Last week I attended the third annual California Student Mental Wellness Conference, co-sponsored by Wellness Together and the California State Department of Education. This is to share some insights about the challenges educators and students face today, and I offer some guidance to help parents strengthen their role in preparing youth to become life-long learners inside and outside the classroom.
- Student mental wellness is vital to sustained and lifelong learning.
- Academic performance alone does not comprise the quality of your child’s education.
- The cyber social stress and typical family life stresses youth of all social and economic backgrounds experience today have a negative impact on classroom learning, and contribute to behavioral health issues (anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, violence).
- In order to better serve students, the education system cannot ignore this enhanced and emotionally-charged reality our youth are navigating today at home and in their peer communities.
- At home, parents can teach these life lessons to build resilience in their child: a) do not allow your feelings to define your reality; b) consider every challenge and adversity in life as an opportunity to learn something new about your weaknesses, strengths and potential; and c) expect your child to learn how to be a good citizen (trustworthy person) at home and in the classroom.
Wellness Together leaders, Marlon Morgan, CEO and Jeremiah Aha, Assistant Director of Education Services, understand intimately the impact of mental health on the academic performance of students. As a non-profit dedicated to build resilience among today’s stressed out youth, Wellness Together provides outsourced mental wellness counseling for school districts across the state. Three years ago they partnered with the California State Department of Education to organize conferences for education professionals as a way to better understand and address the universal mental health issues that impact learning in the classroom. What is often not fully appreciated is this fact that what happens outside the classroom impacts a child’s mental faculties for learning.
The overall theme of the student mental wellness conference is to affirm that many youth are experiencing barriers to success because of circumstances and experiences outside of the classroom that impact their ability to make their education a priority and to offer strategies to overcome these barriers.
This year’s conference was kicked off by Dr. John B. King, Jr., former U.S. Secretary of Education and President/CEO of The Education Trust. He explains that by the time he was 12 years old both his parents passed away, and that he is a product of the New York City school system whose educators saved his life and helped him build a future. He offers a testament of how transformative education can be for youth whose life circumstances outside the classroom offer little hope. According to King, youth today especially need to experience love from the education system with the aim of a) making every student feel welcome, b) create an environment where students are inspired to set goals for themselves, and c) adjust discipline policies to address chronic behavior issues as a cry for help rather than as a reason to suspend or expel.
Life lessons to enhance the quality of your child’s education
In response to the very real social, emotional and intellectual stressors youth face today, parents can teach their children resilience essential to maintaining a learning mindset. Below are three life lessons that can be reinforced at home:
- Your child is in charge of their feelings. Your feelings are real experiences, but they are not necessarily the facts unless you decide to agree with them. Emotion does not carry intellect, so when you experience shame, anger or sadness this is a sign that something is wrong and needs to be corrected or somehow addressed. Sometimes children and teens are not able to tell parents about their emotionally-charged experiences. Encourage your child to seek a trusted adult if they do not feel comfortable talking to their parents in order to help them think about and respond to what is happening so that their feelings are not telling them what to think and do.
- Aim for the bull’s-eye: Learning how to become a better version of one’s self. Introduce this concept of life-long learning as an archery lesson wherein anything outside of bull’s-eye is “sin” (the actual technical term) or “off the mark”, and better yet, “to err”. Once your child understands that everyone falls outside of the bulls’-eye, (where there is perfect peace, no fear, and only love) – and we are all aiming for the bull’s-eye. This is how we learn how to consider life experiences, positive and negative, as an opportunity to become a better version of ourselves.
In this way, we may consider that to be human is to recognize that you are a spiritual, powerful, caring and creative being having human experience. This means that we are imperfect in our humanity, i.e., prone to believing and acting on things that do not reflect our best selves, and we also possess inherent powers of self-determination (memory, intellect, and will) essential to learn how to know and do better the next time – to change our ways. Encourage your child to consider that adversity, disappointments, and mistakes are an opportunity to learn something about themselves and how to do a better next time.
- Set expectations for your child based upon their trustworthy character. Every child can learn how to become a trustworthy person; but not every child will go to Harvard, become a surgeon or learn how to repair automobiles. The most important thing parents can do to help children respond to the academic pressures of their time is to get interested in who your child is and what interests them. Let your child know that you are proud of who they are as a person who is honest, kind, does the right thing (even when it is not popular), and helps others. And then congratulate your child on their achievements at school and in other activities and interests. When your child realizes that your acceptance of them is not conditioned on their GPA or performance in sports, this will go a long way to release some of the stress and anxiety they are experiencing. And at the same time, this approach will increase the chances for open communication about how their life is going, and you will have an opportunity to impart wisdom.
If you suspect that your child is struggling with anxiety, depression or other challenges impacting the quality of their academic experience, contact Joanna for a list of resources.
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device.
Peace on earth begins with peace at home.
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Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.