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Wellness Initiatives Offer Parents a Template to Reduce Student Stress
With rates of anxiety and depression on the rise among teens and young adults, we increasingly hear about schools and colleges offering student programs relating to “wellness.” For many parents, this word first crept into our vocabulary in the 1990s, often related to human resource initiatives in the workplace. It is now part of the daily lexicon. So, what does wellness mean in the context of schools? And how can parents support these efforts?
The concept of wellness goes beyond preventive care. It promotes a holistic approach to making choices that promote strong health and a fulfilling life. Thinking proactively about wellness has something to offer all teens, even if they currently feel on track for accomplishing their goals. As educators and parents, we are preparing teens to go forth as adults in a world of constant change—and change is often accompanied by stress. At the same time, we must prepare students to navigate a set of technologies that are influencing both brain development and society in ways that we are still decoding. Amidst this backdrop, educators are prioritizing wellness to help students stay grounded in their own values and connected to their community.
Campus wellness initiatives include a wide variety of elements, such as improving access to counseling, increasing fitness options, and offering workshops on topics such as goal-setting and time management. Increasingly, campuses are talking with students about psychological factors that promote a sense of well-being. Education about the dangers of drugs are folded into these efforts. Wellness can also include fun activities to relieve stress and promote community bonding, such as hiking, making bread together, meditating, or making art.
The overarching goal of these activities is to help students build awareness of their own habits, to recognize when they are struggling, and to develop their own set of strategies for keeping balanced and getting support when needed. I once heard Danny Reade of Asperger Experts talk about intentionally building time into his schedule to release anxiety and recharge the emotional bandwidth he needs to engage with the world. This is good advice for all of us.
Like schools, parents can offer teens valuable guidance relating to wellness. Among other tips, the National Association of School Psychologists recommends that parents and teachers encourage teens to develop a range of intellectual, physical, and social competencies; to cultivate a sense of belonging; to help others; and to develop healthy habits for nutrition, sleep, and exercise. This may sound like the standard parental tasks of coaching children on how to cook a meal, make friends, volunteer, and remember to brush their teeth. Yes, all of those classic activities are included. Parents can also add into their repertoire explicit instruction about managing stress, being intentional about digital and human interaction, and other topics that are urgent for today’s teens. Talking specifically about wellness—and modeling it ourselves—gives us a framework to help the next weather setbacks and stay on the path to becoming successful adults.
Jeremy McGeorge specializes in serving families whose children need therapeutic services as part of their educational plan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org