While I wholeheartedly support mental health, especially for our children, I have to ask: What is causing students to take mental health days in the first place?
USA Today reports that a growing movement aimed at improving students’ mental well-being has led to legislation allowing for a mental health day to be a valid excuse to miss school.
Of course, life can be challenging. But we should also be examining how we as parents and educators might be contributing to students’ need for mental health breaks. In this post, I offer five ideas for parents and educators about how to promote better mental health among our children.
1)Let children struggle and overcome challenges on their own.
When students are offered multiple takes on exams and projects at school, these low expectations do not prepare them for the real world. We need to create a step function that builds our kids’ personal stamina. Let them fail and overcome! Failure can be even more productive than success. Our kids need lifelong resiliency.
2) Build supportive communities for our kids, in both their schools and neighborhoods.
In the US there is so much tension as we create more isolated and binary identities. We practice compassion with ever smaller groups of people. For example, rather than parents taking care of our neighbor’s child when they leave them at home, we call the police. Within the classroom and larger school community, we take care of one another less and less.
In Japan, following the approach to cooperative autonomy known as tokkatsu, students take care of their school and each other without a janitorial staff or cafeteria workers. Students are also encouraged to organize class meetings and decide on topics or activities by themselves. Tokkatsu is a way of developing students’ character, as well as serving as a form of classroom management for the teacher, since it keeps students more engaged in their activities. From a young age, students and, later, voting and contributing members of a democracy, learn to be a part of something larger than themselves.
I must also add that the intergenerational family model is also dwindling in the US. Family cohesion encourages empathy, respect, and caregiving for other generations within one’s own family. So, even if our children do not cohabitate with their grandparents, maintaining these strong family ties are vital to the supportive communities we need to empower our children.
3) Set guidelines for the whole family on the use of tech, at home and at school.
According to 2018 data from the Pew Research Center, in the US around two-thirds of parents are concerned that young people are spending too much time in front of screens. 57% set screen time restrictions for their children (Pew Research Center, 2018). This past May, the World Health Organization classified “gaming disorder” as an addictive disease.
Too much technology has proven to be detrimental to mental health and even hinders a good night’s sleep. Rest is critical to success at school. This is happening not just at home but in school, as teachers lean on the latest technologies. Many of our high achieving OECD counterparts in Asia do not allow technology in the classrooms.
4) Offer teachers more training on children’s psychological development.
Training must come at both the credentialing level and with professional development –on pedagogical theory and specific content as well as the neuropsychological development of youth. Our educators are not trained to handle the increasingly demanding and diverse needs students bring into their classrooms. Let’s push our State-level education policy makers to mandate higher teacher credentialing requirements.
5) Prioritize better communication between parents and schools.
Parents and teachers must communicate regularly about what is happening in the classroom. Expectations should be crystal clear and there must be trust in this relationship. There is nothing more important for the success of a child in school than the triangulated relationship: teacher-parent-student.
Listen to my interview with Dr. Drew on KABC Radio. I speak about how some of our education practices, including the overuse of technology in our classrooms and offering our kids multiple takes on exams, are contributing to increased youth anxiety.