RESEARCH shows that our young people are struggling. They are faced with pressures and disconnections that have resulted in three main childhood life-threatening epidemics that I call the “BIG 3”-
The statistics from the Big 3 for our American youth are severe, preventable, and not necessary. Here are just a few of the many.
- Cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death for 5-14 years-olds.1
- 20% of students 13-18 LIVE with a mental health condition.2
- 6.4 million 4-17 year old children (11%) in the United States are on medications for ADHD and a total of 9 million with neurobiologic psychiatric diagnoses of one sort or another are on one or more psychotropic drugs. We’re talking about as many kids as you’ve got people in New York City.”3
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds1 and the 3rd leading cause of death 10-14 year olds.1
- There are more than 600,000 under-18-year-olds living in juvenile detention centers every year; 25% are incarcerated for violent offenses.4
Together, these stats alone cost society over 2 trillion dollars. There are a myriad of factors that work together to create these undesirable outcomes for our young people. However, there is one main variable that is the primary source of these stats. It is so powerful, that when shifted, it will save the lives of millions of young people as well as save trillions of dollars.
THE DISEMPOWERING TREATMENT OF CHILDREN
Research shows that 1/2 to 2/3’s of all American school-age children (0-18) are exposed to a wide variety of stressful and potentially traumatic events that overwhelms their natural ability to be resilient and healthy. 5-7 Young people are very vulnerable to these stressors because of their inability to process information positively and make sense of it. Research has just in the last five years, provided a clear understanding of what children truly need in order to thrive in society no matter the challenges they face.8-10 If a child does not receive these things during times of stress, they will learn to cope in unhealthy ways. They learn to stuff down their feelings and put on an emotional suit of armor to survive, thus becoming robotic, afraid to speak up, pleasing, or quite the opposite occurs where the child becomes defiant, unmotivated, and confrontational. Either one of these paths, unfortunately leads to increases in shame and toxic stress which are the main factors that are linked to the “Big 3” youth statistical challenges we have today.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest societal challenges that exasperates the mistreatment of young people is the archaic, industrialized, one-size-fits-all, disempowering educational framework and philosophy. According to historical research in politics, economics, and religion, the current school system model was created in the 1800’s to do three things: (1) mass educate kids quickly so they could continue working, (2) shut down the imaginations of its participants to disconnect people from each other and control society, and (3) weed out the dumb from the smart.11-12 Schools were actually designed to purposely disempower students (and teachers) by emphasizing mainstream rules, testing, curricula, and skills over individualized learning. This philosophy does not support what we now know children really need to thrive. In fact, it actually makes things worse. When students are non-compliant with these mainstream top-down goals, they are reprimanded, degraded, punished, and sent home. Students who survive the system, learn to conform and please thinking they are getting what they need to be successful. Our young people spend an average of 1200 hours in school every year, so the ramifications of this robotized, competitive, normalized system unknowingly becomes an additional source of “systematic trauma” and has added to a current generation of students and teachers that are struggling inside and are either unaware or too scared to say or do anything about it.
“We are in an educational “disconnection epidemic” and the students and teachers are paying the price for it, physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and mentally.”
When privately asked if students value and like school, they mostly state “No, but I have to do it to make it in the world.” The consensus is that they all start out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in kindergarten, loving to learn, and then most of them by fourth grade think school is a drudgery and totally boring. By high school they feel like they are being taught to be good memorizers and “regurgitators of facts,” – like ‘intellectual robots.” They pretty much only like school for the social aspect. By college they feel powerless, unmotivated, exhausted, burned-out, and disrespected as students. They just want to be told what to learn, literally be spoon-fed, get the work done as quickly as possible (whether they learn anything is not important), graduate, and then move on so they can get a job and make money. Many college students are burnt out and sick after graduation and spend months recuperating. Employers have felt the ramifications of this by hiring graduates who are not creative, can’t problem solve on their own, are not self-driven, and don’t know how to apply pertinent knowledge into the business13.
Overall, the school system’s outcome-focused, prison-like philosophy is unintentionally adding to the trauma and challenges that students are already coming to school with. The results are young people who can’t think on their own, are afraid of making mistakes and looking stupid, and who hide and don’t speak up and stand for themselves or what they believe in. No wonder we are in an epidemic of young people who consistently feel stressed, overwhelmed, angry, depressed, sick, exhausted, and are addicted.
THE SOLUTION: It is Not Too Late!
Fortunately, research shows that the effects of adverse childhood experiences can be reversed by giving young people what their brain and body really need especially during challenging times.8-9
If adults learn to do these 5 things with young people at home and at school (especially at school), this young generation will be less likely to become a Big 3 Statistic.
