Research shows trauma in children often results from stress that is chronic, unpredictable or prolonged.
In other words, the story of COVID-19.
More than two years into the pandemic, stresses are surfacing not only in K-12 students in Georgia, but in the adults who care for them.
In his December 2021 report, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a new Advisory to highlight the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis. This important report has recommendations for individuals, families, employers, and others to improve the mental health of children, adolescents and young adults.
“Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide — and rates have increased over the past decade,” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
Murthy continued, “The COVID-19 pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating. The future wellbeing of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation. Especially in this moment, as we work to protect the health of Americans in the face of a new variant, we also need to focus on how we can emerge stronger on the other side. This advisory shows us how we can all work together to step up for our children during this dual crisis.”
The report is a call to action for various groups. Here are some key takeaways that highlight social-emotional learning as part of the solution.
We Can Take Action
Support the mental health of children and youth in educational, community, and childcare settings. This includes creating positive, safe, and affirming educational environments and expanding programming that promotes healthy development–social and emotional learning being a prime example. Also, as a society we need to provide a continuum of supports to meet the social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs of children and youth. To achieve this, we must also expand and support the early childhood and education workforce.
What Young People Can Do
Since many of the challenges young people face are outside of their control, we need a whole-of-society effort to support children’s mental health and wellbeing from birth to adulthood. That said, below are important steps children and young people themselves can take to protect, improve, and advocate for their mental health and that of their family, friends, and neighbors:
- Remember that mental health challenges are real, common, and treatable.
- Ask for help.
- Invest in healthy relationships.
- Find ways to serve.
- Learn and practice techniques to manage stress and other difficult emotions.
- Take care of your body and mind.
- Be intentional about your use of social media, video games, and other technologies.
- Be a source of support for others.
What Family Members and Caregivers Can Do
Families and caregivers play a critical role in providing the safe, stable, and nurturing environments and relationships young people need to thrive. Below are recommendations for how families and caregivers can engage with kids during this youth mental health crisis, helping them become more resilient and addressing emerging:
- Be the best role model you can be for young people by taking care of your own mental and physical health.
- Help children and youth develop strong, safe, and stable relationships with you and other supportive adults.
- Encourage children and youth to build healthy social relationships with peers.
- Do your best to provide children and youth with a supportive, stable, and predictable home and neighborhood environment.
- Try to minimize negative influences and behaviors in young people’s lives.
- Ensure children and youth have regular check-ups with a pediatrician, family doctor, or other health care professional.
- Look out for warning signs of distress, and seek help when needed.
- Minimize children’s access to means of self-harm, including firearms and prescription medications.
- Be attentive to how children and youth spend time online. Digital technology can help young people connect with friends and family, learn about current events, express themselves, and access telehealth and other resources.
- Be a voice for mental health in your community.
What Employers Can Do
Employers can play an outsized role in supporting the mental health of children and young people. They can directly help younger employees, such as high school students working part-time jobs or young adults starting out in the labor force after high school or college. For example, employers can provide affordable health insurance that covers mental health needs. Employers can also support children and youth indirectly. Below are some recommendations for how employers can support the mental health of young people:
- Provide access to comprehensive, affordable, and age-appropriate mental health care for all employees and their families, including dependent children.
- Implement policies that address underlying drivers of employee mental health challenges, including both home and workplace stressors. Employers should: Offer paid family leave and sick leave where feasible.
- Create a workplace culture that affirms the importance of the mental health and wellbeing of all employees and their families.
- Regularly assess employees’ sense of wellbeing within the workplace.
Want to do more in response to the youth mental health crisis? Find out how.
HundrED and The LEGO Foundation have joined together again to create the Social & Emotional Spotlight Report to identify impactful and scalable solutions that help parents and educators support the development of children’s social and emotional skills.
“Social and emotional learning is good for the child, good for the workforce, and good for society.”
Anne-Birgitte Albrechtsen, Chief Executive Officer at The LEGO Foundation.
Citing mounting evidence of ongoing harm, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy on Tuesday issued a public health advisory on the mental health challenges confronting youth, a rare warning and call to action to address what he called an emerging crisis exacerbated by pandemic hardships.
Some groups are now targeting an educational approach that recognizes the connection between a student’s academic achievement and his or her social and emotional skills. This agenda is especially troubling as research has demonstrated the severe impacts of the pandemic on student social and emotional well-being.
In education today, academic and social-emotional issues are often considered separate. Anything that doesn’t directly relate to students’ academic performance must be dealt with outside the classroom.
Barely 25% of schools offer a comprehensive approach to Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) along with academic learning. This even though applied knowledge accounts for just a quarter of the skills employers desire. The other three quarters? Well, those are Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skills that are taught through SEL curriculum.
