New Study Finds Positive Correlation Between Team Sports and Mental Health

Women’s Sports Foundation

Researchers, including the team at the Women’s Sports Foundation, have long underscored the positive physical benefits that come with playing sports. A recent study published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal advanced the conversation by further analyzing the effects of sports on mental health.

Reviewing data from more than 1.2 million responses to a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey, the researchers concluded that “physical exercise was significantly and meaningfully associated with self-reported mental health burden.” The report asserts that exercise can ease the burden of a variety of mental health issues, including mild depression, anxiety, panic attacks and stress.

To conduct the research, the authors of the cross-sectional study looked at data from CDC surveys given to adults 18 or over in 2011, 2013 and 2015. The study, which concerns survey responses derived from a one-month period, compares the number of self-reported bad mental health days between individuals who exercised and those who didn’t.

The conclusion? All exercise is good for mental health, but some forms are more beneficial than others.

The report indicates that “individuals who exercised had 1.49 (43.2%) fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than individuals who did not exercise but were otherwise matched for several physical and sociodemographic characteristics.”

“Even just walking just three times a week seems to give people better mental health than not exercising at all,” Adam Shekroud, an author of the study and Yale University psychiatry professor, told CNN. “I think from a public health perspective, it’s pretty important because it shows that we can have the potential for having a pretty big impact on mental health for a lot of people.”

Not all exercise is created equal when it comes to mental health though, the study found. Team sports had the largest association with a lower mental health burden, with a 22.3% reduction. Cycling and aerobic and gym exercises were next, at 21.6% and 20.1%, respectively. The best amount of time to exercise in terms of mental health is approximately 45 minutes three to four times per week, according to the report.

The study was published in August 2018, but has seen the most traction in the media in the last two weeks. In a climate where mental health is becoming increasingly destigmatized — particularly in athletics, where athletes have begun speaking out about their battles with mental health issues — the research is more relevant than ever.

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How can we help students make sense of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting and a week of violence in the United States?

Teaching Tolerance

On Saturday, eleven people were murdered at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue by a gunman who shouted “All Jews must die” as he opened fire. Clearly antisemitic, the gunman was also motivated by anti-immigrant animus, according to reports of his internet postings. The suspected gunman is in custody and the FBI is investigating the killings as a hate crime.

 

The tragedy came at the end of an anxious, tumultuous week in the United States. Beginning Monday, October 22, pipe bombs were sent to over a dozen prominent Democratic figures, including former President Barack Obama, and to the CNN newsroom in New York City. The suspect, a right-wing extremist, is now in custody. On Wednesday in Louisville, Kentucky, two elderly African Americans were killed at a grocery store by a white shooter who had first attempted to enter a black church. This week felt extraordinary, yet Americans have been living through a time of increasingly visible, public bigotry and violence, including the 2015 killing of nine worshippers at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a white supremacist; the 2017 bombing of a mosque in Bloomington, Indiana; and the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that same year, when marchers chanted neo-Nazi slogans and a counter-protester was murdered. The rise in hate, in these incidents and others, has been well-documented.

Americans must consider what these troubling events suggest about the current state of the country and the future of this diverse democracy. Such incidents are also on the rise around the world, including growing antisemitism in Europe, making hate an issue of global concern. Educators have an additional role to play. Even as we mourn, we also have to help our students process the week’s events within a safe and supportive learning community. Students need to share their reactions and hear those of their classmates, and with our guidance explore difficult questions about the past, present, and future. If we don’t make time to talk about these events, we risk normalizing them.

These conversations might begin on Monday morning, but they should continue long after, not just as a time-out from regular curriculum, but as a commitment to fighting hate and nurturing democracy that informs everything we teach. As Fernando Reimers, international education leader and Facing History board member, reminds us, “Addressing the most visible attacks, once they happen, requires the specialized knowledge and organization of law enforcement. Preventing them requires the concerted effort of each and every one of us… Preventing such hatred at the roots…requires deeper and earlier action in communities and schools.”

In this Teaching Idea, we offer some suggestions for opening a conversation about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and other recent events with your students, as well as selected resources to examine antisemitism and religious bigotry and to explore the role we all can play in standing up to hate.

In addition to the suggestions here, you might connect last week’s incidents to your ongoing discussions with students around the fractious and intense mid-term election campaign. It is worth considering the relationship between the two. To what extent does political rhetoric, whether by our leaders or in the debates we have individually with others, fuel hatred?  What responsibility do leaders and citizens have to appeal to each other’s “better angels” rather than stoking our basest inclinations through stereotypes and resentment?

Prepare for Class

Before leading a conversation with students, check in with yourself. How have you been affected by the events of the past week? What is on your mind? Being conscious of your own responses and concerns can help you foster a more safe and open conversation in your classroom.

