#5: Advocating for Adolescents During COVID-19 (Dr. Gail Bernstein & Rabbi Zimmerman)

Rabbi Zimmerman talks with Dr. Gail Bernstein, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, professor at the University of Minnesota, and Temple Israel congregant. The COVID-19 pandemic began a period of great psychiatric need, especially among adolescents. Dr. Bernstein and Rabbi Zimmerman discuss creative strategies for getting through this time, how parents can model healthy behavior for their children, and the silver linings that have emerged during the pandemic. This conversation is part of a double episode focused on parenting and teaching during the pandemic. For parents of young children, we recommend Temple Talks Ep. #4 between Rabbi Klein and early childhood educator Alicia Stoller. Please subscribe to Temple Talks and review the show. Comments and questions can be directed to tmoss@templeisrael.com. Talk with us!
An edited excerpt from this week’s Temple Talks follows below. 

Rabbi Zimmerman

Would you please talk about what parents can do in terms of having rituals while everyone is mostly at home, and how parents can help provide some sense of structure and support?

Dr. Bernstein

Sure, I'd be happy to. So in terms of helping the kids in adolescence during quarantine, you mentioned this, and I'm going to second it, that having a structure and a routine to their day is really important. They lost their usual routine around school, extracurricular activities, get-togethers with friends, etc. So you need to set a routine that’s predictable. This includes even some basic, like say a bedtime, a time to get up, and when to get onto the screen for distance learning. They need to know what to expect.

It's really important for these kids to get into the routine with their distance learning. I hear a lot about families that are struggling with kids who don't want to get on the screen, don't want to get up in the morning. Many aren’t doing their homework because they don’t feel they have enough understanding on what they're supposed to do. So it's important to get into the routine and to get parents helping but not over-involved.

We want to have kids have a break from the screen because we know how monotonous, tedious, and overwhelming it can be. There's technological problems that kids are struggling with. So yes, they're on for school, but then they need breaks in between to help mitigate the loneliness and the loss of regularly seeing friends in the house, the synagogue, and throughout the community.

It's important for kids to have at least sometime every day that they can be in touch with friends. That would have to be by phone, texting, or zoom, but it's really important. They need that. And then engaging in exercise and hobbies that they can do at home, things that they can do with family members, they could maybe even simultaneously do with friends.

Another key point is that it's probably a very good idea to shelter the kids from some of the monotonous ongoing news and feed about what is happening with the pandemic. It gets very repetitious and scary.  Yes, it's good that they know the reality and why they need to do what they're doing. But it's important to give them some break from that.

Rabbi Zimmerman

Love that. You talked about the fact that it's hard for kids to always understand what the assignment is because the communication between teacher and student is more difficult right now. How can parents make sure that the assignment is clear to the student, their child?

Gail Bernstein: 

I think that a parent has to be a kind of coach and support their kids with the distance learning because it can be very, very challenging and frustrating. You know the kids might not have a good connection. Some kids are really, really very shy and anxious about being on a screen and asking questions. And some are going to need probably some extra help from their parents, but also maybe need to have some scheduled one on one time with teachers. With quite a few of the patients that I work with, we've been able to get that worked out where there is a time during the day where that particular child can have some one-on-one instruction. This helps them with the ability to ask questions.

Rabbi Zimmerman

I'm not sure I would’ve thought about that as a parent—to reach out and make sure there is that one-on-one. I think that's a fabulous idea.

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