1. GIVE AND MODEL CONNECTION.
The human brain is hardwired for connection and belonging14-16. This means that if an individual believes he is not going to belong (get rejected, feel not liked/loved), he feels shame (“I must not be enough.”). These feelings are extremely painful and are cued in as a “death” signal to the brain. The brain and body then respond with the stress response (fight, flight, or freeze). Human beings will unconsciously do ANYTHING, empowering or disempowering, to get connection and feel like they belong and are “good enough” so they don’t have to feel the shame and the anxiety that comes with the fear of not belonging. Whatever “thing or behavior” (empowering or disempowering) that relieves the shame and anxiety will become a consistent behavioral pattern in the nervous system that will continue until interrupted.
Kids who are behaving in challenging ways are giving adults clues that they are experiencing these disempowering patterns. They don’t need punishment and disconnection. They need to receive connection in positive, empowering ways and learn personal resiliency and wellness skills to replace the old disempowering patterns. When young people feel secure that they will be connected with because they are “enough”, they will feel calm and safe and feel good about being themselves; they can move through inner and outer conflicts peacefully, and make decisions that support themselves and others in moving forward towards healthy and empowering goals. Adults must be taught how to stay connected, compassionate and respectful with young people even in the worst of times and teach them to build positive and empowering behavioral patterns that help them thrive. This will decrease stress and shame which are the variables that lead to chronic disease, suicide and violence.
2. PRACTICE DAILY POSITIVE WELLNESS SKILLS.
We are taught by our societal systems to get things done, make the grade, and achieve so we can be the best and come out on top. This is what we have learned to believe is important in life. The slow development of this pattern is pervasive in most industrialized nations and leads to a lack of self-care and poor health habits. This must change. We must set up our home, school, and work system environments to overtly and covertly teach healthy ways of being. Adults should model for children how to be well and maintain good health while having lots of fun so these positive practices become habits. Research is clear on how feeling healthy increases the desire to learn.16a Balancing daily wellness practices increase empowering body-mind connections which is the key to living a healthy, confident and resilient life. This makes a huge difference in decreasing the Big 3 stats.
3. PROVIDE POSITIVE EXPERIENCES THAT INCREASE INTRINSIC MOTIVATION TO REACH SELF-DEFINED GOALS OF SUCCESS.
Motivational research17-21 shows that for humans to be motivated to move forward in life and create positive, healthy outcomes for themselves, they must learn to:
- attribute their own definitions of success to something they can control.
- make decisions and problem solve through making their own choices and experiencing the outcomes of those choices.
- not use extrinsic rewards for motivation; they undermine intrinsic motivation.
- build their self-efficacy for learning new things through modeling, partnership, qualitative feedback (not praise) and trial and error. (For more info on self-efficacy- https://positivepsychology.com/self-efficacy/)
- focus on the process of developing our 6 core human needs (love/connection, security/certainty, significance/importance, variety/adventure, learning/growing, contribution) as our goals in life and not on outcomes of winning, getting it right, being the best, or proving (survival of the fittest). Rules are set, and skills are taught, but not at the expense of the person’s individual needs.
- provide a progression of learning experiences and goals that meets the person’s current level of achievement and moves them forward using a step-by-step process.
- focus on individualized learning through self-chosen goals that are meaningful and fun and apply to a person’s passions, life, and the real world.
- know that mistakes are the gateway to learning and not be penalized for them. We are so conditioned to believe that the only way to be good at something is to be penalized for not doing it correctly. It is actually the opposite. We need to be able to keep trying at things until we reach mastery especially if the motivation is there.
4. TEACH AND MODEL CONFLICT RESOLUTION PRACTICES AND SELF-LEADERSHIP SKILLS
As models for young people, adults must remember that challenges and conflicts in life happen, and it is in the learning how to resolve them and express what is working and not working that real learning happens. Adults shouldn’t keep children in a bubble not allowing them to experience and express life as it comes. They must let them experience their challenges (as long as they are safe) and then non-judgmentally model personal empowerment skills such as setting personal boundaries, using empathy, dealing with emotional triggers, and using clear, respectful, honest communication to reach win-win agreements. In addition, helping young people to become aware of, understand, and be proactive in their own thinking, feeling, and actions so they build courage and feel more comfortable with vulnerability are crucial to a young person’s success. These things will help children develop self-leadership skills so they are able to be themselves and go out in the world wanting to learn, grow and contribute as well as be able to problem solve, make decisions, be self-disciplined, respectful, and express their talents and gifts with others towards common goals.23-24
5. HAVE FUN, MOVE AND PLAY
Young people learn best through their passions. Play is the passion of children. If children don’t get enough play, then their development is hindered.25-26 Play allows young people the opportunity to develop:
- their five senses and their intuition by exploring their world,
- problem solving skills,
- positive relationship building through teamwork and conflict resolution practices,
- life skills, creativity and innovation at their developmental level,
- their individual strengths and accept their weaknesses.
