When kids return to school in September for in-person learning, the return to a new brand of “normal” may come as a relief to some, but experts at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center anticipate that this transition may be challenging and anxiety-provoking. The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is a comprehensive, integrated health center that provides a broad suite of services to NYC’s youth—all at no cost to patients, regardless of insurance or immigration status.

Rachel Colon, LCSW, social worker at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, who treats up to 25-30 kids ages 10-26 in a given week, says that her caseload has nearly doubled as adolescents seek help for anxiety and depression. “Kids are feeling a great deal of anxiety about returning to school. They don’t know what they’re stepping into, who their friends are, and they’re nervous about the lack of predictability in the school environment that has always been safe, routine,” says Colon.

“Many kids are telling me they don’t have a friend group anymore, that they feel like they don’t belong. They don’t know how their classmates will look. With the potential requirement of masks, this will likely compound social anxiety because it’s hard to read expressions when a person is masked. Are they happy, sad, are they smiling at me? Though masks are a crucial safety tool right now, kids really need these cues to maintain social relationships.”

Parents can take several steps to ease the transition to in-person learning, says Colon:

––Have lots of conversations with your kids; keep the lines of communication open

––Parents can empathize with their children; let them know they are not alone if they feel anxious

––Reach out to the child’s school to ask what steps are being taken to familiarize students with their surroundings

––Look for signs of withdrawal, isolation, stomach aches, headaches, irritability. These can be signs of depression and/or anxiety

––If your child is headed to a new campus, or stepping up from middle school to high school, offer to take a walk to school before the first day of school.

For more info, visit www.teenhealthcare.org.