Whether they wanted it or not, today’s teachers, no matter what class, are in the mental health business.
“It’s the critical piece” of education, said Dr. Michael J. Bradley, a Bucks County-based adolescent psychologist and author, who spoke to approximately 150 teachers, administrators, staff and parents at Quakertown Community High School on June 19.
Bradley was brought to the district by Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner, who wanted school leaders to hear his “incredibly powerful” presentation.
“Every year, mental health issues that we see in our schools are growing,” he said. “Things are very different than they have been, and the disruptive behavior from mental health issues are starting in earlier years.”
Which is why the administration recommended four new positions, all approved by the school board, devoted to the mental health of students. In addition, a 2019-20 superintendent goal specifically deals with the “Culture of Safety, Security and Wellness.”
Bradley discussed highlights of his latest book: “Crazy-Stressed, Saving Today’s Overwhelmed Teens with Love, Laughter, and the Science of Resilience. They included: What kids these days are really going through; ways to strengthen the seven skills every teen needs to survive and thrive; what-to-do when suggestions for common behavior, school and social issues; and tactics for coping with conflict, teaching consequences, improving communication and staying connected.
He said the pressures on adolescents today are far greater than in the past, with increasing academic demands, time-consuming athletic and extracurricular commitments and sleep deprivation. The addition of screen addiction and cyber bullying increase challenges young people face today.
“These kids are suffering exponentially more than us as teens,” Bradley said. “When school opens, and the kids walk past you, you need to know that one in five have considered (suicide). It’s part and parcel of our kids’ culture.” Teen suicide, he said, has increased 500 percent since 1952.
Developing “assets of resilience” is how to combat “a culture that prompts them to act out in ways to hurt them. Violence has also surged, that’s why there are so many anti-bullying programs.”
He provided practical strategies to help adults connect with teens to build life-saving resiliency. “Teens with this valuable quality know how to handle difficulty, overcome obstacles, and bounce back from setbacks.” Bradley said.
He warned that marijuana is three to nine times more potent than in the past. “Today’s dose is concentrated, and it’s a fact that teenagers can’t use but they’re using like crazy.” He said a study by the American Medical Association showed that 17 out of 25 14-year-olds who smoke weed “will become full blown substance abusers. It’s frightening.” He blamed “a lot of three-piece suit money pushing bogus science” for increased usage.
“While teen brains are hardwired for risk-taking behaviors and overactive emotions, their coping abilities are at all-time lows,” he said.
Bradley told the audience to “stop viewing failure as a disaster. Our failures, I believe, shape us far more than our successes. Normalize failure for teenagers.
“When kids find their purpose and passion, get out of the way. You can’t stop achievement.”
Gary Weckselblatt is director of communications for Quakertown Community School District.