Genre: Journalistic

How to Talk to Kids and Teens About the Russian War in Ukraine

What if Putin pushes the nuclear button?” Asked Jonathan, visibly concerned. He and his preteens friends from Clinton and Layton were discussing the possibility of a nuclear war or a War World III. “Nah, I think he is laying, I don’t think he has a nuclear weapon, said Andre.”

World War III or WW3 are trendy hashtags on social media platforms, especially Tik Tok. Teens continuously post and watch videos about a hypothetical third world war coming because of the Russian war in Ukraine. The videos get thousands of views and comments. Some kids appear to be frightened by the idea of a war that could destroy their world as they know it. As the percentage of kids with depression and anxiety disorders is rising, it is crucial having an honest conversation with them about the current situation. 

While the Internet can be educational and fun, it can also be harmful due to lies and false information quickly spreading. Teens and children usually believe what they see on the Internet. Therefore parents must be ready to debunk incorrect information. A tense and unnecessary situation can be created with the free and unsupervised access for children to social media. Parents and caregivers must be observant of what their children watch and listen to avoid that. 

Emily Harrison, Director for Blue Star Families of Utah, the state chapter of the military and veteran non-profit organization, explained that “There are 2 perspectives on it that need to be taken into consideration.” She stated that one of them is how civilian parents talk to their kids about war and the other one is how military and veteran families talk to their kids about it. 

Brett Benson, Marine Corps veteran Sargent from Clinton, said he has explained to his 10-year-old child the real and supposed reasons for the invasion. He wants him to have both perspectives and added that he makes it clear that he doesn’t think. “it is enough justification to go to war.” Since his child already had information gathered from the Internet and his classmates, he talked to him about the war crimes committed and explained that they are never justified. Sargent Benson added that he explained to his son why the world is aiding Ukraine, specifically the United States.

Healthy Children’s website provides valuable information to talk about that sensitive subject. It explains parents must collect the information their children already know and go from there. In addition, parents must take into account their children’s fears. 

Parents must keep the conversation as objective and unbiased as possible, allowing their children to express their opinions and feelings. Their children’s age, maturity, and emotional intelligence levels are three essential things to consider. Not all children of the same age respond the same way to the same information. Some kids are more sensitive than others. For some, it can be too much information. Children are emotional and alert to their surroundings, including parents’ talks about reasons gas is so expensive or why or why not the United States should support Ukraine amid the likelihood of a recession. These are common subjects in America’s homes. 

Jill Camp Swensen, from Bountiful and blogger at Being Spiffy and an active advocate of teens and the LGBTQ community, stated that “Discussing things like conflict and oppression aren’t easy, especially when social media is our children’s primary news source.” She added that “being open and honest about difficult topics can build trust with our children so they’ll come to us first before other outlets.” She said that parents must ask questions first to gauge what their children already know. Once they gather that information, parents can “give answers, refute falsehoods, and, most of all, provide comfort to those you care for.”

Carlos Lopez, Sergeant First Class, who served 26 years and is the father of a teenage girl, stated that parents must have a truthful conversation about the matter; however, they should avoid talking too much about the death toll.   

Ultimately, parents and caregivers should prevent their children from watching disturbing videos and images which could create trauma and reassure them that they are loved and protected. But, most importantly, parents should avoid making the situation seem bigger and scarier than it is for children in the United States.

No More Mask Mandate in Schools 

At almost two years of living through a pandemic, parents are reclaiming their right to choose over their children’s well-being. Some parents claim that as a society, we must adapt to survive. They state that the pandemic is not going away anytime soon; more and more variants are surging. They urge the cease of wearing a mask in school. The reasons behind their petition are multiple.  

In today’s society, those with a different perspective get punished. The parents who oppose the mask mandate face criticism and judgment. They are called anti-vaxxers; it has become the new “trendy insult.” An educated and mature society must come together and analyze every situation and try to understand those on the opposite side o the matter. 

The opposition to wearing masks can come as a rebellious and even selfish act. However, valid rationale ignites these parents to push the ending of face masks in schools. Small children have difficulty keeping their masks on simply because they do not comprehend the reason behind it, and it isn’t very pleasant. But, of course, children are different. Some seem to be okay. Mrs. Reese, a Kindergarten Teacher at Davis School District, shared that “she has not observed kids in my school having anxiety over wearing a mask.” She added that they are not required to wear one. 

