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Adults are grappling with helping young people in aftermath of the election

HACKENSACK, N.J. >> At dinner tables, in classrooms and in counseling offices, adults are grappling with how to help young people work through their anxieties and emotions in the aftermath of the divisive presidential election.

In colleges, students lined up for counseling sessions and sought out peers for support at meetings and at rallies. In lower grades, teachers fielded questions about what Donald Trump’s win could mean for students and stressed the importance of the democratic process. And at home, parents reassured children that they would be safe.

For young people, anxiety may be tied to deportation fears, tensions with peers over the election and disappointment over the failed prospect of the first female president, among other concerns. Experts say it’s critical for adults to talk it out, help them to feel safe and remind them to engage with others in a respectful and tolerant way.

In one Teaneck high school classroom, social studies teacher Margot Mack said students of all political leanings seemed shocked over the results, since polling had shown Hillary Clinton as the likely winner.

“My lesson plans for the day were held and that’s all we talked about,” she said. “They wanted to. It was really like a soul-searching session. They wanted answers and they wanted clarity.”

Some students were upset with the results, while others were confused about the role of the Electoral College. They listened to each other and channeled their emotions into research and learning, as they pulled up data and maps showing how people voted.

“You have to be positive,” Mack said. She asked the students, “What will you do? If you’re happy, how will you sustain this result? If you’re not happy, how will you change it?”

With tensions running high, there were reports in some schools across the country of election-related taunts and harassment. Yasmeen Al Shehab, said her 13-year-old daughter left school early Wednesday because she was comfortable after being taunted by a classmate after Trump’s win, in what she felt was a jab about her Muslim faith.

Officials at the Teaneck middle school dealt with it promptly, she said, but her daughter remained upset on what had already been a trying day for her three children, who feared they’d be singled for scrutiny in a Trump administration.

“They feel they can’t look to their commander in chief to protect them. Instead of saying Islam is a peaceful religion, he’s saying ban Muslims. They’re kids. It’s hard for them,” she said.

She encouraged her children to stand up for themselves and to report any problems, even as she worried privately about escalating anti-Muslim sentiment.

“We are relying heavily on our faith to have our discussions with our kids,” she said. “We ourselves are grappling. We don’t know what’s gong to happen.”

Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, professor of education, psychology and linguistics at the University of Delaware, said parents should reassure young people that they are protected and model behavior that is calm and respectful.

“Kids are worried, especially kids of color and children whose families originate elsewhere. We need to tell them there is a place for them here, that they belong here and that no one going to kick them out,” she said.

The fear may be real for families with members who are undocumented immigrants, but parents shouldn’t project fear because kids will feel it too. “If we go around talking like the end is nigh, they’ll pick up on that. Children will detect our concerns,” she said.

Anice Thomas, director of the campus counseling center at Rutgers-Newark, said the calls started coming in beginning at 7:30 a.m. on the day after the election.

“Some students were in shock, in tears,” said Thomas. “They were not sure how to make sense of it.”

For some in a generation that came of age in what they saw as a hopeful era of gay rights and racial inclusiveness, Trump’s ascendancy felt like a harsh — and depressing, lesson.

“I spent the first 48 hours after the election crying and sleeping,” said 18-year old Ahan Sikri, a student at the university, which has been anointed the most racially and ethnically diverse campus in the nation by Forbes.

Indeed ethnic minorities said they felt targeted and fearful.

“I’m scared,” said Zarinah Raheem. “It’s not easy for people who look like me: I’m a woman, I’m black and I’m a Muslim,” said Raheem, who wears a traditional head covering.

Thomas said it was important for people to talk about their feelings in community, and that’s just what Sikri and Raheem did during a session Thursday afternoon that drew more than 100 students at the student center in Newark’s Central Ward.

At Ramapo College, in the leafy suburbs of Bergen County, President Peter Mercer encouraged students to stay true to American values.

“For those of you who may feel anxious, discouraged, or even dispassionate about the societal impact of this election cycle, I encourage you to reject the false comfort of isolation and instead to engage with your peers, colleagues, faculty, and staff in ways that promote mutual understanding and respect,” Mercer wrote in an email to students. “We all, always, have something to learn and something to share.”

Christopher Cannon, an African-American student from Hackensack, said students came together for nearly three hours at the black student union on Thursday to discuss their fears of “stepping back into the 1960s.”

Ramapo, like other campuses around the country, has been working to address issues surrounding sexual aggression, and the election of a man caught on tape bragging about grabbing woman was jarring.

