When most people think of summer, they think of sunshine and relaxation. But for many Michigan children struggling with mental health issues, summer can be anything but tranquil.
Our kids are dealing with unprecedented mental health challenges, including anxiety, depression and other behavioral issues. The prevalence of such challenges among our children was already on the rise before the COVID-19 pandemic came and made it even worse.
While older generations also struggled with mental health during their formative years, the number of students reporting mental health issues has skyrocketed — as has the amount of stress they face. For example, 20 years ago, if a child was being bullied at school, they could find respite after the final bell rang. These days, with the ubiquity of smartphones and the harmful nature of social media, students can never truly get away. The notifications keep coming, all afternoon and all night.
Now with the summer break upon us, many students are separated from the school-based support systems and routines they rely on.
For many kids, “school is a sanctuary,” explains Joe Sbar, a school psychologist with the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District. “Summer is unsupervised, unpredictable and maybe more scary for them.”
Parents and families must provide support for our kids during these crucial summer months to help them maintain their mental health and keep them academically engaged.
Sbar, the 2021 Michigan School Psychologist of the Year, has some tips for parents to help their children maintain good mental health over the summer and beyond:
- Spend time with your children and work to grow the parent-child bond. “Being a source of love, strength and positivity goes a very long way,” Sbar says. “When that’s absent in a kid’s life, that usually manifests in one way or another.”
- Keep kids exposed to the academic curriculum as much as possible. Falling behind is a significant source of frustration for many students and can compound existing mental health issues.
- Place intense restrictions on social media use. “To put it plain and simple, social media is bad,” Sbar asserts. “It’s bad for mental health; it wastes time … it makes people insecure. It’s damaging to adults, and it’s more damaging to kids. That’s a sweeping generalization I’m comfortable making: Kids should not have social media.”
- Take advantage of local mental health resources, whether through a private provider, a local community mental health agency or your local schools. Contact your local Intermediate School District or Regional Education Service Agency to inquire about support services for your child. In addition, students can call the Stay Well counseling line at 888-535-6136 to receive free, anonymous help at any time.
Our children’s mental health is a top concern for everyone involved with schools, from educators to parents to students themselves. It’s good news, then, that state leaders like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have placed an increased budgetary emphasis on student mental health.
Local school officials must use this funding wisely by increasing compensation for school counselors, social workers and psychologists. Only then can we attract and retain enough school mental health professionals to help every student who needs it.
We can solve this crisis, but it will take time, effort and cooperation. Parents and educators must work to strengthen their bonds and lines of communication, so we can all work together as one to help our kids address their challenges.
Young people today deserve the same opportunities to live happy, productive lives as previous generations did. So for educators, parents, local school officials and state leaders, it’s all hands on deck.
Let’s do it for the kids.
Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Ray Curry, Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights Executive Secretary-Treasurer Tom Lutz and selected Service Employees International Union members.