Why American Teens Are So Sad

Derek Thompson in The Atlantic.

Somber opening that won’t surprise anyone working closely with adolescents.

“The United States is experiencing an extreme teenage mental-health crisis. From 2009 to 2021, the share of American high-school students who say they feel “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” rose from 26 percent to 44 percent, according to a new CDC study. This is the highest level of teenage sadness ever recorded.”

The rest is required reading for anyone seeking to understand teen mental health.

Symbolism Over Substance?

I am fortunate to live in Olympia, Washington in the upper lefthand corner of the (dis)United States. This morning I did one of my fave runs. To Priest Point Park, a loop of the heavily wooded east-side trail, and back, 7.5 miles for those keeping score at home. Now I’m sitting at my desk looking alternatively at my computer monitor and Budd Inlet, the southernmost part of the Puget Sound, a series of saltwater inlets that are, in essence, a bucolic part of the Pacific Ocean.

But did I really run to Priest Point Park and am I really sitting above Budd Inlet? Indigenous groups are succeeding in renaming places based upon their history. Now, Budd Inlet is more appropriately called the Salish Sea and the Olympia City Council is in the process of renaming Priest Point Park, Squaxin Park, after the Squaxin island tribe, who lived here first.

I am down with the updating, but I wonder about a potentially subtle, unconscious even, unintended consequence. What if we think land acknowledgement in the form of updated place names is sufficient and stop short of more substantive changes that would both honor Indigenous people’s history and improve their life prospects?

Of course it doesn’t have to be either/or, it can and should be both/and, but we seem prone to superficial, fleeting acts that are often “virtue signaling“. We change our blog header to Ukraine’s flag, we put “Black Lives Matter” stickers on our cars, and otherwise advertise our politics in myriad ways, but we don’t always persevere. With others. Over time. To create meaningful change.

What is the state of the Black Lives Matter movement? How much attention will the media and public be paying to authoritarianism in Eastern Europe a year or five from now?

Admittedly, that’s a cynical perspective, but I prefer skeptical. I’m skeptical that substituting the Salish Sea for Budd Inlet and Squaxin Park for Priest Point Park will do anything to protect salmon, extend educational opportunities for Indigenous young people, educate people about our Indigenous roots, or improve Indigenous people’s lives in the Pacific Northwest more generally.

In fact, I wonder if it may, in an unfortunate paradoxical way confound those things. I hope not.

Spreading Kindness

Inspired by Ann Braden’s “Flight of the Puffin” fourth and fifth graders are making and sharing kindness cards with people in their school community. 

Fifth grader Hazel Uvenes reflects:

“The person who gets the card knows that they are kind and different and amazing in their own way. I think it’s really great because sometimes the littlest things can bring somebody out of a bad day.”

She added:

“I think maybe it could uplift their spirit a lot, and they feel like they can have fun, they believe in themselves, they can be kind to others. . . “

Soon the students will share their kindness cards with local organizations in order to brighten even more people’s days.

Lincoln-Kindness

Schools Remain Sites Of Joy

Hey school principals, pay even closer attention to positive emotions and experiences.

Applies to leaders of all sorts. Scratch that, people of all sorts.

From Education Week, “Rx for Principals: Take in the Joy”.

“. . . almost 45 percent of principals said they had considered leaving their jobs or sped up their plans to exit the principalship because of COVID-related working conditions.

Yes, working conditions for principals have been tough. But that’s only part of the story. Even in the current circumstances, schools remain sites of joy. Principals regularly experience this joy, and it could make a big difference in how they perceive their working conditions.”

Let’s start asking principals. . . and others. . . about their most positive experiences.

“If you ask principals about their positive experiences, you will hear a steady stream of stories and see their faces light up with smiles. For example, an elementary school principal in an urban district described being moved to tears seeing an English-learner student, after a difficult year of transition, reading in two languages. Another principal talked about how meaningful she found coaching a novice teacher who was struggling but also improving by the day. Such experiences too often go unnoticed and unshared.”

What have been your most positive recent experiences?