“Students are concerned, men and women alike,” said Nicole Morgan Agard, equity and diversity officer at Ramapo.

Stephen Brock, past president of the National Association of School Psychologists, said the impact of this election was so emotional because of the divisive language during campaigns and the 24-7 coverage of the election.

He said it was disturbing for young people to hear candidates talk about people as terrorists or about mass deportations, especially when they don’t fully understand what is happening.

School psychologists need to remain politically neutral when dealing with students and listen to them, he said.

“We need to answer their questions with facts, to be calm and let them know we are willing to talk. Don’t be perceived as judgmental or biased one way or another,” said Brock, a professor and school psychology program coordinator at California State University in Sacramento.

Parents, teachers and caregivers need to watch how they talk and act around children.

“For any event that is potentially frightening, young children in particular are going to be looking to adults to see how they’re behaving. If they see adults crying, upset and disturbed, they’ll take their cues and likewise become anxious and disturbed.

For parents, safety assurances are key: “Let them know that adults are there to protect and take care of them,” he said.

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    • Bingo and that’s not even statng their selfish ways. The Election is over, it is what it is, it’s reality that one has to deal with. Safe zones on supports these baby college students, you gotta them ready for the real world where it’s dog eat dog.

    • IRT Allaha, fully agree with your post. I will like to add that with the mainstream media, include the liberal democrats and their political advertising.

    • Kids with anxiety and worry about the election? Absolute nonsense. It’s their parents and teachers and media who have gotten all upset, and the kids simply picked that up. It’s the parents, teachers and media who have lost their “safe places” and need their blankie. The kids will be fine. Give the adults 2 prozac and call their psychiatrist in the morning.

    • Kids with anxiety and worry about the election? Absolute nonsense. It’s their parents and teachers and media who have gotten all upset, and the kids simply picked that up. It’s the parents, teachers and media who have lost their “safe places” and need their blankie. The kids will be fine. Give the adults 2 sedatives and call their psychiatrist in the morning.

    • What a generation that we have raised…??, “Entitled to everything you want and if you donʻt get your way cry, sob throw a temper tantrum”. The young men of today has got to stop cross-dressing and take off your panties and put on real mens clothes.

  • the kids are fine about the election. it’s not like they are dying. they will survive the election.

    it’s their exposure to bankrupt leftist morals that they need protection from.

  • You’d think all things created by human beings are bound to get better and better with time. I wonder how these young people compare with the generation that grew up during the Great Depression and sent its young men to storm the beaches at Normandy in 1944?

  • Just yesterday, my daughter (previously a Bernie supporter before the DNC toasted him) came down “upset” because one of her friends is upset at her for not going down the current rabbit hole, via protest march/assembly. Her friend was mad at her for not protesting the election of a “rapist”. My daughter told her “I’m not familiar with that particular conviction”. HER friend agreed but said he’s being accused for the act of rape. My daughter said “If everyone who ran for office bowed out because of accusations, we’d have no politicians at all. The election is done.”

    She went on further to tell her friend that she (my daughter) is a left leaner, the left through actions and accusation have added a whole new extension to the scale of being left and that she was not going to walk FURTHER left along with it.

    ANYWAY, I had come across this one piece and I sent it to my daughter as it seemed to echo what she was saying. She THANKED me for it and said…”THAT”S what I’ve been trying to tell my friend…THANK you!”

    Here it is…

  • what a bunch of nothing! Time for these young adults to become adults. Your Team doesn’t always win and not everyone is your friend on Facebook! Get over it and get a life!

  • Talk is cheap. He never served in the Armed Services yet talks a good battle. In fact, none of his adult children ever served in the military. I have brothers who both served in Viet Nam and in the Middle East and a Nephew who is a recent retired Army Officer and they all all paid a price.

    • He is no less of an American than me, you, or anyone else. No real life war action does not make a person who served the military drafted/or elected to serve or not. I’ve respect for military personnel/family, verterans, etc. who risked their lives for our freedom. But that doesn’t mean he/she is greater a citizen than any US citizen served or not.

    • ready2go. Where are you ready to go? I did 28 years in the Navy. You opened the door about military service with you comment. Slick Willie did not serve either. Did that bother you? Trump says he will rebuild the military and take care of the veterans. What’s wrong with that? Speaking of talk is cheap, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. ObamaCare will save the average family $2500 per year on insurance.”

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