Utah Parents United, an organization whose mission is to protect the right to parenting, advocates stopping the mask mandate in schools. Parents will find a form to fill out for mask exceptions on their site. The document does not need to get signed by a doctor. The organization informs that if children aren’t unable to wear a mask because they suffer from a medical condition, a mental health disorder, or intellectual or developmental disability, they are already absolved under the Salt Lake County health order. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety.” However, the elementary teacher, Mrs. Reese, said that the students “seemed to accept it (wearing a mask) as their new normal.” Therefore, constantly wearing a mask could not affect some children but can affect others, especially those who already suffer from anxiety. 

In addition, Utah Parents United explains the conditions, which can exempt children from wearing a mask. Among them are “mask-induced anxiety, depression, headaches, dizziness, difficulty breathing, claustrophobia, skin irritation, excessive sweating, difficulty concentrating, etc.”

Some children claim they cannot breathe freely, which gives them anxiety, resulting in not paying enough attention in classes. In addition, teenagers have expressed concern about the mask exacerbating their acne. 

The procedure is hassle-free; parents download the form, fill it out, and send a copy to the principal. 

Nevertheless, things may change due to the rapid spike of covid cases since the Omicron variant appeared. On January 18th, Utah Senate voted 22-5 to revoke Salt Lake County’s mask mandate. The Utah House of Representatives will have the final saying. 

Ultimately, forcing children and teenagers to wear masks when they present medical conditions should not be something the government gets to decide, according to parents on social media. 

Megan Ashley Strader, a mother of two, expressed, “ Facts and information throughout this pandemic have been far from consistent including the usefulness of masks. It is one thing to ask adults to wear masks, but another to force them on 3 and 4 year olds. Children should not be subjected to the psychological problems that come with masking at such young ages. We need to protect our children and preserve their childhood. If there is anything we can do that is good, during this pandemic, it is that.” 

What Can Parents Do to Help Teachers’ Mental Health During the Pandemic?

Many teachers have expressed being on edge due to pandemic stress and anxiety. Their mental health is suffering tremendously in part due to the extra work and precautions. According to Chalkbeat, a non-profit organization dedicated to covering quality in education, “27% of teachers reported symptoms of depression, compared to 10% of other adults.” 

Society tends to forget that teachers have families of their own and personal and financial struggles. Add to that the pressure of teaching during a pandemic, and the result is teachers breaking emotionally and mentally. However, parents and caregivers can alleviate that pressure by being more aware and collaborating. 

Talking to their Children 

When adults explain to children any situation in terms that are easy for them to grasp, they understand. They will comprehend that their teachers, like their moms and dads, also deal with stress and depression due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Parents can expound on that they must be on their best behavior, so their teachers can focus on teaching rather than stressing over noise, children talking over them, or interrupting their classmates. When educators are on the verge of burnout, commotion in the classroom can be detrimental to their mental health. 

Wendy Sharper, a kindergarten teacher, says that many of her students are dealing with anxiety. She advises that “parents must spend time with them and talk about what is going on in their lives.” She also states that children should take the time to play because they learn a lot through playing. Teachers wear many hats; one of them is counseling children through hard times. While teachers do not complain about it, it indeed alleviates their emotional load.

Taking an Active Role in their Kids’ Education 

Another factor contributing to educators being more stressed than in previous years is having students behind the rest of the class. Each child learns at their own pace. Children are different, and some struggle with subjects like math and reading. However, parents and caregivers can study and practice at home. Teachers spend a significant amount of time planning each lesson, which is stressful in itself. Delivering those lessons is more challenging when many students are behind. 

Sarah Saltsman, a Layton Christian Academy teacher, says that the best way to help teachers during the pandemic is “simply stop making excuses.” She adds, “If a child has fallen behind, work together with the teacher. Cultivate an environment for learning at home, as well as at school, rather than relying on the teacher to do it all.” 

For her part, Bruce Benson, an Idaho teacher, expresses that “one thing parents can do is to make sure children are doing their homework so they are up to date in class.” 

Reminding Children and Teens to Keep their Masks On 

Due to the new covid variant, Omicron, some schools require students to wear masks. Understandably, children and teens are tired of wearing one. However, it is not the teacher’s fault. They, too, get stressed out about it. Teachers have to deal with children and teens refusing to wear their masks or not wearing them correctly. Parents should remind their children to put and keep their masks on every morning. 

Teacher Yolanda Zuniga advises parents to emphasize to their children to wash their hands and cover their mouths and nose when sneezing and coughing to avoid getting other

children and teachers sick. That way, fewer kids will be missing classes, and teachers don’t have to worry about anyone getting behind. 

Mrs. Saltsman ends her comment, reminding parents and caregivers to “understand that we are human— we make mistakes, we get overwhelmed just like anyone else.”