If you watched Coco Gauff’s third round loss in the US Open on Saturday, chances are you won’t remember the score or many details about the match itself; you’ll mostly remember how Naomi Osaka consoled the 15-year-old after her defeat.
And if you’re Osaka’s parent, you should be more proud of the kindness and empathy she showed than the big win she earned. Just two days before the sweet moment between the athletes, writer Anna Nordberg wrote for the Washington Post that parents put too much focus on their kids developing tenacity or grit and not enough focus on developing conscientious characteristics.
Clinical psychologist Lisa Damour tells Nordberg that what actually makes adults happy barely correlates with academic or professional success:
What it does correlate with is quality of relationships, a sense of purpose and feeling that you are good at what you do. “If you walk that back to look at what you can do as a parent, it’s raising conscientious kids,” Damour says. “When you’re conscientious, you tend to have better relationships, you’re caring, you’re not dishonest and you pursue things that have meaning to you.”
Maybe it seems obvious. Of course we want our kids to be good people. Of course we want them to be empathetic and kind and caring. We want our kids to work hard at their goals—even when things get tough—but we don’t want them to be the type of people who are more focused on their personal success than the feelings of those around them.
But apparently we’re not doing a very good job of getting that point across to our kids, at least not according to a 2014 study detailed in The Atlantic:
While 96 percent of parents say they want to raise ethical, caring children, and cite the development of moral character as “very important, if not essential,” 80 percent of the youths surveyed reported that their parents “are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others.” Approximately the same percentage reported that their teachers prioritize student achievement over caring. Surveyed students were three times as likely to agree as disagree with the statement “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my class than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”
So how can we not only value empathy but also encourage it? Well, we start by modeling it. Kids are more likely to do as we do, not do as we say. Let them see you shoveling the sidewalk for your elderly neighbor, volunteering at the local food bank and buying gifts for families in need during the holidays. And when you catch them being kind—praise, praise, praise.
But Nordberg also writes that we should actually create opportunities that “encourage empathy, collaboration and kindness rather than waiting for them to spontaneously happen.” We should be empathy enablers.
Enlist older kids to help with younger kids, whether it’s at home with siblings or at school as mentors or tutors. Involve them in your own problem-solving brainstorms. Clear off the kitchen table and spread out the thank-you card supplies so they’ll actually write the thank-you notes. Seek out moments in which you can encourage them to be kind, and they’ll build those empathetic muscles while also recognizing the value you place on those characteristics.
And then, one day, your kid might be the tennis star who consoles their opponent while the world watches and admires.
Empathy is a skill that parents can work to teach their children through encouragement and emotional development activities. In this episode of Mom Docs, Dr. Dehra Harris shares a few tips for parents to ensure children develop healthy emotional habits and empathy skills. Visit Children’s MomDocs (a blog by mom physicians at St Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine):
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More and more kids are visiting the emergency room for both attempted suicide and suicidal thoughts. According to a new study published on Monday, the number of suicide-related ER visits for children and teens ages five to 18 has nearly doubled since 2007, up from 580,000 to almost 1.2 million in 2015.
“The numbers are very alarming,” Dr. Brett Burstein, lead study author and a pediatric ER doctor at Montreal Children’s Hospital of McGill University Health Centre, told FOX 8, adding, “It also represents a larger percentage of all pediatric emergency department visits. Where suicidal behavior among the pediatric population was just 2 percent of all visits, that’s now up to 3.5 percent.”
The study, which appeared in JAMA Pediatrics, used data from the annual National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey run by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers analyzed children and teens from 300 emergency rooms across the country who were diagnosed with suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts.
In addition to the rising rate of visits, they found that the average age admitted was 13 years old and that almost half of the visits (43 percent) were for children between the ages of five and 11.
This came on the heels of a similar study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal, Pediatrics, which found that the number of young people visiting the emergency room due to “psychiatric reasons” between 2011 and 2015 was up nearly 28 percent. And in March, another national study revealed that the rate of depression among children and teens had increased over 60 percent since 2009.
The results have many medical professionals calling for improved mental healthcare for children moving forward. In Monday’s research letter, study authors explain that there is “a critical need to augment community mental health resources, ED physician preparedness, and post-emergency department risk reduction initiatives to decrease the burden of suicide among children.”
