Dr. Normal Blumenthal Speaks to Los Angeles Teachers about Childhood Anxiety
The Los Angeles Teacher Center of Torah Umesorah presented a workshop for teachers on the subject of Childhood Anxiety: A Rising Concern for Educators Today, hosted by Yavneh Hebrew Academy. The speaker, Dr. Normal Blumenthal, a clinical psychologist and Director of Trauma, Bereavement, and Crisis Intervention at OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services, spoke about the increasing rate of anxiety in today’s children. According to statistics, anxiety is the third most common mental illness among children, affecting one in eight children.
Dr. Blumenthal discussed the causes of childhood anxiety, emphasizing that it is often not the parents’ fault and that it is crucial for the teachers to work together with the parents to help the child. He listed common symptoms of anxiety, pointing out that it often doesn’t look like what people associate with anxiety.
“Teaching has changed radically, reflective of broader change in children today,” said Dr. Blumenthal. It is important for teachers today to be aware of mental health issues and take them into consideration when planning and conducting classes. Dr. Blumenthal spoke about what is developmentally appropriate for each age group. Some anxiety is normal and necessary, but excessive anxiety needs clinical intervention. Dr. Blumenthal touched upon how a teacher could go about informing the parents when a clinical diagnosis is suspected.
While teachers cannot diagnose or treat their students’ anxiety on their own, they can implement certain classroom interventions that reduce the students’ level of anxiety. Dr. Blumenthal recommended incorporating outlets and soothing activities, such as slow breathing, tempered exercise, visualizations, and meditative activities. He also spoke about unstructured time, which might trigger anxiety in some children, and mentioned reduction or elimination of homework as a potential intervention.
Can anxiety be cured? Dr. Blumenthal said that mental health professionals are not necessarily curing anxiety, but they are helping people live with anxiety. Sometimes that involves therapy, and other times medication is also necessary. “Medication is not a cop out,” said Dr. Blumenthal. “Skillfully applied medication reduces anxiety enough for therapy to work.”
“Are we [in this generation] just weaker?” asked Dr. Blumenthal. His answer was Yes. The world gets easier to navigate with each generation, and we are less able to tolerate discomfort and anxiety. In addition, the role of parents is changing in society. Parents have less influence on their children than ever before, and the children are exposed to scary news items on their own, without their parents to filter it for them. Bullying is on the rise, and social media makes bullying easier. Social media also increases pressure on children to measure up to their peers.
Our children will live in a very different world than the world we are used to, “an individually tailored world,” said Dr. Blumenthal. We need a paradigm shift in preparing our children for the world of the future.