of Stéphanie Rickey

“It’s not what I need,” said Geneviève. “I’m doing everything I can. I just need her to be there for me and tell me that everything will be fine. Backslid as it sounds, sometimes solving problems makes things worse and gives the hell away. feel like my parents think I can’t fix it on my own I know how to fix my problems, for the most part. I don’t need her to tell me. Just be there for me.

Changes in post-pandemic parenthood

Parents can’t fix it, but they can recognize that post-pandemic parenthood may look different. This fall, Genevieve skipped her high school prom – and a day and a half of school – to attend a Harry Styles concert. Before COVID, her mother Stephanie Rickey said, she would never have let her daughter miss school for a concert. But his priorities have changed now.

“My eldest son’s junior year was all about AP classes, SATs, looking for college. But now with Gen, if she wants to skip school to go to a concert she doesn’t couldn’t have seen in the last year and a half and that makes her happy, that’s fine with me, ”Rickey said. “It’s a different mindset than I had with my oldest son because of the pandemic and what we’ve all been through.”

Parents may also recognize that teens need time off alone or, conversely, more time to socialize. “Some of them are just tired, really exhausted. They need some recovery time,” said Hurley. She advised parents to ask their children what they need at the end of the day: being around friends or being at home? Genevieve, for example, said her way of dealing with the stress and overload of the school day is often to crawl into bed and take a three-hour nap when she gets home.

Be aware that during the pandemic and the quarantine, Hurley noted, many friendships among teens may have changed. “Some of them feel like their friends are just not on the same page anymore,” she said. “It can be very difficult because they’re all in really different places right now.”

Chicago school educator and administrator Dwayne Reed said after so much time apart, students need to relearn how to connect as humans. “They yearn for relationships.”Courtesy of Dwayne Reed

“I think the best thing parents can do is talk to their kids – I mean, literally talk to them and have conversations,” Reed said. “They yearn for relationships. Relationship education is what is going to be our saving grace.”

“We can’t fix everything they’ve been through,” Hurley added. “We just can’t. There is no way out of this overnight. Mental health people have been saying since the minute the pandemic hit that this was going to be the game. more difficult for children. “

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Tags : high schoolreading writing
Margarita W. Wilson

The author Margarita W. Wilson