Parents may be surprised to know that the stretch of school starting after Labor Day until our break in October is the second longest of the year; it’s second only to the end-of-year marathon from April through May. Why is this important? Because it takes time for our kids to build up the stamina for school, and they will likely experience fatigue by the end of the month. Fatigue, subsequently, leaves our kids vulnerable to sickness and the mental health challenges prevalent in our youth today.
In the Depression Cure, Dr. Stephen Ilardi states that much of our modern mental health struggles are the result of straying from what sustained us for millions of years:
- diets rich in Omega 3 fatty acids,
- natural sunlight,
- ample sleep,
- social connection, and
- participation in meaningful activities.
Fortunately, as parents and guardians, we can take a few simple steps to help our kids add these sustaining activities, which allow them get the mental and physical rest they need to set them up for success. Today, I’d like to mention four of these success steps, including nature walks, assigning chores, helping your kids set a daily schedule, and setting electronics free time during the week.
Numerous studies show the value of “nature” toward improving mental health and well being. Being in nature can reduce depression and anxiety, improve sleep, reduce stress, reduce negative emotions, promote positive social interactions, and even help generate a sense of meaning to life. As parents, we can facilitate all of these for our children. I want to share two easy ways to provide natural sunlight and meaningful activities.
- Take a walk around the neighborhood. Given our busy lives during the school year, it isn’t easy to head up I-70 in an afternoon for a hike, but a simple walk through your neighborhood park, electronics free, will do the trick. Ask your kids to identify the trees on their walk, or name the birds they hear by the song, and their minds will soon be free of their daily stresses, and instead be occupied by the wonders of the natural world around them. Trust me, doing this will develop a positive habit they’ll have for the rest of their lives.
- Assign chores. The “meaningful activities” our ancestors engaged in can be mimicked by assigning your kids chores around the house. Providing chores for your child helps them feel a sense of ownership over your family’s well being. Additionally, chores allow them to complete tangible accomplishments, which are building blocks toward self-efficacy and confidence. Finally, adding meaningful activities into your student’s day will help replace their negative thoughts with positive, affirming ones.
In October, PRA will host our annual viewing of “Screenagers,” which kicks off our month-long, semi-formal conversation around how electronics impact our kids. We’ll share what we’ve learned about the benefits and perils of screen time in order to develop strategies that help our kids find a healthy balance with technology in their lives.
One you can use to help your student is to set electronics-free time during the week and at night. In October, we’ll discuss all of the ways to do this, and the benefits of it, so today I’ll focus on one idea.
- Remove electronics 30 minutes before and during bedtime. It is tempting and easy for our kids to get onto social media or YouTube when they go into their rooms, and the repercussions are serious. In short, doing so cuts into their sleep time, sometimes severely so. Ms. Baldwin and I hear stories daily from our students about being exhausted because they “stayed up all night watching YouTube,” and their days predictably go badly. This will be a great topic of conversation for our community gathering, but suffice it to say, if there is one thing you can do to help your students fight fatigue, stress, anxiety, and the like, it is to make sure they do not have access to electronics at bedtime.
Finally, if you haven’t already done so (per my previous Miner Mail), please help your child develop a consistent and predictable daily routine that includes an after school snack, exercise time, homework time, and family discussion.
Being a parent of a middle school student requires a lot of time and energy, but it is one of the most amazing times for your entire family. I’m grateful for whatever part that PRA plays in your child’s growth, so please let me know if you have any questions, or what I can do to help you in your journey.
by Steve Thygesen
Middle School Principal