HOUSTON – Uncertainty has been just about the only certain thing during the coronavirus pandemic, and that’s not been more evident than in the effort to get kids back to school.
Without a vaccine and the coronavirus still spreading, parents have had a lot of questions about whether they should keep their children at home or allow them to head back to the classroom. What are the mental health impacts of those decisions?
Wednesday night a panel of psychology, education, medical and political experts came together to help answer some of those questions.
Meet our panelist
- Dr. Teriya Richmond – Medical Doctor
- Dr. Linda Yancey – Infectious Disease Specialist, Memorial Hermann
- Dr. Richelle Whittaker – Psychologist
- KP George – Fort Bend County Judge
- Juliet Stipeche - Director of Education, City of Houston
- Ebony Griffin - Parent, Healthcare IT
Here’s a look at some of the topics that were discussed during the Ask 2 Live event.
Socializing at school
Whittaker said while school is usually a good place for children to learn social skills, socializing is very different now than before the pandemic.
“We need to be more concerned about mental health,” Whittaker said.
Yancey said kids are much more used to interacting with screens and they are becoming more comfortable with relating to each other in a more tech-savvy fashion.
Things seem to change day to day, and communication between parents and school district leaders is becoming more important.
Fort Bend County Judge K.P. George said that while school leaders are doing their best to keep parents informed, it is important that there is two-way communication. He said parents should reach out to their principals and teachers to ensure they can make informed decisions.
Griffin said that while technology is vital to the process, it shouldn’t be a substitute for genuine communication.
Whittaker said parents should pay attention to their child’s behavior. She said that if they appear disengaged, unmotivated or acting out, parents should take those as warning signs.
Richmond said parents should also talk with their child’s teacher to see what they have seen during classes to help evaluate if their child needs help.
Ask teens to be role models
Yancey said now is the time to enlist your teenage children to help model appropriate hygiene and behavior for your younger children.
Stipeche said positive reinforcement for the younger children is an excellent way to encourage them to observe the best practices to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
Challenges of online, in-person classes
Ebony Griffin said that while there are lots of challenges with getting children back to learning, there are a lot of ways to help them overcome those challenges. She said her children have actually enjoyed virtual learning because it allows them to work at their own pace and feel confident when it comes time for a larger class discussion.
Protecting mental health
Stipeche said there are a lot of organizations that are working with school leaders and other officials to help handle any mental health situations that might arise. She said parents should not be afraid to ask schools about the resources that are available to them.
Bullying and abuse
Schools are sometimes a sanctuary for some children who are abused at home. For others, it’s the scene of bullying.
Whittaker said parents should take more notice of what is happening on your child’s device because cyberbullying could become a bigger problem in a virtual setting. She also suggested that teachers can also help recognize abuse at the child’s home by checking in with their students one-on-one.
Stipeche said school faculty and staff have served as a critical resource to protecting children from abuse, and that, right now, those children may not have an advocate that can recognize the signs of abuse. She said it is important that students use cameras when they’re in a virtual classroom so that teachers can see what is going on with the child.
Opening up about mental health issues
Whittaker encouraged parents to engage their children in activities that usually help them open up about what’s going on in their lives and keeps them from feeling attacked.
“Let the conversation happen naturally,” Whittaker said.
Whittaker also said that therapy is a trending topic on social media lately, and teens are becoming a bit more comfortable with the idea of speaking to someone.
Richmond urged parents to not discount the power of social media. She said parents can use topics and people that are popular online to get the conversation with their child started.
“Meet them where they are,” Richmond said.
Griffin said it is also useful to use a situation involving a friend or peer to ask their children how they would handle that scenario.
Stipeche said parents can also empower their teens to be part of the solution. She said teens might be able to teach things like breathing techniques and meditation to their parents.
Children left behind
Not all students have access to the technology and internet needed to attend virtual class.
Stipeche said digital inequity has existed long before COVID-19, but the pandemic has highlighted that inequity. She said internet was considered a luxury before, now it’s a necessity. She said many school districts are offering hot spots, laptops and wi-fi zones to help bridge that divide.
The challenges are real, but the bottom line of the conversation is that parents should be engaged in their child’s virtual learning and mental health. The panel of experts agreed that parents should not be afraid to ask schools for support if they need it. They also said it is important for two-way communication between parents and schools, which allows parents and teachers to work together to ensure their child’s success.
Here are some resources that were provided during the Ask 2 Live event.
- Texas Abuse Hotline: 800-252-5400.
- Texas Youth Hotline: 800-989-6884 or text 512-872-5777.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233).
- Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453).
- Texas Poison Center Network: 800-222-1222.
- Texas Baby Moses Hotline: 877-904-SAVE (877-904-7283).
- Texas Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).
- Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities: https://www.houstontx.gov/disabilities/ or 832-394-0814.
- LGBT National Help Center Youth Peer Support: 800-246-7743
- Alcoholics Anonymous: 212-870-3400.
- Alanon and Alateen: 888-4AL-ANON (888-425-2666).
- Narcotics Anonymous: 818-773-9999.
- Texas Substance Abuse Hotline: 877-9-NO-DRUG (877-966-3784).
- Texas Suicide Prevention: 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).
- Harris County’s COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line: 833-251-7544, available 24/7.