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'The Future Feels Like A Scary Place:' Dallas ISD Program Helps Parents & Students Navigate An Uncertain World

DALLAS, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - School violence appears to be the plague that can't be slowed with a vaccine.

With four dead this week in a shooting in Michigan, a familiar pattern is emerging: panic, thoughts, and prayers, and for some, silence, as parents struggle to find new words to reassure in an uncertain world.

"I've just seen a lot more depression, anxiety in young students than I've ever seen before. It just, it feels like the world is on their shoulders," says psychologist Monica Munoz, a licensed specialist in school psychology supporting students in Dallas ISD.

The district has invested millions in extra counselors and mental health support, primarily in response to COVID-19, but the experts know there's so much more.

"A lot of 'what's the point', right? If all these things are happening in the world, what is the world that I'm coming into, that I'm trying to grow in?" says Munoz of the student concerns she and colleagues are seeing now. "These are the dream years. They're trying to dream about the future. The future feels like a scary place."

The good news, though, she says is that more students than ever before are realizing they need emotional support and are getting it.

Now, she's reminding parents that even in an uncertain world, what happens at home can make students feel safer. She advises adding more structure to the family routine, including a dedicated talk time.

Student Mental Health Concerns
Some ways parents can help their students during uncertain times (Credit: CBSDFW.COM)

Parents should ask open ended questions like "what was the best part of your day?" or "what was the worst thing that happened today?" "What do you wish you could have done differently?'"

And then perhaps the most difficult part for parents:  just listen.

"One thing that comes up a lot is that students feel very invalidated when they share their feelings, and they get shut down often," says Munoz.  "So, they share they're feeling sad. `Oh well, you shouldn't feel sad. This is how you should feel.' 'I'm feeling angry.' 'You shouldn't feel angry. This is how you should feel'. It's really important that we allow kids to feel and have a place to share those feelings."

And always remember, your elders are rooting for you. Munoz says although today's teens may have lost faith in the world around them, she has an abundance of hope, in them.

"They are so aware. They understand mental health. They understand issues, emotions, and things that we didn't talk about much when I was younger... social justice issues. They're willing to change the world, we've just got to listen to them."

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