Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Keeping Students Safe from Harm

Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Keeping Students Safe from Harm

Article excerpt

What are you dealing with this year that you have not dealt with before?

When I ask educators across the country that question, increasingly the answers at the middle level identify student anxiety and "cutting." The World Health Organization reports that in the past 10 years, there has been a threefold increase in the number of teenagers who engage in self-harm.

Why is this happening?

First, there are websites dedicated to explaining how to "cut" yourself. But cutting hurts- unless there is something that hurts more. What is the "hurt" underneath the self-harm and the increase in anxiety among our young people?

It has to do with connections, safety, and belonging.

Generation K: Ages 13-20

Researcher Noreena Hertz studied 1,000 British and American girls via Survey Monkey and dubbed young girls ages 13-20 as Generation K-a reference to their Hunger Games icon, Katniss Everdeen (

Unlike the millennials before them, Generation K has deep distrust of institutions-especially governments and corporations. They watched the Great Recession and the spike in terrorism. They learned that the world is not a safe place, nor is it to be trusted.

According to Hertz, 30% are unsure or do not want to be married. Thirty-five percent are unsure or do not want to have children. Ninety percent consider it important to have a well-paying career.

Most are very worried about their future. In fact, 86% of the Generation K girls surveyed are worried about getting a job and 77% are worried about going into debt. Constant worry creates anxiety. This generation is more sober than the previous-less alcohol and fewer drugs. However, 22% have considered suicide.

What about the boys? Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan, researchers at Stanford University (The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It), found that the average teenage boy watches 50 porn clips a week and that by the time boys are 21, they have played more than 10,000 hours of video games-mostly in isolation. In fact, these are "arousal" addictions, and their brains are being rewired for constant arousal, novelty, and excitement. Most of the boys in this young generation actually prefer the isolation-they tend to be "risk averse."

Safety and Belonging

A key factor in emotional wellness is safety and belonging. Today's adolescents generally perceive their external environment as harsh, unpredictable, and unsafe. Terrorism, Facebook Envy, and cyberbullying are all part of their daily reality. The school environment has become harsher under the pressures of state assessment (you make it or you don't) and zero tolerance in discipline. And in middle school, students often are bullied in school and out of school-in person and via social media. No place is safe.

John Bowlby, in his research on bonding and attachment (Attachment: Attachment and Loss), found that when you see yourself as belonging and in a safe environment, you are emotionally secure. For this generation of middle level students, the external environment is not safe, so they strive for "connection" or belonging. But if they cannot "belong," they respond with anxiety (cutting or suicide attempts) or avoidance behavior (screen addictions such as video games or pornography).

What Can You do?

Because all learning is double coded both cognitively and emotionally, according to Greenspan and Benderly (The Growth of the Mind and the Endangered Origins of Intelligence), the emotional wellness of our students becomes critical to higher achievement and lifetime success. …

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