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The Impacts of Recent Events on Youth Mental Health

Shannon Bennett, Ph.D. discusses the impacts of recent events on youth mental health. She highlights how the recent happenings in the news can impact the mental wellbeing and anxiety levels of children. She reviews what parents can do to have open conversations and developmentally-appropriate dialogue with their kids on what is being shared across media.

To schedule with Shannon Bennett, Ph.D
The Impacts of Recent Events on Youth Mental Health
Featured Speaker:
Shannon Bennett, PhD
Shannon Bennett, Ph.D. is licensed clinical psychologist with expertise in cognitive behavioral interventions for children, adolescents, young adults, parents, and families suffering from Anxiety Disorders, Tic Disorders, OCD and other related conditions. Her clinical practice includes individual therapy, group therapy, parent/child work, and parent training for youth, young adults, and their families using state of the art, research-supported psychotherapy interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

Learn more about Shannon Bennett, PhD

Melanie Cole (Host): There's no handbook for your child's health, but we do have a podcast featuring world-class clinical and research physicians covering everything from your child's allergies to zinc levels.

Welcome to Kids Health Cast by Weill Cornell Medicine. I'm Melanie Cole. And here with me to talk about mental wellness when it comes to politics and news that impacts our kids is Dr. Shannon Bennett. She's the Clinical Director of the New York Presbyterian Youth Anxiety Center for Weill Cornell Medicine.

Dr. Bennett, you've been with us before. I thank you for joining us again in these unprecedented times. Not only did we have COVID and our kids missing school and all of the things with vaccinations and masks and the political climate that has just been untenable for many of us. Tell us a little bit about the impacts that you have seen on our kids' wellbeing with so many things happening. It's a little bit scary. It's actually a lot bit scary. We're seeing all of these things in the news coming at us minute by minute. What have you seen as our kids' reactions to all of it?

Dr. Shannon Bennett: Well, thank you so much for having me and bringing attention to these really important topics. What we are seeing is an increase in anxiety and depression in youth, in teenagers and young adults in particular. And we know that the pandemic impacted youth mental health and social media. And media, I think, the constancy of media broadly is increasing anxiety and impacting the mood of our youth.

So these are really broad strokes. I'm happy talk more about the specifics. But when I think about before constant media streams, anxiety is not new and anxiety is very common and it's really normal. To a point, it's important that we feel anxious sometimes. But if something makes you anxious, whether that's a social stressor, academics, or things that you see on the news, there's no way to disconnect from that anymore or it's much more difficult to disconnect from it. So kids and adults, we're just constantly surrounded by our anxiety triggers and it's starting to overwhelm and really stress people out.

Melanie Cole (Host): Yeah, and this isn't just our kids. I know that on days when I'm feeling it hard, I don't go near Twitter. I try and stay away because I do get a lot of my news from reliable sources there. I try and go on to, you know, innocuous things like TikTok, watch a few recipes. But even those, we're starting to see really this political as our youth become more active and activist. And while this has made it easier, as you said, to follow, because when I was a kid, we didn't know anything. We knew nothing of what was going on. So we weren't so stressed out, do you feel that this is a good thing, a bad thing? Has that made our kids more worldly, smarter, but yet also, as you say, more stressed out, but maybe more involved?

Dr. Shannon Bennett: Right. Absolutely. And you spoke to it right there where we have to be in control of how we utilize social media and media in general. So, youth, adults, parents, we have to be mindful of our limits and studies support this, that when we use social media as a tool for connection or for finding information, that can be a really positive thing for keeping us informed and connecting us with others in a meaningful way. But the flip side of that is when we are passively consuming media, that may be anxiety-provoking or stressful or causing us to question our own self-image, our own social standing, then that becomes more of a trigger for anxiety and depression and can become much more problematic. So we have to pay attention to how we are using it, how much we are using it, not letting media disrupt our sleep or other important social and emotional activities.

Melanie Cole (Host): And as parents, I imagine that falls a bit to us to not monitor, but have these discussions because I think communication is what's so important here and have those discussions with our kids about their social media use right now and what's coming at them. I'd like to touch on a bit of the breaking news, Dr. Bennett, with the leaked Roe V. Wade decision. What have you seen as far as kids' awareness of the implications of this ruling? I mean, Handmaid's Tale, I read it 30 years ago and I remember telling my sister about it and she read it and she's like, "I didn't like that book at all," but she's watched every episode of the TV show 30 years later. A lot of my daughter's girlfriends and they're all in their 19, 20, 21, they love the show. But now, they're seeing women dressing like this. They're seeing this impact women's rights at risk. Tell us a little bit about how young women are processing this news. What have you seen? Has it spurred them into activism or has it depressed them with a defeatist feeling? What is it doing?

Dr. Shannon Bennett: Well, everyone is unique and different in how they respond and their feelings about current events. I do think that young people are more engaged and passionate about current events and politics than perhaps in the past. And so we are seeing young people both expressing worry about their ability to control their own rights and their own future, and then taking action in a meaningful way to try to make a difference.

Melanie Cole (Host): That's good and bad, right? I mean, back in the '60s, people did stuff. In the '70s, we were protesting, doing these things. But now, it feels like protesting and that sort of thing is getting more dangerous, and we're going to touch on that. But before we do, we would be remiss not to mention the recent school shootings, which just seemed to be happening all the time. And while there was Uvalde, there are other ones going on, there are shootings going on. When do you think parents are having these conversations, should start having these conversations with their kids, and some key points? Because schools are having them. They're having these shooting drills, which is just unbelievable to me. We had tornado drills, right? And that was scary enough as it was. But this, I cannot even imagine what these kids today are going through right now. How does the way in which we speak to our kids as they grow matter, when we're talking about these horrific events that you can't help but see on the news?