Consider, too, the ways that your own students may have been impacted by recent news. You may have survivors of violence in your class, or students feeling newly vulnerable because of their identity and connection to groups who have been targeted. What support might those students need, and what resources in your school, including counselors and social workers, could help to provide it?

Finally, keep in mind that each of the news stories from the past week alone is complex and the shape of what is known and unknown changes quickly. Frequently-updated “What We Know” features on sites like the New York Times and Vox can help you stay abreast of the news, and can also be used as a reference point to ground discussion with students.

Create a Reflective Environment for Discussion

Let your students know that your classroom is a safe space. Begin with a brief contracting activity if you have not already forged that safe space. Then allow time for students to name what stands out to them in the news of the past week and then to process and reflect, perhaps writing in journals and then sharing some thoughts with a partner. You might use the following writing prompts:

  • The synagogue attack in Pittsburgh is disturbing and painful to learn about. It prompts us to ask many questions, some of which may not have an answer. What questions does this event raise for you? What feelings does it provoke?
  • How do you see the events in Pittsburgh, in Louisville, and around the country affecting people in your home, in your school, and in your community? Who in your community, including you yourself, might be feeling particularly vulnerable right now?

Graffiti boards and S-I-T are two other teaching strategies that can help students reflect on difficult topics.

Put Last Week’s Events in Context

The major events of last week made the front pages of newspapers across the country and around the world. They are part of a growing pattern of expressions of hate and antisemitism in schools and communities, including many events that don’t get national attention. In Fairfax, Virginia, for example, 19 swastikas were spray painted on a Jewish community center in early October – the second time the building was defaced in just over a year. Pro Publica’s Documenting Hate project and the Southern Poverty Law Center Hatewatchare two programs that track and document hate crimes and bias incidents in the United States.

You might choose to share information from these sites, or simply the selected October news headlines listed below, with your students.

After reviewing some of the events of the last month together, discuss:

  • What patterns or connections do you see among these events? What are some differences between them?
  • Does your local and personal context connect to this larger climate of hatred and violence in any way? Do you see examples of hate, exclusion, racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism in your community?
  • How do small acts of hateslurs, name-calling, graffitifracture communities? Do they make it it more likely that more violent acts will occur?
  • What other factors contribute to a climate in which perpetrators of hate crimes feel emboldened? How do we understand the connection between ideas, rhetoric, and actions?

Consider a Range of Meaningful Responses

As students reflect on the impact of this week’s events in Pittsburgh and beyond, they should also consider positive ways that individuals and communities can respond – by denouncing hate, offering support to those who have been targeted, and asserting inclusive norms and values. You might share some examples of how people have responded to support the Tree of Life synagogue community in Pittsburgh: there have been vigils around the country, interfaith statements of support, and fundraising efforts to help the congregation and victims.

Discuss with students:

  • What can we do if we ourselves are feeling vulnerable?
  • How can we stand with and support others who are feeling vulnerable?
  • What are some meaningful actions we can take, even if only in our own home, neighborhood, or school?

Extensions

Learn about the history and present reality of antisemitism: The lesson “The Roots and Impact of Antisemitism”, from Facing History’s Teaching Holocaust and Human Behavior unit, focuses on the question “What is antisemitism, and how has it impacted Jews in the past and today?”

Choosing to Participate: At Facing History, we conclude our case studies in history and literature with conversations about how each of us can help to bring about a more humane, just, and compassionate world and a build a more inclusive democracy. The readings below have particular resonance right now. Used singly or together, they can help students consider the values, tools, and actions that protect human rights, establish a sense of safety and dignity, and strengthen communities.

  • “Not in Our Town”: Residents of Billings, Montana banded together to stand up to racist and antisemitic violence in their town: “Intolerance, hatred, and violence test the strength of a community. How the members of a community respond is one measure of its citizens’ commitment to democracy.” This reading includes a companion video and lesson plan.
  • “Talking About Religion”: Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core, talks about his failure to respond to antisemitism in high school and how this experience of being a bystander informed his commitment to pluralism.
  • “Give Bigotry No Sanction”: Correspondence between members of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, RI and President George Washington in 1790 can inspire thoughtful conversation about the role of religious freedom in American democracy.
  • “Walking with the Wind”: Congressman and activist John Lewis tells a story from his childhood to explore how we can work together to create a better world:

    America itself felt as if it might burst at the seams—so much tension, so many storms. But the people of conscience never left the house. They never ran away. They stayed, they came together, and they did the best they could, clasping hands and moving toward the corner of the house that was the weakest.

What’s All This About Journaling?

One of the more effective acts of self-care is also, happily, one of the cheapest.

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It was my ex-husband who got me journaling again. Our marriage was falling apart, and, on the advice of his friend, he had started to do “morning pages,” a daily journaling practice from the seminal self-help book “The Artist’s Way.”

