Their View: Schools and well-being: Academics are not enough

Our children are not well emotionally, psychologically and physically, and those most responsible for their well-being — teachers and parents — have not been provided with a way to address the problem. Well-being refers to psychological and physical health, where health is not simply the absence of mental or physical illness, but the more positive connotation of how well your life is going.

Young people are suffering in silence about their despair that life can be positive as indicated by a recent American Freshman Survey: “The emotional health of incoming freshmen is at its lowest point in at least three decades.” The annual survey, now entering its 50th year, collected responses from 153,000 full-time, first-year students at 227 four-year public and private institutions in 2014. Well-being measures and outcomes have not been on the radar screens of our education leaders and policymakers, and parents have been led to believe that if children do well in school academically then they will also be happy, healthy, flourishing children. Maybe it is time that parents learn the truth.

Parents and teachers must come together to align their views, since our policymakers and leaders do not understand the extent of the problems or how to intervene. Parents should ask their public school leaders why the Pennsylvania Youth Survey Centre County 2013 survey results found that “the most commonly reported depressed thought was ‘at times I think I am no good at all,’ ” which was reported by 30.4 percent of students in this county, and where 27.1 percent of students actually felt depressed or sad most days. Yet there are no methods advocated by school leaders for teachers, school counselors or parents to prevent these destructive thought patterns and associated feelings. Further, our mental health and education experts consider protective factors to be primarily external and focus upon family, school and community with no inner psychological self-attributions considered. It is time to change this focus and lens that we use to educate our children toward what is the most important protective factor for a good life — self-knowledge.

In my book I describe the extent of the emotional, psychological and physical well-being problems in our society, and provide approaches to intervene. It discusses research-based programs such as: the Integrated Self Model (iSelf); Self Across the Curriculum; The Success Predictor; among other best practices used in K-16 schooling.

Parents and teachers have to arm themselves with the latest techniques and research about the importance of self-knowledge as the No. 1 protective factor for a successful life. The amount of information available to humans is increasing at an exponential rate, and it is impossible for the education system to teach all of the information required in specific subject areas. What is possible and essential is to teach about self-understanding and adaptability to think and feel in order to thrive in an increasingly complex modern life.

The data on whole child well-being is dismal, and parents and teachers want to give children the tools for a happy, healthy and successful life. Parents want to measure: What do our children know about themselves, do they know their strengths, do they have a sense of direction, do they have the self-confidence to be assertive and put forward their own ideas in the world?

Teachers and parents need to stand up for what they want to see happening in their schools, because policies lag behind what people really need for their children. To provide young people with hope for a better future during Mental Health Awareness Month, shouldn’t we be taking more impactful action and doing more to create emotionally and psychologically well young people?

Parents and especially their children want and deserve more serious and committed actions and methods to improve well-being outcomes. Our schools need the teaching of self-understanding and well-being infused across the curriculum. At the very least, academic outcomes will go up, at the most, we have happier, healthier children.