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ETHS helping families cope with COVID stress

Members of the school's mental health team offered advice during an online session Wednesday evening.

PTSD. It’s something we usually associate with soldiers, recalling the horrors of war. But post-traumatic stress disorder can also impact students who feel overwhelmed by the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new world of e-learning, and turmoil over police shootings of Black men on top of all that.

Wednesday evening, a school psychiatrist and a school social worker at Evanston Township High School offered tips to families on how to support their students during COVID-19. Christy Lambropoulous, psychologist for the Class of 2024, and Lisa Roncone, social worker for the Class of 2021, outlined coping skills and answered questions in a virtual meeting.

And virtual meetings, or at least virtual school, can be an emotional problem by itself. One parent watching asked about “zoom anxiety.” While teenagers spent much of their time on the screen, in the past that’s been for fun or for socializing. Now, it’s for school. And not everybody is good at it.

One bit of advice … have students take screen time breaks, to avoid burnout from technology. Tell kids the truth about COVID, but don’t overdo it. Limit access to the news or to the internet, to give youngsters time away from reminders of the outbreak.

Of course, it’s not easy to get a high school student away from a cell phone or laptop. But the upside of doing it may be worth the challenge of trying.

Watch for warning signs, the two mental health experts said, such as regression academically or personally, nightmares or trouble sleeping, and constant worrying about the future.

ETHS has help for students experiencing emotional issues. Each grade has its own mental health team, involving a counselor, psychologist, and social worker. There are also numerous online resources which parents or students can check.

Other suggestions: avoid language which blames others for the origin or spread of the virus. And maintain constant routines. Keep things consistent. If you as a parent remain calm, your kids will notice.

ETHS wants parents, teachers, and students to follow a plan called ACT — Acknowledge, Care, and Tell — when problems become apparent. Acknowledge the warning signs. Care for the student. Tell a trusted adult who can help.

One questioner asked what many parents and students are wondering. How does ETHS weigh the emotional health risks of not having in-person school with the physical risks of having classes in the building during a pandemic?

The counselors said those decisions are made by administrators, Roncone said, “who are keenly aware that this is an extremely difficult decision whether to stay remote or in person.” Right now, the call is for remote.

We are certainly in unprecedented times. But as one of the segments in the presentation stated: “Children who live in a stable home and are shown unconditional love can overcome almost anything.”

The difficulty now may be simply maintaining that stability.

keywords » COVID-19

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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