Though I had kept a diary throughout my teen years and early 20s, somewhere along the way I’d fallen out of the habit. At 29, though, I was deeply unhappy and looking for answers wherever — anywhere — I could find them.

It helped.

Once the domain of teenage girls and the literati, journaling has become a hallmark of the so-called self-care movement, right up there with meditation. And for good reason: Scientific studies have shown it to be essentially a panacea for modern life. There are the obviousbenefits, like a boost in mindfulness, memory and communication skills. But studies have also found that writing in a journal can lead to better sleep, a stronger immune system, more self-confidence and a higher I.Q.

Research out of New Zealand suggests that the practice may even help wounds heal faster. How is this possible? James W. Pennebaker, a social psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin who is considered the pioneer of writing therapy, said there isn’t one answer. “It’s a whole cascade of things that occur,” he said.

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Labeling emotions and acknowledging traumatic events — both natural outcomes of journaling — have a known positive effect on people, Dr. Pennebaker said, and are often incorporated into traditional talk therapy.

At the same time, writing is fundamentally an organizational system. Keeping a journal, according to Dr. Pennebaker, helps to organize an event in our mind, and make sense of trauma. When we do that, our working memory improves, since our brains are freed from the enormously taxing job of processing that experience, and we sleep better.

This in turn improves our immune system and our moods; we go to work feeling refreshed, perform better and socialize more. “There’s no single magic moment,” Dr. Pennebaker said. “But we know it works.”

I didn’t know any of this when I started journaling again two years ago. I was in a place where I would have tried anything to feel better; if someone had told me that a daily practice of morning somersaults helped her get through a difficult time, you better believe I would have started rolling.

 

But, as it was, I dug up an old notebook, flipped to the third page (the first felt too exposed) and started writing. That entry begins as follows: “First ‘morning pages.’ It’s not that I can’t think of anything to write. The question is, where to begin?”

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This is often the first question a budding journal writer might ask him or herself. In some ways, though, it’s the most misguided — one thing journaling has taught me is that the mind is a surprising place, and you often don’t know what it may be hiding until you start knocking around in there.

In other words: Writing in your journal is the only way to find out what you should be writing about.

But when I was just getting started, the first place I went looking for guidance was the book that had inspired my ex-husband: “The Artist’s Way,” by Julia Cameron. Ms. Cameron describes the morning pages as “three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-conscious,” done as soon as one wakes. They are “not meant to be art. Or even writing.” They need not be smart, or funny, or particularly deep — in fact, it’s better if they’re not.

Ms. Cameron encourages practitioners to think of them as “brain drain,” a way to expel “all that angry, petty, whiny stuff” that “eddies through our subconscious and muddies our days.” After years working as a writer and journalist, making my living trying to sound smart on the page, this was a huge relief.

“I’d like to say here that morning pages differ from conventional journaling, in which we set a topic and pursue it,” Ms. Cameron said when I spoke with her recently for this article. “In morning pages, we do not set a topic. It is as though we have A.D.D.: jumping from topic to topic, gathering insights and directions from many quarters.”

On the other hand, Dr. Pennebaker’s research has found that journaling about traumatic or disturbing experiences specifically has the most measurable impact on our overall well-being.

In his landmark 1988 study, outlined in his book “Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotion,” students were randomly assigned to write about either traumatic experiences or superficial topics for four days in a row. Six weeks after the writing sessions, those that had delved into traumatic experiences reported more positive moods and fewer illnesses than those writing about everyday experiences.

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Dr. Pennebaker’s research has found that even a one-time 15-to-30-minute session of focused journal writing can be beneficial. In fact, he said he is not “a big fan of journaling every day.”

“One of the interesting problems of writing too much, especially if you’re going through a difficult a time, is that writing becomes more like rumination and that’s the last thing in the world you need,” he said. “My recommendation is to think of expressive writing as a life course correction. As opposed to something you have commit to doing every day for the rest of your life.”

If you’re distressed about something, Dr. Pennebaker advises, set aside three to four days to write for 15 to 20 minutes a day about it. If you don’t find a benefit from it, he says, “stop doing it. Go jogging. See a therapist. Go to a bar. Go to church.”

Dr. Pennebaker is also not a purist when it comes to tools. Techies can take heart in knowing that, contrary to the romantic ideal, typing out journal entries on a laptop or even on a phone can yield effects that are just as positive, particularly if it’s more comfortable and convenient for you. The point is simply to get started.

“Try doing it different ways,” Dr. Pennebaker said. “Some people like writing with their nondominant hand. Others find talking to a tape recorder works too. Experiment.”

Over the years, I have switched up my process here and there, even embarking on an overly ambitious plan involving color-coded pens. The one I’ve come back to again and again, however, is closest to what Ms. Cameron advocates: I write three to five pages every morning by hand.

For her, the timing and frequency is essential to a beneficial practice. “Jungians tell us we have about a 45-minute window before our ego’s defenses are in place in the morning,” she said. “Writing promptly upon awakening, we utilize the authenticity available to us in that time frame.