Dr. Shannon Bennett: Right. Unfortunately, I think these conversations have to start at a very young age, because kids are being asked to participate in lockdown drills. And so they are being forced to learn how to protect themselves in school as best they can. And so as parents, it's important that we find developmentally appropriate ways to communicate with our kids about scary events. And that may be true, whether that's COVID or natural disasters or, unfortunately, mass shootings, school shootings, community violence. How we talk about it will differ based on a child's age, but thinking about, again, developmentally appropriate ways to let your child know that they can ask you questions. To be honest when we know the answers and to be honest when we don't or to talk about ways we can learn more together or try to help together. With young children, I think it can be helpful to identify the helpers as Mr. Rogers said in a time of tragedy to look for the people who are trying to do good and trying to change the status quo, and also to remind youth and to remind ourselves that while we are unfortunately hearing about tragedy every day, these do remain unlikely events like a plane crash. When we hear about a plane crash, our anxiety about flying may go up. But when we think about all of the planes that fly in a day, the likelihood of that happening still remains low. So you have to keep it all in perspective, but still be mindful of something needing to change so that we can all feel safe in our communities.

Melanie Cole (Host): And that's a good point that you made. And of course, the schools are saying, "If you see something, say something". So if you know, because mental illness and mental wellness are just such a big issue today with this epidemic of mental health crises that our teens and our kids are facing with all of this influx that kids are now taught to see something and say something. If they know that there's somebody waving a gun around on a YouTube video, that they tell the school, all of those things. Now, if our kids want to be involved, as we're talking about those protests and the school shootings, Dr. Bennett, the Parkland kids turned the tragedy into activism. These kids are amazing. And Barack Obama said, "We've been waiting for you and we've got your backs," which still chokes me up. But if our kids want to get involved, if they want to be activists, if they want to protest, what are some helpful ways that parents can assist them? So they feel like they're involved in making a difference and yet not over immersing themselves to the point of mental health crisis.

Dr. Shannon Bennett: This is such a good point because youth today who are getting involved are making meaningful changes and that's really exciting. And it could be a helpful thing for parents and youth of all ages to do together and to find groups that they feel comfortable working with, affiliating with, showing up for. So there are groups that are engaging in activism for gun safety, for all sorts of important issues of today women's reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, issues that matter most to each individual, finding a group that's doing work that they can identify with and feel good about and support is a helpful way for youth and families to get involved.

Melanie Cole (Host): Well, you and I are going to have to do a podcast specifically on LGBT youth right now. And those feelings of fear, because that's definitely something that parents and family members can learn how to encompass and surround their loved ones, because it's pretty scary right now. As we wrap up, what can we do as parents? And I'm speaking as a parent of a 19 and 22-year-old right now who are seeing all of this. And while they're a little older, sometimes the news hits even a little harder. What do you think is most important for us right now? What would you like to see changed and what can we do to help our children through all of this onslaught of bad news?

Dr. Shannon Bennett: So parents of kids of all ages, it is important that we are taking care of ourselves, right? The old saying we have to put our own masks on first before we put on our kids' masks. And in so doing, we model for our kids how they can be taking care of themselves. So we need to be mindful of limiting our news consumption. We need to be mindful of the coping strategies, the positive activities that help us to feel at our best in our own mental wellness. And by prioritizing that, we are modeling for our own kids, how they can prioritize those activities and make time for those activities and put down their phones, whether that's at meal times or during family time. And then we have the time and space and energy to be present for our kids to have these important conversations, to be open, to talk about how we cope with anxiety and stress during very scary times, and to allow our kids to feel comfortable asking us questions and perhaps finding answers together when those answers are hard to come by or we feel out of control.

Melanie Cole (Host): And at Weill Cornell Medicine, as I introduced you, you are the clinical director of the New York Presbyterian Youth Anxiety Center. Tell us a little bit about the center, Dr. Bennett, and what parents should know, what youth should know about coming there for help.

Dr. Shannon Bennett: The Youth Anxiety Center is a tri-institutional collaboration between Weill Cornell, Columbia Medical School and New York Presbyterian Hospital. And our mission is threefold. We provide clinical services across multiple locations in New York city and the surrounding areas for youth, particularly focused on older adolescents and young adults between the ages 12 and 28, but really kids of all ages and their parents and family members, who are suffering from anxiety and related conditions. Our faculty are also engaging in research to learn more about anxiety and youth brain development and innovative treatments to improve outcomes for youth and families. And then the third is education and outreach. So on our website, we are consistently updating with resources and education about anxiety and coping with stress and anxiety and responding to current events, so we can create and maintain a platform for youth and families to continue to learn and to understand how anxiety feels and how it can interfere in living life the way that we want to live it.

So think it's also important for parents to know that anxiety is a normal part of life, but to keep an eye out for when anxiety or mood symptoms are crossing that threshold for their children, when kids are starting to withdraw or avoid from meaningful life activities, that that's a time talk to your doctor, to find a therapist or to seek additional assessment or help.

Melanie Cole (Host): So important. What great work you're doing. And for more information on that, you can go to for more information on the New York Presbyterian Youth Anxiety Center with Weill Cornell Medicine. Thank you so much, Dr. Bennett. What great information you've given us today and so much to think about for our kids. And Weill Cornell Medicine continues to see our patients in person as well as through video visits. And you can be confident of the safety of your appointments at Weill Cornell Medicine.

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