T

he effects of Donald Trump’s victory have been felt by many, including those too young to have cast a vote themselves. Kids and teens in some parts of the country, worried about what Trump’s election will mean, showed up to schools this week with lots of questions, as teachers and therapists brought their trauma training to bear in counseling distraught students.

On Wednesday, Memphis, Tenn., psychotherapist Quinn Gee was called in by school administrators for emergency sessions with three students, children of undocumented immigrants who were concerned they would lose their citizenship and that their parents would be deported. One of the students didn’t show up to class. Another was acting out. A third was self-harming in class, and Gee placed her on suicide watch.

“I was expecting [this reaction] from adults, absolutely,” Gee said. “I wasn’t prepared for this from children.”

advertisement

Trauma “occurs when a person is overwhelmed by events or circumstances and responds with intense fear, horror, and helplessness,” according to the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. Children who are recent immigrants, members of a racial or ethnic minority, or who are poor are more likely to have trauma in their past, and therefore to be more vulnerable to future traumatic events.

At Riverside Polytechnic High School in California, school counselor Yuridia Nava said that by the end of the first period the morning after the election, it was clear that something was wrong. Teachers and students were in tears. Fights were threatening to break out. So administrators huddled and decided to handle the election results like a trauma crisis event. Teachers talked to all 2,700 students and made clear that counseling resources were available. Nava pulled together an “empathy forum” in the middle of the day, where about 30 students gathered in the library to talk about how they were feeling. The session went on for almost two hours.

In Chicago, one music teacher never ended up giving his music lesson, instead facilitating a discussion about the students’ reactions to the election, Education Week reported.

“The election seemed to bring back memories of trauma that students had experienced,” Casey Fuess, who teaches at Lindblom Math and Science Academy on Chicago’s South Side, told the publication. One student was in tears, fearing she would be deported to Mexico. Other students listening to her started crying as well.

“We have not, as a nation, experienced anything like this before,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, a national education organization advocating for LGBTQ students. Byard said that the only event that occurred in her lifetime that evoked similar trauma in young people was Sept. 11 — but then, there was a sense of solidarity among Americans. Not so today. “That is what’s been shattered now.”

Schools districts across the country sent notes Wednesday to families, urging everyone to stand together and set a positive example for the children.

“We must ensure that our students feel safe by providing safe and respectful learning communities,” wrote Tommy Chang, superintendent of Boston Public Schools.

The school district has already assembled a “Post Election Resources” page, with the first resource listed being a handout on how to manage trauma.

Kids are responding to a number of perceived threats. In part it’s a moral disconnect, said Rebecca Lallier, a counselor at the Dothan Brook elementary school in Vermont. Candidates discussed “explicitly sexual content,” she said; meanwhile, “we teach sexual abuse prevention.”

Students also expressed fear based on things that Trump has said on the campaign trail or sentiments espoused by his supporters. School counselors across the country are hearing that children are scared they or their families might be deported under Trump’s administration, said Katherine Cowan, director of communications for the National Association of School Psychologists. Other kids tell their counselors that they fear discrimination or violence because they are Muslim or identify as LGBTQ.

“I’m trying to make this a positive thing, not a negative thing,” said Glen Pandolfino, an economics teacher and dean at the High School for Environmental Studies in Manhattan. He is encouraging his older students to register to vote, so they can hold their politicians accountable. He is working on a certification program in “restorative justice,” an innovative educational technique where students who find themselves in a conflict to talk it out — for the victim to understand what happened, and for the aggressor to understand what they did and why it was wrong.

But this week has been more of a time for listening and healing. Pandolfino estimated that about one-third of his school’s 1,300 students sought some sort of counseling resource.

Leave a Comment

Please enter your name.
Please enter a comment.

  • School age kids from K- college have been targeted from the 1st day after the election with bullying & hateful incidents from their peers & other adults invading the school spaces…
    They are NOT reacting with fear without good reasons… Look at how much hatred & violence T tolerated during his campaigns. Several times the Secret Service had to escort innocent adults & children to safety!!
    Unless he repudiates his bigoted obstructive followers & lets them face jail or prison for their actions, then why should Americans feel safe??
    He is an ENABLER & SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE HIMSELF!!

  • Grow up! We had to accept the trauma we have had through Obama’s tearing our country apart and Clinton’s actions and lies! Every person who came across our borders illegally committed a crime and got away with it! Those illegals who killed and raped got away with it with Obama’s administration and even if they were deported, right back across the border they came to do the same thing again!
    If anchor babies are worried that their families will be split up, simply solution, go with them to their country and when you come of age, move back to the states with your citizenship that you will not lose or maybe you should look at your parents and ask yourselves, why they did not learn our countries language and seek citizenship?
    I do not believe PRESIDENT Trump will be able to deport all illegals but even if he deports those muslims that are radical and suspected members of ISIS and all that commit a crime, then we will be better off.
    But then maybe there are those families that are 4th, 5th welfare that have NEVER tried to find a job or take a drug test and are so worried that they will be forced to start taking care of themselves with, Heaven forbid, finding a job.
    I will cease talking along the line of what I have been saying other than to tell you that I was not attempting to add stress to you but ONLY to try to get your think process going. I FIRMLY believe we have a lot of smart teenagers in our country who if they stopped feeling sorry for themselves, could really start figuring what they need to do legally to better their situation.
    But I would like to honestly tell you all that those of us who felt Obama had deserted us to destroy our country are well aware how you may feel. There a lot of dissenters who are so drugged up they know nothing about what they are doing and like the riots of the past couple of years, people who are doing what they are doing because they are being paid to do what they are doing. BUT again I know there a lot of you who are extremely smart. START figuring what you have to do to correct and take charge of YOUR life.
    TAKE CARE.

    • Yes, instead of just talking about their feelings maybe the counselors can also use this opportunity to teach critical thinking skills and the ability to spot straw man arguments from the news media and other leaders.
      Donald Trump said that he wants to stop criminals and terrorists from coming into the country that want to harm us. The problem is that he did not say it very eloquently unlike most career politicians who know how to phrase their intentions in a more politically correct manner or so ambiguous that they are dodging or lying.
      We should allow people to immigrate into our country who have been adequately vetted, we need to know who they are and their intentions. Is that not the only sane and reasonable thing to do?

    • Whether or not the children of illegal immigrants deserve to be here is beside the point. The point is that these children have no control over the situation, they are not responsible for their parents choices, and they understandably feel scared that life as they know it will be changed and their families may face extreme difficulty. Any child who experiences such uncertainty and the possibility of being separated from their family, for whatever reason, would have extreme anxiety. Our job as teachers is not to judge whether the children’s parents are doing the right thing, but to help these students feel understood, safe and secure so they can learn.

  • It is clear to me that these feelings are shared north of the border in Canada as well. So many of my adult peers expressed their sadness, anxiety and distress over what your country and the world may be about to experience with this election result. In fact, November 9th felt like a necessary ‘mental health day’ for most of us in order to absorb the trauma, deal with churning stomachs, and a suddenly dire outlook. I certainly relate to these kids.

Sign up for our Morning Rounds newsletter

Your daily dose of news in health and medicine.