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Journaling may sound hokey to some. But it can be one of the most useful and cost-effective tools we have to forge a better, more emotionally and mentally healthy life. As Dr. Pennebaker said of his research: “I’m not a granola-crunching kind of guy. I got into journaling because I’m interested in what makes people tick.”

Ms. Cameron’s book, on the other hand, is steeped in the kind of earnest spirituality that New Age skeptics will no doubt bristle at. Yet one of the quotations that has stuck with me the most is straightforward and practical: “It is very difficult to complain about a situation morning after morning, month after month, without being moved to constructive action.”

When I started journaling, I felt stuck. I was nearing 30, facing the personal reckoning that always comes with such milestones. I was unhappily married and dissatisfied with my career. Worst of all, I had no idea what would, theoretically, make me happy. I didn’t know what I wanted.

Then journaling provided me with an important outlet for the debilitating anxiety that had come to paralyze me at odd hours each day. And besides, I enjoyed it. It was fun to wake up every morning and spew a hurried black scrawl all over those straight blue lines.

Still, I remained unconvinced by Ms. Cameron’s grander claims about how journaling could change one’s life. And yet, today, as I write this, just two years later, my life has completely changed: I split from my partner of 10 years; began a new, fulfilling relationship; enrolled in an M.F.A. program; rekindled my freelance writing career; and am planning a move to Los Angeles.

I don’t how journaling helped me make these changes. Perhaps, as Dr. Pennebaker may suggest, it simply allowed me to purge some of my anxiety, leading to a better night’s sleep and more energy to accomplish the task. Or maybe, as Ms. Cameron would say, it put me in contact with my very own spiritual guide. Certainly, I got to know the dusty corners of my brain better, and, when I did, my true desires became harder to ignore.

In the end, though, I’m not sure I care how it worked. The point is, for me, it did. And, if nothing else, I now have a written record of the more notable — and, in retrospect, often hilarious — ups and downs along the way.

One School’s Conversation About Open Gradebook

NAIS

October 01, 2018

By Jess Hill, Buffy Baker, Armistead Lemon, Jenny Jervis, Maddie Waud, and Adam Wilsman

In the fast pace of what we do in our schools every day, every week, and every year, it is increasingly difficult to carve out time to research or even reflect on any change of policy that may be heading down the pike. We often hear or read about an educational trend or what another school is doing, or we may hear from a few parents that we should do [insert latest trend], too. At Harpeth Hall School (TN), we talk to faculty and to students, if appropriate, and take the time to consider what we think is best for our students within our school culture. Then we make a recommendation whether to change a policy.

In our wonderfully diverse coalition of girls’ schools, we espouse many different paths to reaching the summit of engaging, educating, inspiring, supporting, and mentoring our girls and young women. It comes as no surprise that the mention of an open gradebook—giving each student and parent online access to all of a student’s grades in a teacher’s gradebook, all of the time—is concerning to some girls’ school administrators. To others, it is something they incorporated years ago and are now off to consider newer trends and best practices. This topic was a clear fork in the road for us.

As one of only two girls’ schools in Nashville, with a robust community of independent, magnet, charter, and public co-ed schools, Harpeth Hall may be the only school that doesn’t have an open gradebook. We believe that considering this question within the context of our mission as an all-girls school is essential and a decision not to be taken lightly.

The Pros and Cons of Total Transparency

On the surface, a system that provides both students and parents uninhibited access and feedback on a student’s letter grade would appear to be an improvement. Students can keep track of their assessments and can easily see each grade and whether they have any missing or late assignments. There are no report card surprises; rather, the parent and student can always be aware of the student’s average and take action accordingly. An open gradebook allows for conversations between parents and students, and gives both parties an up-to-date view of the student’s achievements in each class.

Such ease of access and total transparency mirror the 24/7 online world that we live in. An apt parallel might be online banking: Log on anytime to learn your balance. The critical difference is that at Harpeth Hall, and most likely any all-girls school, we know a student’s numeric average at any given moment will never provide the whole picture of her educational journey. We have many high-achieving students, and we must consider whether such a system would best serve our particular community, or whether it would undermine our goals as an institution.

For the student who experiences anxiety about any uncertainty with regard to her grades, an open gradebook will allow for a superficial level of control via constant transparency. What might be the cost of this transparency? Right now, teachers are aware of their students’ specific anxieties because of the one-on-one conversations that happen around grades. Students can already ask for their average, grade, or test result at any time and be accommodated. More importantly, when students ask teachers directly, critical face-to-face conversations often reveal nuances for a teacher about how a student is processing an experience or developing in a class. The current system, while technically old-fashioned, preserves the teacher-student relationship and still allows students to have ownership. At this time, we can find no research showing that open gradebooks have improved students’ grades or helped teachers know their students better.

