This post is sponsored by The Allstate Foundation. All opinions are my own.
This November ushers in my 40th year on the planet. When I recall some of my best times, those beloved teenage years immediately come rushing back. Turning 13 was exhilarating! Turning 16 was freedom! Turning 18 was a milestone! I felt invincible, always on the brink of another exciting first. Life was breezy…so says hindsight.
Then I also remember…
Turning 13 was confusing;
turning 16 was intimidating;
turning 18 was scary.
Truth bombs and responsibilities fell from the sky like fat raindrops drenching everything they touched. I often felt torn, always on the brink of a crisis. Life was actually kinda heavy. Factor hormones into the mix and my teenage years could succinctly be summarized as: WHOA.
Today, as an educator and a parent, it’s all too easy to forget about all those bumps in the road; thanks to precious perspective, my teenage years ultimately remain synonymous with positive experiences. What we all need to remember, though, is that youth doesn’t offer the gift of hindsight. Not only are kids dealing with the “normal” range of teenage angst, but today’s teens don’t have the luxury of turning off. They’re connected 24/7 with no reprieve from the stress or FOMO (fear of missing out). It’s the perfect storm and I’ve seen the toll it takes first-hand.
Over the past five years especially, I’ve witnessed a steep decline in my students’ mental health. A large percentage of them are medicated or hospitalized, struggling with anxiety, depression, and personality disorders. My colleagues and I recognized the need for social and emotional learning (SEL) and responded with things like supplemental mental health resources, small group support, and ongoing communications. We opened dialogue about growth mindsets and perseverance and focused on building communication and conflict management skills. We did what we could in the school setting, but as with all things education, we needed parents as allies.
Fortunately, we weren’t the only ones working overtime to address students’ SEL needs: the Allstate Foundation created the Happy, Successful Teens SEL Parents Guide & you can download it for free.
The Allstate Foundation empowers young people, parents, and educators by giving them access to evidence-based programs and curriculum that fosters social-emotional learning. The traits we typically associate with successful, well-rounded people – empathy, resilience, self-discipline, confidence – are all social and emotional skills. SEL gives teenagers the tools to engage with the world in an informal, every-day kind of way. Even before the disruption and uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, skills like stress-management, communication and resiliency were in high demand.
In school and at home, SEL looks like opportunities for kids to understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Somewhere along the way, social-emotional competence has fallen by the wayside. Without early and ongoing opportunities to hone skills like emotional regulation and self-management, kids will begin building an incomplete puzzle of adulthood where the missing pieces leaving gaping holes in their character.
As adults, we understand the importance of SEL and how a lack of it will negatively impact the future. Let’s do better for today’s kids and their kids by supporting social and emotional learning at home and in the classroom. An easy first step is downloading The Allstate Foundation’s free guide. And let’s not forget our teenage years for what they really were: a wonderfully befuddling time filled with all-encompassing confusing emotions!