NJ psychologist: Why the return to normal can be tough for kids
Plenty of statistics show us that the COVID-19 health crisis has taken quite a toll on the mental health of children in New Jersey and nationwide.
But experts say that getting back into the pre-pandemic groove, with the return of regular happenings such as school, camp and gatherings, won't be easy for certain kids either.
The pandemic threw off routines that kids had known for years. Now what they've come to know for the past several months is shifting all over again as more places and activities welcome people back, and there are fewer restrictions related to gatherings.
"I think what's likely to be the case is that a certain cross section of kids will particularly be vulnerable, and those are the kids who may have already had predispositions to having mental health issues, emotional challenges, social challenges," said Dr. JD Friedman, a psychologist with New Jersey-based Baker Street Behavioral Health.
With any kind of adjustment, Friedman noted, there's related stress and uncertainty. But this sort of adjustment forces folks to tackle "something brand new" — even the adults in the family may not have the best guidance for their kids, or are dealing with their own stresses related to the return to normalcy.
New Jersey families have had the option to keep their kids home for remote learning since schools were given the green light to open their doors for in-person instruction. It's expected that most children won't have that option in September 2021.
"They will have some issues, particularly if there's mask-wearing. I think there's going to be some kids that really struggle with that," Friedman said.
Gov. Phil Murphy has indicated that students are expected to wear face coverings when the new academic year begins in September. He more recently noted there's a "chance" that the mandate won't still be in place in the fall — that'll likely depend on the progress with vaccines among minors.
During his regular coronavirus briefing on Monday, Murphy announced that kids and staff will not be required to wear masks at outdoor summer camps this year.
In a 2021 poll by the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, 46% of parents across the country said their teenagers' mental health worsened during the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the proportion of emergency-room visits for mental health reasons rose 31% last year among individuals aged 12 to 17.
As children inch back towards pre-pandemic life, Friedman added, just the added energy of doing things face-to-face can requires some adjusting. Certain kids may also have challenges being "optimistic about the future," or wondering if the pandemic will bring life to a halt once again sometime soon.
"Now they have a new awareness of real serious things that can happen in life," he said.