Minding the Confidence Gap

We do, however, have plenty of research on girls and confidence. Over the past four years, our school has focused on this research, namely the disconcerting truth that girls and young women who perform well in school do not always meet with the same success in the workplace. In order to address this confidence gap, we have identified several primary inhibitors we see in our students. Three of these five inhibitors could be exacerbated by an open gradebook.

Perfectionism: High-achieving students with perfectionist tendencies are more likely to equate their self-worth with their grades. Grades become powerful extrinsic motivators for these students, who begin to value successful performance over learning. Over time, the joy of learning diminishes as they focus narrowly on the numbers and improving the numbers. We are concerned that an open platform will drive students’ focus further toward numbers. At Harpeth Hall, we never want a student to define herself by a number.

Comparison: Equally concerning is the possibility of promoting an obsessive-compulsive behavior focused on results. Teenage girls are already online all the time, checking the number of likes on Facebook and Instagram. Refreshing the open gradebook page is an added reality for many girls across the country today, and we might spare our students from this option by giving them the space to think about something more than their grades. Tendencies toward perfectionism exist without an open gradebook, and we think they would worsen without the intervention of teachers should we go to an open system.

Fear of failure: Research shows that girls are especially prone to the fear of failure because of “good girl” conditioning. Girls avoid risks and value image over learning, and this avoidance diminishes confidence. Yet we are learning that college admission is becoming increasingly more interested in a prospective student’s ability to handle disappointment, adversity, and struggle rather than just seeing a grade point average. Girls who develop perseverance, tenacity, and a healthy sense of risk-taking are less vulnerable to depression and anxiety. This leads to a more successful experience in college and beyond. We hope our girls will have healthy, successful life experiences, and thus we want them to take safe risks in our classrooms, to have an opportunity to experience and recover from failure, and to develop skills that allow them to persevere.

Every day our faculty members are on the frontlines of our students’ emotional health and well-being. Harpeth Hall remains a progressive school with innovative teachers, and yet we hesitate to adopt the latest open gradebook trend. Based on our research and experience teaching girls, we question how an open gradebook would benefit our students’ well-being and emotional health or increase their ability to own their successes and failures, take risks, or succeed dramatically better in the classroom or more importantly, at life.

Schools are banning smartphones. Here’s an argument for why they shouldn’t — and what they should do instead.


Jack Doyle, 13, Ryan Ward, 14, Aiden Franz, 13, and Gray Rager, 14, use their cellphones during lunch at Westland Middle School in Bethesda, Md., in 2017. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
September 21

This fall, when French students returned to school for the 2018-2019 academic year, many could not take their smartphones to class. The French Parliament over the summer passed legislation that banned students up to age 15 from taking the devices to school — or, at the very least, requiring that they be turned off in class. The goal, according to the Agence France-Presse, was to try to break phone addiction and ensure that students were focusing on their schoolwork in class.

Such bans are increasingly being reported in schools around the world. In this post, a world-renowned educator takes a counterintuitive looks at these actions and offers a different approach. He is Pasi Sahlberg, former director general at the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, and now a professor of education policy at the Gonski Institute for Education at Australia’s University of New South Wales in Sydney.

Sahlberg has lived and worked in the United States, including several years teaching at Harvard University and leading education work at the World Bank. A former math and science teacher in junior high and high school, he is the author of the best-selling books, “Finnish Lessons 2.0: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland” and this year’s “FinnishED Leadership: Four big, inexpensive ideas to transform education.

By Pasi Sahlberg

“The time has come to ban cellphones in the classroom.”

A blanket ban on cellphones in class would not be smart.”

These were the headlines of two op-eds published in Canadian daily newspapers in early September. This debate has already reached an international scale: Since 2012, most teenagers in rich countries have had access to smartphones.

In Kerry, Ireland, one school has restricted children’s use of smartphones and social media, not only in school but also outside school hours, with the full support of parents. In Scotland, the Parliament has considered putting limits on student’s cellphone use in schools. In July 2018, the French government banned all students under the age of 15 from using smartphones during school hours. The New South Wales Department of Education in Australia is carrying out a review into noneducational use of mobile devices in schools to see if they should follow France’s lead.

Why is this issue being raised now? One reason is this: Smartphones are everywhere. According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teens in the United States have access to smartphones, and half of them say they are online practically all the time, including at nights. The Center for Media and Child Health at Harvard Medical School estimates that teens spend more than nine hours every day consuming media through their mobile devices. Half of American teenagers say they are “addicted” to their smartphones.

Second, many teachers and parents believe that smartphones disturb children and harm their learning in school. In the Canadian province of Alberta, for example, 3 in 4 teachers believe that students’ ability to focus on educational tasks has decreased in the past five years. Finland’s slippage in international student assessments has happened at the same time as teenagers’ increased screen time. Similar trends of stagnated or declining student achievement have been noted in many developed nations recently.