No one wants to hang out with me. I’m a failure at school. All my other friends seem happy. What’s wrong with me?
These kinds of negative thoughts are becoming more common in our homes and schools. Teens are experiencing increased anxiety, and studies indicate that college students in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States are becoming more perfectionistic over time, measuring themselves against unrealistic standards.
Why is this happening? We can’t say for sure—but we do know there are steps teens can take to improve their mental health.
A 2018 study of early adolescents suggests that self-concept (your perception of self) plays a central role in emotional well-being. According to the study, a supportive classroom environment and positive social relationships also affect teen well-being—but the impact is indirect. Positive self-concept seems to be the key variable in the well-being equation. If a student feels good about herself, then she may be more likely to connect with others and benefit from the supports provided at school.
So, how can we influence how students think about themselves? This may feel like a very tall order; yet there is a lot of research out there that provides some clues for supporting the teens in your life. Here are five ways to help tweens and teens move toward a more positive self-concept.
1. Get physical
Although you may have heard this before, kids really can benefit from regular exercise (especially when their tendency is to sit in front of a screen). A recent review of 38 international studies indicates that physical activity alone can improve self-esteem and self-concept in children and adolescents.
Apparently, the exercise setting also matters. Students who participated in supervised activities in schools or gymnasiums reported more significant growth in self-esteem than those who exercised at home and in other settings.
Adolescents’ self-concept is most strongly linked to their sense of physical attractiveness and body image, an area where many people struggle. So, encourage more regular exercise programs during and after school, and support team sports, strength training, running, yoga, and swimming—not just for their effects on the body but on the mind, as well. Getting out and engaging in some form of exercise can make us feel stronger, healthier, and more empowered.
2. Focus on self-compassion (not self-esteem)
Because self-esteem is a global evaluation of your overall worth, it has its dangers. What am I achieving? Am I good enough? How do I compare with my peers?
What would happen if we could stop judging ourselves? Researcher Kristen Neff claims that self-compassion—treating yourself with kindness, openness, and acceptance—is a healthy alternative to the incessant striving and performance orientation often tied up with self-esteem.
In her study of adolescents and young adults, she found that participants with higher self-compassion demonstrated greater well-being. Why? They were okay with their flaws, acknowledged that they struggled just like those around them (“Everybody makes mistakes; you are not alone”), and treated themselves with the same kindness they would extend to a friend (“It’s okay; you did your best”).
Participants with higher self-compassion demonstrated greater well-being. Why? They were okay with their flaws, acknowledged that they struggled just like those around them (“Everybody makes mistakes; you are not alone”), and treated themselves with the same kindness they would extend to a friend
If you are interested in specific techniques and strategies for enhancing self-compassion in teens, take a look at the work of psychologist Karen Bluth. She recently developed a program called Making Friends with Yourself. Youth participating in this eight-week program reported greater resilience, less depression, and less stress at the end of it. However, if there isn’t a program near you, consider sharing this self-compassion workbook with the teens in your life.
3. Avoid social comparison
When we focus on self-esteem, we tend to get caught up in comparing ourselves to others. Teens, in particular, often sense an “imaginary audience” (i.e., “Everyone is looking at me!”) and can become highly sensitized to who they are relative to everyone around them.
Instagram and other social media platforms don’t necessarily help. Some research suggests an association between social media and depression, anxiety, loneliness, and FoMO (fear of missing out) among teens. Their posts may not rack up the number of “likes” that their friends’ posts do, or they may feel excluded when they see pictures of classmates happily spending time together without them.
A new app for teen girls called Maverick may be a healthier option than Snapchat or Instagram. On this social media platform, teens can connect with role models (called “Catalysts”) and explore their creativity (such as designing their own superhero or choosing a personal mantra). Of course, there is always the option of taking a break from social media, as well.
Regardless of what teens choose to do online, many of our schools are also structured for social comparison. Grading, labeling, and tracking practices (grouping students based on their academic performance) don’t necessarily honor the stops, starts, and inevitable mistakes that are a natural part of the learning process.
Provide opportunities to revise and redo assignments.
Avoid ability grouping as much as possible.
