Saturday, October 17, 2015

What is Really Important?

A dear friend who is a social worker shared this via Facebook this morning...

From the Iowa Foster & Adoptive Parents Association's Facebook page.
This is a real concern.


Kids struggle with depression.

Let me say that again:

Kids. Struggle. With. Depression.

This is a real thing, and if you a teacher, a parent, or work with young people in any way, you need to be aware of this.

Want numbers? Okay, here goes...
  • According to the CDC, in 2005-2006, 4.3% of American youth (ages 12-17) were struggling with depression. [Source]
  • According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2013, 10.7% of adolescents (ages 12-17) had at least one major depressive episode. [Source]
  • According to the National Institute of Mental Health, just over 20 percent (or 1 in 5) children, either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder. [Source]
  • According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%. [Source]

Think about these statistics a bit.
  • If you teach elementary students, and you have a class of 20 students, you can figure that 2-3 of them may be struggling with depression or some other mental illness. 
  • If you teach middle school or high school, how many students do you see in a day? 80? 100? More? What fraction of those students are struggling with depression or some other mental illness?
Would you know which of your students are struggling?

Much as it would be great to duck our heads into the sand, or pretend that this problem doesn't exist, or try to explain it away, that won't change anything.

Parents who might be reading this, an encouragement: let's keep our priorities straight, okay? Your kid's mental health is more important than their grades. I can hear some of you saying, "But, Dave, they are in school to learn! Don't their grades matter?" Well, yes and no. Honestly, grades don't always tell the story of what they have learned. (Sadly, far too often, grades tell more about kids' ability to comply with teachers' rules than serving as actual communication about what they have learned. Many teachers are unwittingly grading for behavior rather than grading for learning.) So do advocate for your kids. Explain the situation to their teachers. If the teachers won't work with you, get the administration involved. But let's be realistic about this too. While it would certainly be great for a child struggling with depression to have a "win" in their school work--let's be straight about this: kids see "A's" as wins, and low grades as losses--let's keep our focus on the big picture: what is really important? Your kid's mental health is more important than the grades.

Now a word to teachers: the fact of the matter is, some of your students are struggling with far bigger things than the worksheet you assigned (and that they failed to complete) or finishing reading that novel you assigned (and that they missed out on.) How are you grading them? Are your grades about making them jump through your hoops? Because if the grades aren't about measuring learning, you aren't really helping any of your students. And even if you are grading for learning (not compliance,) students struggling with mental illness have more going on than their school work. Let's keep our focus on the big picture: what is really important? 

Ideally, parents and teacher, and the whole school community are going to be working together for the good of the kids. But if it comes down to grades vs. mental health...let's remember what is really important!

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