WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A professional counselor spoke Friday on how COVID-19 has impacted children and young people over the course of the last year and the long-term impacts.
Psychotherapist Janine Phan, M.A., LPC said she has treated quite a few teenagers in the last few months who have had difficulty coping with the reduction in social interaction since the pandemic.
On the other hand, she said children ages 7 to 12 have actually handled the lockdown and remote learning better than teens.
"That age group is actually thriving more than any other group because that's a ... very tender age developmentally," Phan said.
However, she said the teenagers she speaks with are feeling really lonely, missing their friends and feeling claustrophobic.
Phan said she wants teens to know their feelings are valid, and it is OK to be really upset about the situation and focus on being kind to yourself.
"It's already hard being a teenager. Being a teenager is not easy," Phan said.
She said parents should let their children know how brave they are enduring this difficult time, and kids should be complimented for seeking therapy if they are having mental health problems.
As school districts in Palm Beach County and across Florida get ready to return to in-person learning this fall, Phan said it will be another transition that students will have to navigate.
"It's another huge change. It's not on a small scale. This quarantine lasted way longer than anyone expected. It becomes familiar," Phan said. "Even just picturing yourself being in that really social environment can be really daunting."
She urges parents to let their children be open about talking about their problems, whether it's with family members or friends.
"Everyone is dealing with the same feelings, and it's important to just really let them know that they're important, and they're heard," Phan said.
Reflecting on the impacts on younger children, the counselor said they will be able to bounce back, but it will still be a transition as the pandemic subsides.
She said parents should be cognizant of any changes in their child's conduct, which could be a red flag of a broader problem.
"If you really notice your child is acting really different or seeming to be more private and irritable, it's definitely signs of anxiety and depression," Phan said.
The counselor said she has been encouraged by the number of teenagers who are reaching out for help during these challenging times and removing the mental health stigma.