Focus on individual growth and improvement.
Acknowledge students’ small successes.
4. Capitalize on specific skills
If you keep your eye out for teens’ talents and interests, you can support them in cultivating their strengths. Your son may think he is a terrible athlete, but he lights up when he works on school science projects. Then there’s that quiet, disheveled ninth-grade girl who sits in the back of your class. She may feel socially awkward, but she wows you with her poetry.
Researcher Susan Harter has studied adolescent self-esteem and self-concept for years. She claims that self-concept is domain-specific. Our overall self-esteem or sense of worth tends to be rooted in eight distinct areas: athletic competence, scholastic competence, behavioral conduct, social acceptance, close friendship, romantic appeal, job satisfaction, and physical attractiveness.
Talk to the teens in your life. What are their personal values and priorities? Share surveys with them like the VIA (which identifies character strengths like bravery, honesty, and leadership) or have them take a multiple intelligences quiz. Celebrate their talents and tailor activities and instruction around their abilities as much as possible.
It may not be easy to shift teens’ global sense of self-worth, but we can certainly highlight and encourage areas of interest and particular skill sets so that they feel more confident, capable, and inspired.
5. Help others (especially strangers)
Finally, when teens reach out to others, they are more likely to feel better about themselves. A 2017 study of 681 U.S. adolescents (ages 11-14) examined their kind and helpful behavior over a four-year period. Researchers found that adolescents who were kind and helpful in general had higher self-esteem, but those who directed their generosity toward strangers (not friends and family) tended to grow in self-esteem.
Last Friday, I joined my daughter and her peers during the “action” phase of their “Change the World” project. Their social studies teacher, Tim Owens, tasked the eighth graders with choosing a sustainability issue, researching the problem and possible solutions, planning action, and implementing the action.
These middle schoolers spent a full day canvasing their neighborhoods to advocate for policies that protected people they don’t know, like local refugees and homeless youth—as well as animals used for product testing. I’ve never seen my daughter and her friends more energized, confident, and engaged with their community.
As adults, we can actively support service learning projects in our schools and our teens’ interests in advocacy and civil engagement. Adolescents around the world can also work remotely with non-profit organizations like DoSomething, “a digital platform promoting offline action” in 131 countries. On this site, young people can choose a cause, the amount of time they want to commit to it, and the type of help they would like to provide (e.g., face-to-face, improving a space, making something, sharing something, etc.)
When teens regularly contribute to a larger cause, they learn to think beyond themselves, which may ultimately help them to be more positive, empowered, and purposeful.
As many teens struggle with anxiety and perfectionism, our urge may be to jump in and fix their problems, whatever we perceive them to be. But a better approach, one that will hopefully help reverse these worrying trends, is to cheer them on as they develop the mental habits and strengths that will support them throughout their lives.
A realization came to me in mid-December. Someone I was close to, had spoken to almost every day for a year and a half, began ignoring me. It was easy to notice. I stepped away from all social media not wanting to be reminded that I’m being ignored. Maybe I said something that bothered this […]
You may have heard people use phrases like “out of control” or “wild” to describe kids who have a hard time controlling their emotions and impulsive behavior. If they’re talking about your child, you might wonder if your child has a disruptive behavior disorder or ADHD. You might even think disruptive behavior disorders and ADHD are the same thing. Disruptive behavior disorders and ADHD have some things in common, such as trouble keeping emotions in check and doing risky, impulsive things. But there are big differences between the two that can affect the strategies used to help your child………..
