Expert explains mental health impact of mask debate on kids and how to handle it
by Adrianna Hopkins
Monday, January 24th 2022
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Kids wearing masks at school. (7News/File)
ARLINGTON, Va. (7News) — Starting Monday, per Governor Glenn Youngkin’s orders, masks in Virginia schools are optional.
It’s a tense discussion between adults, and it might spill over into the classroom amongst kids.
7News’ Adrianna Hopkins spoke with a mental health professional who has tips for parents about how to handle this.
RELATED | 'Mask off Monday': Some Va. parents to send maskless kids to school per governor's order
Dr. Warren Ng, President of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, says kids are already struggling in this pandemic with mental health issues, and the last thing they need is to feel bad about masks at school.
The rates of anxiety, depression and isolation have skyrocketed in young children.
One-in-five children and adolescents have behavioral, emotional or mental health issues and less than a fifth are receiving any services. About 50% of adult mental health conditions start before the age of 14. Meaning, the key to addressing mental health issues when you’re older, is to diagnose them when you’re young. That’s hard to do when providers are limited and mental health is cloaked in shame.
Ng says it takes a collaboration of caregivers, families, teachers, coaches, counselor, faith-based communities and mental health providers to demystify stigma and work with kids, especially kids of color.
“Any mental health professional, and anyone who cares about mental health, needs to represent the communities they’re serving," Ng said. "That means creating pipelines and pathways and entry points to support more diverse people providing the help. It means embracing and engaging the discussion of how we are not being inclusive and respectful when we’re talking about these issues.”
Pre-pandemic you may not have been on a waitlist to see a mental health provider. Amid the pandemic, they’re now in short supply, as many people are struggling to cope.
Ng says parents can bridge the gap until an appointment to see a mental health professional becomes available. He says first, check in with yourself. Then check the environment at home. Next, research mental health issues, signs and symptoms. Lastly, watch your language when checking in with your kids.
“Be open to being curious and be open to maybe things aren’t going well. You don’t ask the question, ‘you’re doing ok, right?’ As opposed to, ‘I’ve noticed things haven’t been the same, can you tell me what’s going on?’” Ng explained. “Ask an open ended question so you don’t get the ‘yes, no, ok, fine,’ response. "
He also says this isn’t a one-time conversation. He says kids may shut you down, but you have to keep pressing them ... nicely.
SEE ALSO | Study: Children's behavior worse during virtual learning
“What’s really important to convey to kids is – a lot of people are confused, don’t understand, don’t have the information you might have,” Ng said. “I usually bring it up to examples that might be meaningful to kids – like seatbelts or wearing a helmet when riding a bicycle. What they’re doing is taking care of themselves.”
He also shared the following tips:
Fairfax school board members consider new security measures, approve employee pay increase
by Jay Korff (7News)
Thursday, May 26th 2022
Fairfax County Board of Education chair Stella Pekarasky didn’t mince words, starting Thursday’s meeting with a powerful statement of collective anger and grief in the wake of a gunman murdering 21 people, including 19 children, inside a Texas school earlier this week.
FAIRFAX, Va. (7News) — Fairfax County Board of Education chair Stella Pekarasky didn’t mince words, starting Thursday’s meeting with a powerful statement of collective anger and grief in the wake of a gunman murdering 21 people, including 19 children, inside a Texas school earlier this week.
"The safety of our schools and the children and staff within them in the highest priority," she said. "We will continue to assess our protocols to ensure the safest learning and working environment possible.”
The board also announced that June 3 will be National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
"Firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States," Board member Laura Jane Cohen said.
RELATED: 19 students, 2 adults dead after shooting at Texas elementary school, authorities say
On that day, wearing orange will support the elimination of gun violence. Heather Foglio joined Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America after Sandy Hook, lobbying for sensible gun laws.
"This week for our movement, for our volunteers, for our survivors, for Sandy Hook community, has been devastating," Foglio said. “They need to change the laws. Thoughts and prayers are not working.”
READ MORE: Fairfax County students may be suspended for 'malicious misgendering' under proposed plan
While she believes Fairfax County officials do an outstanding job protecting students and staff from gun violence, she firmly believes this issue is a public health crisis.
“Universal background checks, a background check on every gun sold. That’s a no brainer. Almost 90% of Americans, regardless of party, agree with that.”
The school board also voted to approve next year's budget, which includes a 4% across-the-board pay increase for all employees.




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