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Protecting Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Report

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.

U.S. 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.

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Five Benefits of an Education that is More Than Grades

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

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Our children are facing a mental health crisis — we can and must address it today

The  return of students and teachers to classrooms is highlighting the extraordinary impact the pandemic has had — and continues to have — on students’ mental health. Anxiety about making friends, the loss of loved ones who passed, and difficulties with basic behavioral skills are a few examples of social and emotional pressures. If left unmet, the mental health needs caused by these pressures will mark this generation in yet another way and keep them from living up to their potential.

Read the full article

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How Parents Can Use SEL to Help Kids Navigate Social Media

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

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The Emotional Intelligence Skills Parents Need to Teach Kids

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.

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The Secret to Raising a Resilient Kid

Resiliency is the ability to engage with a challenge, risk or impediment, and come out the other side with some measure of success. It’s a psychological principle blending optimism, flexibility, problem-solving and motivation.

 

Most experts say resiliency is something that can be fostered, nurtured, and developed in children from a very young age.

 

The ability to bounce back is more important now than ever; here’s how to impart it.

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Ways Parents Can Build Kid’s EQ

Incorporate Emotional Intelligence into family fun

Summer evokes a long-standing pastime for families to take a break from the school year and work. Picnics, amusement park rides, and getaway excursions usually top the list of things to do. But have you thought about including self-awareness into your list of family activities?

  • Want to watch engaging puppets act out their emotions?
  • Learn some catchy and educational dance steps?
  • Or show your artistic side in an online adventure game?

Families can interpersonally connect with each other when they engage their feelings and those of others.  Emotions matter, and practicing mindfulness, empathy, and self-awareness are the building blocks of emotional intelligence. So why not start instilling these characteristics in the formative years to become second nature in adulthood.   

Check out the following list of resources.  Most of the sites provide free access. 

Many are entertaining, such as the Sesame Street videos, while others are enlightening and informative. There’s something for everyone from pre-K to adults!

Store

​​Welcome to the Big EQ Shop! 

Our store has a variety of plush dolls, card games, and books free or paid for. 

Video games with emotional intelligence themes:

The Game | Online Activities For Mental Health

Go Noodle Games and Videos

Toolkits

Parents Online Resources EQuipOurKids and Family Online Resources EquipOurKids 

Includes links to free and paid EQ home games.

Social Skills for Parents TODAY 

Books and guides for Pre-K to Post High School ages. 

Social and Emotional Development Videos

Share Song Sesame Street 

Play Together

Difficult Tough Talks Sesame Street

Love My Hair Sesame Street (Engish/Spanish)

Name That Emotion with Murray!

Mindful Physical Activities

https://cosmickids.com/

Bring out your inner Zen with this yoga application. Try it out for two weeks free. 

Why Are Some People Mean? | Cosmic Kids Zen Den (Mindfulness for Kids)

How to Make Good Choices | Zen Den | Mindfulness for Kids

Zen Den | How to Deal with Nightmares | Mindfulness for Kids

Yoga Class: Following My Teacher | Sesame Street 

Song: Elmo’s Got the Moves | Sesame Street 

Song Dance – Elmo Slide Sesame Street

For Adults

EQ Tips, Exercises, and Videos  

The guide includes meditation audio to relieve mental stress.

When families engage their senses, they bring balance to their lives and improve relationships. Adding awareness activities shows parents and children a mental map on how they can empower their interactions through emotional intelligence-building games, physical activities, and more.