As children grow up, play eventually shifts into personal hobbies, and then into their careers.
The current educational system philosophy and framework does not take into account the very things our young people truly need to thrive. It will take a generation of adults who learn how to develop these 5 skills for themselves and feel the positive outcomes in their lives to feel comfortable enough to stand for young people to have these experiences. Adults must learn to do this NOW. We don’t have time to waste. As teachers, parents and child-care givers learn these skills, they will be able to truly connect with, develop and support young people in expressing their own intrinsic brilliance and individuality. Then and only then will we see a huge drop in the Big 3 stats.
The old “survival of the most academically and athletically fittest” educational philosophy must be displaced by a new, HEALTHY and EMPOWERING one where everyone can express themselves. Our educational thought leaders, teachers, students and administrators on all levels must speak out and do whatever it takes to make the shift. The students and teachers are already ready for this change. They have been waiting for 200 years.
Our current and future generations, our taxpayers, and our communities deserve a generation of well, empowered, self-leaders who love to learn and will go on to live their personal legacies leading the way in supporting a healthy planet. We all will massively benefit from this economically. Trillions of dollars will be saved in healthcare and social justice costs just by shifting the educational philosophy and framework. Coaching and training teachers and other adults in how to give children what they truly need decreases toxic stress, shame and anxiety which are the main factors in creating behaviors that decrease our health and increase violence, depression, addiction and suicide. It is time! What can you do NOW to help make the change?
Meg Hanshaw PhD is the Founder and Executive Director of i.b.mee. (I Be Me). She is dedicated to helping shift the educational system into a healthy and empowering paradigm so all students are W.E.L.L. (Well, Empowered, self-Leaders, who love to learn and are living their Legacy).
i.b.mee. offers School, Teacher, Parent and Student Empowerment programs that focus in on the Science of Coaching and Empowerment, and the 5 things listed above as the foundational methodologies and theories for educational change. Please support i.b.mee.!! The students and teachers will be so appreciative of it!
Check out our video about what happens when we treat our children in disempowering ways.
7Felitti, V.J. et al. (1998).“Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults,” –American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 14, 245–258.
8Research Analysis on An Integrated Scientific Framework for Child Survival and Early Childhood Development Shonkoff, Richter, van der Gaag, and Bhutta, PEDIATRICS Vol. 129 No. 2 February 1, 2012
9Siegel, D. J. (2001). Toward an interpersonal neurobiology of the developing mind: Attachment relationships,“mindsight,” and neural integration. Infant mental health journal, 22(1-2), 67-94.
10Werner, E.E (2005). Resilience and Recovery: Findings from the Kauai Longitudinal Study. FOCAL POiNT Research, Policy, and Practice in Children’s Mental Health Summer 2005, Vol. 19 No. 1, pages 11-14
10a Leveraging the biology of adversity to address the roots of disparities in health and development – Jack P. Shonkoff Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 02138.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Oct 16; 109(Suppl 2): 17302–17307.
Published online 2012 Oct 8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1121259109
11John Gatto’s work: http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/john_gatto.html http://www.wesjones.com/gatto1.htm http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Gatto.html
13“Are They Really Ready to Work?” sponsored by The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management. Accessed January 15, 2008.
14Brene Brown (2006). Shame Resilience Theory: A Grounded Theory Study on Women and Shame. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services.Vol. 87, No. 1, pp. 43-52
15 Joseph A. Durlak et.al. (2011). The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions, Child Development Loyola College, January/February 2011, Volume 82, Number 1, Pages 405–432.
15AMaura McInerney, Esq. Senior Staff Attorney Amy McKlindon, M.S.W. (2014). Unlocking the Door to Learning: Trauma-Informed Classrooms & Transformational Schools, Education Law Center, December 2014.
16Siegel, Dan. Relationship Science
17Albert Bandura. Social learning Theory
18Weiner, Bernard. A theory of motivation for some classroom experiences. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 71(1), Feb 1979, 3-25.http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-06188.8.131.52
19An Attributional Theory of Motivation and Emotion; Part of the series SSSP Springer Series in Social Psychology pp 159-190
20Anthony Robbins and Chloe Maddaness PhD – The 6 Core Human Needs http://www.lifecoachinginterventions.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Significance-of-Your-Most-Important-Needs.pdf
21Alphie Kohn; http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/five-reasons-stop-saying-good-job/
22Kaizen Way; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWUDV6xJRPc
24Developing Self-Leadership Skills
25Miller, E., & Almon, J. (2009). Crisis in kindergarten: Summary and recommendations of why children need to play in school