As a growing number of #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport stories have put a new focus on childhood sexual abuse, parents may have an urgent sense that they should frame conversations with their children about their bodies as safety lessons. But doubling down on warnings is the opposite of what children really need. In researching my new book about how gender equality begins with great sex ed, I learned that teaching what’s good about bodies, sex and love is actually what gives children a secure sense of body sovereignty, boundaries and consent.Children who feel confident in their body knowledge may be quicker to identify when something is awry, and those who learn empathy and egalitarianism less likely to cross another person’s boundaries……
According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, a commission originally set up by MP Jo Cox in 2016, loneliness can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It is also associated with increased risk of heart disease, stroke and blood pressure, as well as dementia – one study cited by the campaign found that lonely people “have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia”. Having healthy social networks, on the other hand, can decrease risk of mortality and of developing diseases, as well as helping people recover when they are ill – and with 9 million adults describing themselves as “often or always lonely”, it is clear that loneliness has become such a pressing public health concern……
We should all be concerned and paying attention to the mental health of our children and youth within society. Evidence suggests that stress and anxiety are on the rise for today’s young people. Even young children between the ages of 2 and 5 are showing higher levels of emotional upset and anxiety (Statistics Canada). Many reasons are cited for this, including things like the impact of bullying, higher rates of divorce and the breakdown of the family, and poverty. Technology and high rates of screen time, less sleep and many other factors also have an effect……
Consistently revising and improving education for everyone is a journey, not just a goal. With things as vital as great teaching and effective learning, teachers and students can benefit from a positive mindset of constant growth and development. According to Folwell Dunbar, the founder of Fire Up Learning, there’s a whole list of things we can start doing anytime to see immediate results in improving education.
“While big, bold initiatives sound good, look pretty (cost a lot), and usually grab all the press, it’s the unheralded acts that, in the end, deliver results …”
It’s true; the little things make a big difference over time. The small steps we take today can have a huge impact tomorrow. Learn more about the small things (and some bigger things) Folwell suggests for improving education in his full article on Edutopia.
Which things from Folwell’s list are you using in your practices? Which ones would you like to try? What do you think might be missing from the list? Share it with us below.
50 Little Things for Improving Education
Serve kids a good, healthy breakfast.
Find out what your kids like and incorporate them into your instruction.
Allow kids to explore topics that really matter to them.
Use big words and encourage kids to do the same.
Ask questions that involve thoughtful answers.
Give kids time to answer those hard questions.
Discuss paintings, films, books, plays, etc.
In your discussions, expect more than “It was awesome!” or “That sucked.”
Model the use of proper English (or Spanish, German, Chinese, etc.).
Adopt efficient routines and procedures.
Remove erasers: time spent erasing is time lost exploring creative ideas.
When watching television, turn on the closed captioning.
Make TV interactive by discussing the shows you watch.
Post the name of the book(s) you’re reading on the door to your classroom or at home. Enthusiasm is infectious.
Post things that inspire and ignite the imagination.
Celebrate learning frequently.
Create quiet and comfortable learning sanctuaries in school and at home.
Provide feedback that’s constructive and actionable.
Assign homework that is meaningful and engaging.
Encourage kids to keep journals they write in every day.
Tell and listen to stories.
Be consistent with rules. Children flourish when they know their boundaries.
Listen to and discuss all kinds of music
Display student work, along with the criteria used to evaluate it.
Read with your child for at least 15 minutes every night, if not longer.
Discuss, question, and debate what you read.
Read and write just for fun.
Keep pets and plants at home and in the classroom.
Eliminate unnecessary distractions during the school day.
Constantly relate what is being taught to the real world.
Listen to audio books whenever and wherever possible.
Allow kids time to reflect on what they’ve learned.
Provide positive reinforcement whenever possible.
Call on students in an equitable manner (popsicle sticks, playing cards, etc.).
Find, bookmark, and visit great educational websites.
Explore interesting areas in your community.
Play intellectually challenging games like Scrabble, chess, and Sudoku.
Take an interest in what children are learning.
Eat well-rounded, healthy snacks.
Have real conversations while dining. (Foreign Language tables can be fun!)
Don’t stress out.
Exercise regularly, and make it fun.
Play sports of every kind.
Don’t complain – it rarely does any good.
Set high standards for yourself and your kids, and expect success.
Travel as much as possible.
Make sure your kids (and you) get a good night’s sleep.
Practice what you teach.
Smile a lot!
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Wabisabi’s prime features include real-time reporting against standards, media-rich learner portfolios, a vibrant collaborative experience, quality lesson plans from teachers all over the world, and much more. Get started with it below and see the possibilities for yourself.
What do we tell the kids about sex? The neighbors are gay and invited us over. What do we tell the kids? The pastor’s been accused of sexual misconduct. What do we tell the kids? A child at school says she no longer identifies as a girl. What do we tell the kids? A teenager […]