Third, children’s rapidly declining mental health has led many parents and teachers to wonder what is going on in their lives. If you have any doubts that these concerns couldn’t be real, consider these alarming findings:

  • San Diego State University professor Jean Twenge found that the number of American teenagers who feel joyless or useless jumped 33 percent between 2010 and 2015. In that same period, there was also a 50 percent increase in depressive symptoms among teens.
  • Australian psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg stated that in Australia, 1 in 7 primary school and 1 in 4 secondary school children suffer mental-health issues.
  • The National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland estimates that 20 to 25 percent of youths suffered mental health problems in 2017, an all-time high.
  • An Alberta Teachers Association’s survey showed that 85 to 90 percent of teachers think that the number of children with emotional, social and behavioral problems in their schools has increased in the past five years.
  • Evidence from around the world suggests that children do not sleep enough, do not eat enough healthful food and do not engage in enough daily outdoor physical activity.

Though it isn’t clear that smartphones are the cause, it isn’t clear they aren’t. So out of an abundance of caution, should they be altogether banned in schools?

Not so fast, some would say. Although many researchers believe that children’s rapidly growing use of smartphones may contribute to declining mental health and inability to learn well in school, it is difficult to prove that screen time alone is the main cause.

Blanket bans are rarely the most effective ways to fix human behavioral problems. Today’s children were born in a world where technology and digital gadgets were already a normal part of life. From an educational perspective, banning smartphones in schools would be an easy solution but not necessarily the smartest one.

Instead, we should teach children to live safe, responsible and healthful lives with and without their smartphones and other mobile devices. Education can be a powerful tool to teach children to exercise self-control and to live better lives. But schools can’t do this alone. “It takes a village to raise a child,” as the old African adage goes.

Here is how to get started:

1. Sleep more

More children than ever suffer from insufficient daily sleep. According to most pediatricians, school-age children (6 to 13 years old) need nine to 11 hours of sleep every night, and teenagers should sleep eight to 10 hours every night to function best. However, most teens do not get that much sleep. An American study recently found that in 2015, one-fourth of American adolescents slept less than seven hours a night. The National Sleep Foundation says that only 15 percent of teens sleep at least 8.5 hours a night during school week. It is common for teens to sleep with their smartphone and check what has happened during the night before saying “Good morning” to their parents.

Solution: Teach children the importance of sleep. Work with parents to agree on the rules that shut mobile devices down two hours before bedtime and keep them away from bedrooms. Assign children an hour’s extra sleep as homework. Keep a log about how children sleep, and monitor the effects of sleep on their well-being.

2. Play more outside

Children play less than ever. The American Academy of Pediatricsconcluded that because parents spend less time with their children outdoors, children are more engaged with technology, and because schools expects students to do more and faster, children’s opportunities to play have decreased. In many schools, children don’t play anymore. In 2016, just 13 U.S. states had legislation mandating recess for all children during school days. Research that author William Doyle and I used in writing “Let the Children Play” led us to conclude that play is a dying human activity in many education systems around the world.

Solution: Make 15-minute hourly recess a basic right for all children in school. Use schoolyard and nature for recess, play and physical activity as often as possible. Teach parents about the power of free outdoor play and encourage them to spend more time with their children outdoors. Assign homework that includes playing with one another or with parents. Keep a record of how more play and physical activity affects children’s learning and well-being.

3. Spend less time with digital media

Children spend much more time daily with digital devices than before. Many of them sleep less than they watch digital screens. Children often learn these habits from their parents. A recent British study found that about 51 percent of infants 6 to 11 months old use a touch screen daily. According to the Common Sense Media 2015 survey, U.S. teenagers’ average daily media use excluding time spent for school or for homework in 2015 was nearly nine hours.

Solution: Teach children responsible and safe use of technology. Talk about technology with children and help them to find the best ways to limit smartphone use in school and at home. As a parent or teacher, be a role model of regular media diets to children and keep smartphones away when they are not needed. Make technology a tool, not a treat for children in school and at home.

4. Read more books

Children read less than before, and so do adults. Half of children in the United States today love or like reading books for fun, compared with 60 percent in 2010. International reading literacy survey PIRLS 2016indicated a decline in recreational reading among Finnish children: 35 percent of fourth-graders read for pleasure. Boys read so little in Finland that 1 in 8 are functionally illiterate.

Solution: Make reading a habit. Advise parents to buy books and read them with their children. Read regularly and discuss what you read in school and at home. Let children choose what they want to read. Visit libraries and bookstores and meet with book authors. Read books you hold in your hands more than those you read on a screen.

5. Write letters to ones you love

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that 3 in 4 of 12th- and 8th-graders lack proficiency in writing. Snapchat cyber slang uses shortcuts, alternative words and symbols to convey thoughts in an electronic communication and writing. Ask any high school teacher or college professor for more evidence for the state of teenagers’ writing skills.

