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For Whom The School Bell Tolls

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Photo of a school bus by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Yes, that would be you, children. Some kids have little more than a week before the first day of school. They’re scrambling to complete summer work packets (at their parents’ nagging) while parents double-check long school-supply lists. By now, families should be setting earlier bedtimes so everyone can be out the door on time come Day 1.

Children’s mantra may be “I don’t want to go back to school!” but most will transition smoothly to their new grade and new teachers. While first-day jitters are common, parents and other caregivers need to pay attention to ensure that what their child is experiencing isn’t something more serious.

To detect a problem, parents must regularly gauge how their children are feeling, and in what areas they may be struggling, said NewBridge Services Director of Community Response and Education Mary Vineis. This is particularly important for parents of preteens and teenagers. That’s the age substance abuse problems can begin, as kids experiment with vaping, drinking alcohol, and taking other drugs. By age 14, half of all chronic mental illness begins.

“Parents and other adults who interact with young people need to be aware of signs of mental illness or substance abuse, and to know how to reach out and offer help,” Vineis said. Here are five signs that indicate a teenager are in distress, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health:

  1. They stop showing interest in activities they enjoyed, and don’t adopt new interests and hobbies.
  2. Their academic performance slips, especially in a subject they enjoyed.
  3. They don’t want to talk about their future.
  4. They withdraw from friends, family and social activity and become socially isolated.
  5. They suddenly eat a lot more or a lot less than they had been eating, or they completely avoid eating meals in front of others.

NewBridge Services offers Youth Mental Health First Aid training to teach adults who interact with kids ages 12 to 18 signs and symptoms of mental illness and addiction and how to reach help children. The eight-hour, evidence-based training teaches a five-step action plan. Anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including ADHD), and eating disorders are among the topics covered.

Mental illness affects an estimated one in five adolescents, yet less than half of preteens and teens with disorders get treatment, Vineis said.

For lots of kids, the back-to-school jitters are just that and those feelings of unease will quickly subside. Here are tips to smooth the transition to the new school year:

  • Begin back-to-school routines at home, getting to bed and waking earlier.
  • Get your child together with a classmate or two so they reconnect. 
  • Rehearse school drop-off. Check out their new classroom.
  • Talk to your children about bullying and what to do if they experience or witness it.
  • Teach your kids about staying safe online.
  • Let your child know it’s normal to be a little nervous when starting something new.

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