Don’t Sacrifice Happiness and Health
In the world of high school academics and college applications, most of us tend to focus on the data: grades, test scores, admissions.
But there is something more important that we all need to pay attention to: We need to prioritize the mental health of our kids.
How My Family Chose Happiness
Let me tell you a personal story about my family and how we value mental health.
My son was admitted into a new honors program at one of our local middle schools. It is a rigorous program, designed to complete 5 years of schooling in 3 years.
The first year of the program, his 6th grade year, was entirely online due to COVID.
Socially, it was challenging for everyone. My son knew several of his classmates from elementary school, but none of his closest guy friends were in his classes.
Of course everyone was in the same boat, and we worked hard to keep him engaged with his friends through neighborhood bike rides, outdoor activities, etc.
When school started in 7th grade, we expected his social life to improve.
It didn’t. If anything, it got worse.
While he was excelling academically, he came home from school every day feeling miserable. His only new friend in the program moved away, and he felt extremely isolated from the rest of his middle school and from his friends at other schools.
A couple of months into the year, he got the opportunity to transfer into the charter school most of his closest friends attend. It is definitely not as academically rigorous as his honors program, but would allow him to be back in his friend group.
So we were presented with a choice: sacrifice some happiness for academics, or sacrifice some academics for happiness.
It was a no-brainer.
We did leave the choice up to our son, but when he chose to switch schools, we let him know that we fully supported his decision.
Now he is excelling in school and much happier.
Though choices are rarely so clear cut, I hope he will take away a valuable lesson: when choosing between success without happiness and happiness without success, always choose happiness.
Finding Your Balance
Of course the best path is happiness with success, and success often contributes to happiness.
Finding that balance is perhaps life’s most pressing challenge.
Steps We Can All Take
So here are a few steps we can all take to help prioritize mental health:
- Talk to your kids. Pay attention when something seems to be bothering them, and let them know you’re there to support them without judgement. But don’t push your kids too hard if they seem reluctant to reveal what’s going on. Instead, find other ways for them to get help.
- Help with time management. Poor time management is a huge stress factor, and our kids need to learn how to plan ahead and prepare.
- Acknowledge the challenges they face. COVID has made life particularly hard for kids, but elementary, middle and high school have always been emotionally challenging. Your emotional support goes a long way.
- Allow room for mistakes. Treat mistakes as a normal part of growing and learning.
- Understand social media pressures. Kids will say things on social media that they would never voice in person. They can be extremely hurtful and embarrassing, and the anxiety that kids can feel after being attacked or ridiculed online is very real.
- Encourage healthy habits. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and getting regular exercise are extremely important fro mental health. You can also help your kids make time for mindfulness, self-reflection, and/or meditation.
- Get help whenever they need it. School often provide mental health assistance through the counseling office, but there are many other options, from private therapists to groups sessions to telephone hotlines.
- Help remove any stigma from seeking mental health aid. Treat mental health more like you’d treat an injury or physical illness.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but I hope it will start a conversation, open a door, or just help us be more mindful of our kids’ mental health.