Solution: Make writing a habit in school. Coach students in good writing and give them regular feedback. Use pen and paper alongside electronic tools. Write a letter by hand to your grandmother or someone you love once a week.

The key to success in life is self-control. Longitudinal research studies, like the Dunedin Study in New Zealand, have shown that learned self-control in childhood is the best predictor of success in adulthood. The main purpose of the five steps above is to help children to regulate their own behaviors. Thoughtful reading and productive writing require the ability to focus, concentrate and pay attention to these activities long enough.

Sufficient daily sleep and more outdoor play help children to do better. They could therefore be more important keys to improving student learning and well-being in school than haphazard education policies and innovation that have been common mandates in schools around the world.

Kids’ Brainpower Tied to Exercise, Sleep and Limited Screen Time

The New York Times

At least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, nine to 11 hours of sleep a night, and no more than two hours a day of recreational screen time were tied to higher mental test scores.

 

Researchers tied three behaviors to higher scores on tests of mental ability in children: at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, nine to 11 hours of sleep a night, and no more than two hours a day of recreational screen time.

 

The new study, in Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, included 4,524 children ages 8 to 11 who were assessed with six standard tests that measure language skills, memory, planning ability, and speed at completing mental tasks.

Compared with those who met none of the three behavioral criteria, those who met all of them scored about 4 percent higher on the combined tests. Meeting the requirements for both screen time and sleep was associated with a 5.1 percent increase in scores compared with those who met neither. Only 5 percent of the children met all three criteria, and nearly 30 percent met none.

“It may be that screen time is affecting sleep,” said the lead author, Jeremy J. Walsh, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia. “Sleep is a critical behavior for shaping our brains. Kids need to be sleeping nine to 11 hours a night for their cognitive development to be optimal.”

The iGen Shift: Colleges Are Changing to Reach the Next Generation

CreditHenning Wagenbreth

They are, of course, super connected. But on their terms. Which is why college-bound iGens (Gen Zers, if you prefer) present a challenge to the grown-ups on campus eager to reach and teach them.

Consider orientation season. Katie Sermersheim, dean of students at Purdue University, has a mother lode of information and resources to share (including wellness initiatives and a new mindfulness room). But getting iGen’s attention?

“It can be frustrating slash extra challenging to figure out how to get the word out, whatever that word is,” Ms. Sermersheim said. “I do get discouraged.”

A generation that rarely reads books or emails, breathes through social media, feels isolated and stressed but is crazy driven and wants to solve the world’s problems (not just volunteer) is now on campus. Born from 1995 to 2012, its members are the most ethnically diverse generation in history, said Jean M. Twenge, psychology professor at San Diego State University.

 

They began arriving at colleges a few years ago, and now they are exerting their presence. They are driving shifts, subtle and not, in how colleges serve, guide and educate them, sending presidents and deans to Instagram and Twitter.

They are forcing course makeovers, spurring increased investments in mental health — from more counselors and wellness messages to campaigns drawing students to nature (hug a tree, take a break to look at insects) — and pushing academics to be more hands-on and job-relevant.

They are a frugal but ambitious lot, less excited by climbing walls and en suite kitchens than by career development.

Most critically, they expect to be treated as individuals. Students raised amid the tailored analytics of online retailers or college recruiters presume that anything put in front of them is customized for them, said Thomas C. Golden of Capture Higher Ed, a Lexington, Ky., data firm. He sees group designations evolving into “segments of one.”

Image
Ingrid Koester, 19, center, and other Princeton University students shooting a video, based on the Taylor Swift song “22,” that welcomes the class of 2022. Orientation leaders and staff members from the office of the dean of undergraduate students were extras in the video.CreditMark Makela for The New York Times

Students want to navigate campus life, getting food or help, when it is convenient for them. And, yes, on their mobile devices or phones. “It’s not really technology to them,” said Cory Tressler, associate director of learning programs at Ohio State University, noting that the iPhone came out when most were in grade school.

It is why Ohio State this year, rather than battle device use, issued iPads to 11,000 incoming students. The school designated 42 fall courses “iPad required” (21 more will be added in the spring) and is building an app that in addition to maps and bus routes has a course planner, grades, schedules and a Get Involved feature displaying student organizations.

In the works is more customization, so when students open the app it knows which campus they are enrolled at, their major and which student groups they belong to.

Speaking to students on their terms just makes sense, said Nicole Kraft, a journalism professor at Ohio State who takes attendance via Twitter (she has separate hashtags for each of her three courses). She posts assignments on Slack, an app used in many workplaces. And she holds office hours at 10 p.m. via the video conference site Zoom, “because that is when they have questions.”

Dr. Kraft does not use email for class, except to teach students how to write a “proper” one. “That is a skill they need to have,” she said.