SEL provides an education in emotional life skills that is more than just grades. It can benefit individuals, societies, and even nations on a larger scale. Here are just five of SEL’s many benefits:
SEL Lowers the Mental Health Crisis Among Students
According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, nearly three in 10 parents (29%) say their child is “already experiencing harm” to their emotional or mental health because of social distancing and closures, lack of routines, and other recent and past traumatic stressors. Untreated or undiagnosed mental health conditions are likely to affect a student’s emotional wellness and their ability to learn, develop, and grow.
SEL can equip students with the emotional life skills and competencies they need. It helps kids to develop resilience and effectively manage their behavior, emotions, and relationships with others. An important focus of a social-emotional learning curriculum is the promotion of positive development through fostering social skills. Positive social skills give children feasible tools to regulate their emotions and make good choices about their behavior.
Research indicates that focusing on social-emotional needs can help reduce anxiety, suicide, substance abuse, depression, and impulsive behavior in kids. This concentration can also help to increase test scores, attendance, and prosocial behaviors such as kindness, personal awareness, and empathy. Teaching kids coping skills, mindfulness, effective communication skills, and self-regulation gives them the resources needed to address various social, emotional, and mental health challenges that hinder learning.
SEL Enhances Personal Career Success
In order for students to achieve success in school, career, and life, children must be taught social and emotional skills—just as they learn reading, math, and science—through instruction and practice.
Research shows the skills taught in SEL curricula have wide-ranging benefits that affect children’s success in school, career, and life. For instance, kindergarteners with stronger social and emotional skills are more likely to graduate from high school and college and have stable, full-time employment and are less likely to commit crimes, be on public assistance, and have drug, alcohol, and mental health problems.
SEL Benefits Business and the Economy
SEL and employability skills benefit businesses by helping provide qualified job candidates who thrive in their positions. The Harvard Business Review reports that 90 percent of career success comes from emotional intelligence, not academic intelligence. Google found that their most successful teams were ones with psychological safety, not geniuses.
Self-motivation, time management, communication, problem-solving, and relationship building—some common aspects of SEL—are the types of skills employers often look for. Employers want to hire and retain employees who have the ability to think critically and work effectively with others. Employability skills matter and school-based SEL programs are a way to begin building them. If individuals, businesses, institutions and policy makers declare a full-fledged support for SEL, it will not only benefit the overall economy but even pay for itself many times over.
SEL Reduces School Violence
Violence in schools is a complex societal issue and must be addressed in comprehensive ways. Schools need to implement universal approaches to promote physical and psychological safety. Research has found that social-emotional skills can lead to safer schools.
A landmark meta-analysis examined 213 studies of K–12 school-based SEL programs and found that students in schools that implemented such programs had significant improvements in social-emotional skills (such as identifying emotions, perspective taking, and conflict resolution) and fewer conduct problems. These schools also reported less aggression and delinquent acts, showing a direct link between SEL and safer schools.
Parents Prefer SEL
There has been a positive change over the past couple of years. Recent research indicates that more than 80% of parents support education that grows their child’s emotional life skills. Parents believe working through social-emotional issues productively within a specific curriculum has many positive outcomes for students. They regard education to be more than just academics, to be more than grades.
SEL guarantees many more benefits. What’s needed now is for policy makers and the education system to give SEL the priority required to support an education that is more than grades and to ensure the success of an emotionally and socially equipped U.S.
Written by Devyani Nagbhirey
Social media use has become increasingly common among children. This is inevitable, as more than half of kids in the country now own a smartphone by the age of 11. And much of the activity that they do on them involve social media networks, from TikTok to Twitter. Because of this trend, it pays not only to monitor your kids’ social media use but also to guide them in navigating these platforms. Below, you can find ways of doing so, using what is called Social Emotional Learning (SEL).
What is SEL?
SEL is simply the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, and attitude that can help people understand and better manage their emotions. With improved socioemotional intelligence, your children will be able to make responsible decisions, create meaningful relationships, and apply empathy in every action they take. This is important for a platform like social media, where there’s so much information available and so many people to interact with.
How to use SEL to help your kids navigate social media
Typically, SEL is embedded in the school curriculum. But as this centers primarily on the development of children, it can be applied in any aspect of their life, such as their social media use. For example, set aside time to talk about issues your children might have encountered online. Ask them about how they felt about these issues. As you allow them to be more open with their emotions, you encourage self-awareness. Consequently, they will learn to manage their emotions, including controlling their impulses.
Once they learn that their emotions are valid, they will be more considerate of other’s feelings, too. Those skills will be helpful as you teach them how to respect people online. After all, it’s not enough to simply tell them that they should not bully anyone without making them understand why. Let your kids place themselves in the shoes of those bullied, and make them realize that their actions, even though virtual, have consequences in the real world.
