A student’s welfare is given more consideration in schools due to the problems that plague many children.
These include the negative effects of social media, personal identity issues, and the psychological toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.
School counselors serve as an integrated layer of support that goes well beyond mere advice on post-graduation plans.
At Kimberton Waldorf School, a private co-ed preparatory day school in Chester County, school counselor Natalie Schwartz supports children in their school community.
“Every child has a relationship to family life and school life, and they overlap,” Schwartz said. “My role is to integrate those questions and experiences that might impact their experiences at school.”
Focus topics can range from social pressures and academic challenges to teacher relationships.
Schwartz Counseling Support is available to children of all ages, from early school through high school. Their services are also available to parents whose children are enrolled in the school.
“It could be working with one child, with a group of children, with class reunions during the school term, or with parent reunions,” Schwartz said.
She shared the various instances in which she might be called.
“A parent might come to me to see their child, a teacher might come to me, and children themselves might come to me,” she said.
Some children may need one session, while others receive weekly counseling.
“I would see her once a week for six weeks and then assess her,” she said. “I would refer them if they need ongoing care and deeper therapy needs.”
For families seeking out-of-school counseling for their child, Jeff Laubach is a family counselor in Spring Township, Berks County who has seen the toll COVID-19 has taken on the teens he counsels.
“Anxiety has increased during COVID and is the most common issue addressed by the teens I see,” said Laubach. “First dealing with the isolation of quarantine and virtual classes, and now readjusting to full-time school and face-to-face social situations.”
Laubach said he’s seen an increase in youth seeking counseling.
“If they ask, parents should work hard to appreciate that,” he said.
In addition to his private practice, Laubach has worked with the Berks County Intermediate Unit and is part of the Berks County Crisis Management Flight Team.
“I worked in schools after there was a crisis,” said Laubach. “Sometimes it’s about working with groups and sometimes with individuals. The advantage is being able to offer services to students in a natural environment.”
Schwartz counseling sessions at Kimberton Waldorf School give kids space to talk. She said identity issues are a common theme she sees in her consulting work.
“Identity issues related to the pressure to belong to a group they don’t actually belong to,” she said. “A big part of my job is gently guiding kids through this.”
One example she gave is someone who doesn’t identify with a particular minority, whether it’s related to gender or politics, but joins the community to be accepted and to satisfy a need to belong.
“In this nebulous time, they’re grasping too early at a time when they’re not developmentally ready,” she said.
Schwartz said another area of increasing attention is the impact of technology eroding children’s confidence.
“It guides kids through this difficult time using cellphones and social media,” she said.
Schwartz said COVID-19 has likely impacted increased social media use as children crave connection during isolation.
“It’s tremendous right now how kids are really out of touch with themselves and constantly questioning themselves,” she said.
At the Kimberton Waldorf School, parents are encouraged to heed the school’s recommendations for their media philosophy and to recognize that there are inherent influences related to any type of media.
According to Schwartz, owning a cell phone can interfere with a child’s time of complex navigation.
“Children may come from intact families, but through the influence of social media it adds a complexity to their emotional and psychological landscape that they navigate as they grow into adults in the world,” she said. “Kids without phones are already going through this and it adds complexity.”
She said that in navigating this cultural trend, some parents don’t want to deny their children a piece of the world.
“I focus my work on helping parents hold back the phone and not feel like you’re overly protective of your child,” Schwartz said.
When a cell phone is part of a child’s life, Schwartz’s approach is different.
“It teaches how to relate to it and deal with it in a positive way,” she said.
Schwartz said she witnessed the effects of cell phone use.
“I’ve noticed a marked difference in children’s behavior and emotional well-being before they had a phone and after they had one,” she said. “I think any parent would agree with me on that.”
Schwartz’s work doesn’t end with the students she advises.
“A big part of what I do is go back with the parents or teachers and have private meetings with them and put everything on the table and work it through,” she said.