While these students are called “digital natives,” they still must be taught how to use devices and apps for academic purposes, Dr. Kraft said. She’s had students not know that they could use Microsoft Word on an iPad. “We make a lot of assumptions about what they know how to do.”

 

Campuses also have been slow to recognize that this age group is not millennials, version 2.0.

“IGen has a different flavor,” said Dr. Twenge of San Diego State University and author of “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What That Means for the Rest of Us.”

It is tricky to define a large part of the population. But Dr. Twenge said big data sets revealed broad psychological patterns shared by those coming of age amid defining social, cultural and economic events.

The difference between growing up in the prosperous 1990s versus seeing family members lose jobs and homes during the 2008 recession alters one’s perspective, she said. It is why iGens are so focused on debt and insist that they get skills and experiences that will lead to a career.

The prevalence of school shootings and domestic terrorism has also shaped them.

“This generation defies the stereotypes of young adults,” in terms of risk-taking, Dr. Twenge said. They are “more receptive to messages around safety” and less eager to get driver’s licenses, and they come to college “with much less experience with sex and alcohol.”

They are also more cautious when it comes to academics, fear failure and have learning preferences distinct from millennials, said Corey Seemiller, professor at Wright State University and co-author of “Generation Z Goes to College,” who queried 1,200 students on 50 campuses.

“They do not like to learn in groups,” favor videos over static content and like to think about information, then be walked through it to be certain they have it right.

 

“They want a model” and then to practice, said Dr. Seemiller, who posts samples when assigning a paper. “I’ll say, ‘Let’s look through them and see what works.’” Having grown up with public successes and failures online, she said, students are hungry to have a big impact, yet “worry they will not live up to that expectation.”

And despite their digital obsession, Dr. Seemiller’s research shows this generation favors visual, face-to-face communication over texting. They are not always good at live social interaction, but they crave it. “They want authenticity and transparency,” she said. “They like the idea of human beings being behind things.”

As a generation that “has been sold a lot of stuff,” said Dr. Seemiller, iGens are shrewd consumers of the tone and quality of communication. That’s pushing colleges to focus not only on what they say, but also how they say it.

Which is what orientation leaders and staffers in Princeton’s office of the dean of undergraduate students — known on social media as ODUS — have tried to master in the way they welcome the class of 2022.

Image

Mayra Mateo of Columbus, Ohio, an incoming freshman at Ohio State University, working on the iPad given to her by the university, which issued the devices to 11,000 incoming students. The college designated many fall courses “iPad required.”CreditJessica Phelps for The New York Times

A brainstorming session in March generated what became a Princetified cover of Taylor Swift’s “22,” a video with orientation leaders and ODUS staff members as extras, a cappella groups singing the score and Nicolas Chae, a sophomore, directing.

Cody Babineaux, an incoming freshman from Lafayette, La., whose video of his acceptance to Princeton has 4.6 million Twitter views, appreciated it, especially the Harvard shirt sniffed and tossed out in the first 20 seconds. “It was hilarious,” he said. “It didn’t try too hard.”

Codey Babineaux@Codeybab

Hi, I’m Codey Babineaux and I JUST GOT INTO PRINCETON 😭😭. It doesn’t even feel real . From rags to riches.

Getting student attention and keeping it matters to administrators trying to build excitement for campus events, but also in prodding students about housing contracts and honor codes. “We are an office that enforces university standards. We can’t be firing off,” said Thomas Dunne, deputy dean of undergraduate students. “But you have to be animated and human-sounding. Our voice is very personal.”

ODUS has become an active presence on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter with a vibe that winks, pokes, weaves in memes and slang terms like BAE (before anyone else) and on fleek (flawlessly styled), and applies hashtags with wit (a free ice cream for dropping by the ODUS office with dance moves worthy of Dean Dunne? #GetServed, #GameOfCones).

Mr. Dunne, whose Facebook page began as a student prank without his knowledge more than a decade ago, leans on staff members who include 20-somethings. One, Ian Deas, who favors Snapchat, identifies student “influencers,” following them on Facebook and Instagram.

In posts, he looks for “those trendy phrases that help us stay in the conversation.” When ODUS staff members respond to student posts, it amplifies their reach. “When we are being interactive, our stuff pops up in other people’s feeds” and drives curiosity about “who is behind the voice.”

Being social on social media attracts students who might tune out official communication. Mr. Babineaux said he and his friends noted when college posts sounded “goofy” or “like your grandfather trying to say swag.”

He also notices that his generation is criticized “because we are always on our phones,” which gets interpreted as being disconnected. In fact, he said, “we just have more connection with everyone all the time.”

It is also how students like Mr. Babineaux learn and get information.

“Social media has helped me get a lot more prepared for Princeton,” he said, adding that he has scrolled through old posts of campus (“I have never seen snow”) and watched videos, including of graduation. “I thought, ‘That will be on my Instagram page in four years.’”