Also, if you find out that your kids are being peer pressured into following social media trends they’re not comfortable with, instill in them the ability to say no. Cultivate and support their skills and interests outside of the digital scape, like reading or cooking, so that they learn to detach from the online world, become confident in themselves, and develop holistically. Exposing them to a life beyond the screen will also help show them that their worth isn’t dependent on their social media presence alone.
What to do if social media gets too much for your kids
If your child seems to be going through drastic mood changes while using social media, for instance, or if they cannot put down their devices anymore, it might be a sign that you need intervention.
And if you find out that they’re the target of cyberbullying, they’re addicted to social media, or are experiencing other negative symptoms that are too much for you to handle, it’s important to understand that you can get help from mental healthcare professionals. Therapists and counselors are trained under rigorous human development and family studies programs that help them understand the relationships and experiences that shape children and their families.
Such programs allow students to pursue developmental tracks like youth development as well, producing professionals that are knowledgeable in proactive parenting strategies and healthy family patterns. This means that they’ll be fully equipped to help you both tweak your SEL approach in a way that will help you and your child navigate social media together.
If you don’t think traditional counseling is suitable for your child, there is such a thing called “art therapy.” Modern art therapists that have taken a masters in psychology, in particular, can be a great help for children who find it difficult to express themselves through words. They can even offer opportunities for you to bond with your kids through art. Ultimately, when it comes to seeking professional help, there are many avenues you can explore, so take the time to find one that you feel works best for your family.
In this age, it is important to raise well-rounded digital natives. To this end, focus not only on developing your children’s social and emotional intelligence but also on setting a good example for them, both online and in the real world.
Specially written for EquipOurKids.org
By: Rhyslinn Johannah
Research has found that if someone feels empathy, even if it’s just from watching a touching video, it can make them feel more connected to — and generous toward — others. In other words, practicing empathy with your kids can help them grow up to be emotionally intelligent adults. Based on our 60 years of combined experience working with parents and their kids, here are some of the most effective ways to teach children empathy.
- What are my thoughts and feelings?
- What causes those thoughts and feelings?
- How can I express my thoughts and feelings respectfully?
- What different responses can I have to an event?
- How can I respond to an event as constructively as possible?
- How can I better understand other people’s thoughts and feelings?
- How can I better understand why people feel and think the way they do?
- How can I adjust my actions so that my interactions with different people turn out well?
- How can I communicate my expectations to other people?
- How can I communicate with other people to understand and manage their expectations of me?
5-Responsible Decision Making
- What consequences will my actions have on me and others?
- How do my choices align with my values?
- How can I solve problems creatively?
Social-Emotional Learning empowers children to manage their own behavior in positive and productive ways, shifting control to the child.
This counters the “compliance model” widely used in U.S. schools, where adults hold all the power in classrooms and children are passive participants, not drivers of their own development and learning.
Being active in their own development is fundamental to children’s Emotional Intelligence learning, along with acquiring the ability to manage one’s emotions. Managing one’s emotions is hardly a given for a large segment of the population that, without this learning, is beset with remarkably high numbers of people suffering from anxiety or depression, anger issues, or high degrees of interpersonal conflict, violence and suicide.
In fact, most of us experience more emotional upsets and their consequences than we would prefer – in relationships, work, friendships, and in the everyday course of life.
This may be good for the bottom lines of pharmaceutical companies and therapists but is hugely costly in infinite ways to the common good and to the pocketbook of the society as a whole.
Neuroscience readily supports the positive effects of Social-Emotional Learning. Emotional reactions have been found to reside in the primordially-earlier lower brain around the amygdala while more sophisticated learning, thinking, and creativity occur in the later-in-evolution frontal lobes or “higher brain.” Brain scans show that when the lower brain is activated by emotional upset it lights up while the higher brain literally goes dark in activity.
The implications for students can’t be overstated – all learning stops while students are emotionally agitated, with their minds either distracted or full of negative thoughts about themselves, others or the situations they are in. (Read more about Neuroscience.)
Conversely, academic learning takes place on a rapid scale once students are taught to manage their emotions and responses. Surveys of student and teacher satisfaction often soar into the 90 percentile after a school prioritizes Social-Emotional Learning.
An important note: Social-Emotional Learning should not be confused with what educators call “Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS),” a widely implemented system based on “carrot-like” tangible rewards.
Moreover, in uninformed reports, some EQ goals and subset practices are mistakenly taken for the entire complex of EQ learnings students experience. Examples are “violence prevention,” “anti-bullying,” “grit,” “resilience,” “mindfulness” and “growth mindset” practices – the latter a training to be able to take on challenges and failures as normal and educational in themselves rather than as obstacles and defeats.
One other note: Education is littered with competing terms for Social-Emotional Learning, among them “emotional literacy,” “non-cognitive education,” “character education,” and “ethical and moral development.” By whatever name, schools adopting such learning should include the core competencies explained here and their goal should be the other term popular with educators: “Whole Child Development.”