For most of us, “Summer” conjures up a warm nostalgic feeling accompanied by good memories. As youngsters, we couldn´t wait until summertime arrived. It was the countdown to summer that kept most of us going, enduring the sometimes difficult and mundane times. Unfortunately for some, the long and unstructured days of summer are not as pleasant. When school is in session they can pretend they are too occupied to socialize. Summertime takes that away. For others, the school schedule provides some structure. Having to keep up with your classes provides a break from the relentless thoughts about everything uncertain. Summertime takes that away too.
A little after Pesach, Chava was referred by her school to a therapist. They suspected Chava was cutting herself. Chava’s Navi teacher had noticed a small cut near on her forearm. When confronted by the school psychologist, Chava’s response was, she had gotten a paper cut the day before while doing homework with her siblings.
Chava a 9th grader was the eldest of 7, a smart girl who had always kept up with her academics. At home, she was her mother´s right hand making sure the house was in order. She would often prepare and serve dinner, make sure her siblings did their homework and put the younger ones to bed.
While Chava was completing 8th grade, her parents recognizing that between her school work and helping at home Chava did not have a social life. They decided they would enroll her into a sleepaway camp in the Catskills for the summer. Chava’s parents chose a camp they knew many of the girls going to the same high school as Chava, would be at. Her parents felt this would provide Chava with some the opportunity to make some friends and that friendship would continue into high school.
After a few sessions with her therapist, it became clear that Chava was suffering from an anxiety disorder. Her camp experience had brought it out to the surface. Chava had always felt awkward among strangers. She made sure to keep busy at home as a coping mechanism. Going to camp took that away. Afraid to socialize, Chava kept to herself however, it wasn’t too long before her “camp friends” picked up on her fears and began taunting her.
In the past, the routine of a school day and the assistance she provided at home, kept her anxieties from being noticeable. Her camp experience took that away. What should have been an opportunity for healthy developmental growth instead became the impetus for an ongoing emotional horror. These so-called friends managed to infect the rest of her classmates who then used every opportunity to exploit Chava’s fears.
As we begin to enjoy the summertime we need to be aware that it may be a difficult period for those suffering from anxiety disorders. For those who have already been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, their therapist will hopefully help them prepare for this time. For those who haven´t this can be a trying time. Where possible we need to be sensitive to a child having a difficult time even though it may seem that during the rest of the year they were doing fine. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, summer is prime time for latent anxieties to come to fore.
Unfortunately, until a child presents with a full-blown episode their anxiety disorder is mostly ignored. The National Institute of Mental Health claims that anxiety affects close to one-fifth of all teens and because its’ manifestation isn’t consistent, it often gets overlooked. Philip Kendall, director of the Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Temple University in Philadelphia explains we all have anxieties and because of its’ ubiquity it is easily dismissed and unnoticed. Regardless of why anxiety disorders are not taken seriously, for the child suffering from it, it can be debilitating.
Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University found that privileged youths are among the most emotionally distressed young people in America. Comparing their ability to deal with distress with adolescents from less fortunate homes, she found that children from affluent families are incredibly anxious, perfectionistic and have little resilience. Children who have never faced any real difficulty are not prepared for life outside their protective bubble. For a number of them, summertime is the first time out of their home, leaving them to fend for themselves and they can not!
In yet another study, Madeline Levine, a founder of Challenge Success, a Stanford University affiliated nonprofit that works on school reform and student well-being found a significant change in what may be a contributor to the rise in anxiety disorders among adolescents. She found that in the past adolescents complained about the need for less pressure from their parents. However, now the teens themselves are creating their own internal pressure that feeds on itself. As a result, she explains anxiety which may begin as natural and healthy, can easily feed on itself to the point where it becomes a disorder.
Summertime can also be a good time to teach our children to be more resilient. It is a time when our children can learn some independence even if it means making some mistakes. We are still close enough to be there for the rebound. For the child that is apprehensive about the summer, discuss their hesitation with them and let them know you are there for them. As we all begin to enjoy the summertime we need to be aware that it may be a difficult period for those suffering from anxiety disorders. For those who have already been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and are receiving professional services, their therapist will hopefully help them prepare for this time. However, for those individuals who haven´t been professionally diagnosed, this can be a trying time. For the child who is apprehensive about the summer, discuss their hesitation with them and let them know that you are there for them. If you are sending your child to camp and especially to a sleep-away camp, make sure you are in touch regularly with someone at the camp who can alert you if there is a change in your child´s behavior or demeanor. We can’t assume that just because our child handled the rest of the year well that during the summer too.
At Madraigos, the number of referrals involving children, teens and young adults with anxiety disorders has become significant. As part of our prevention program, we support the community with presentations, workshops for teacher, parents, and adolescents. For more information, please contact Rabbi Dr. Dovid Felt, Director of School-Based Services, at 516-371- 3250 ext 111 or firstname.lastname@example.org