According to the World Health Organization’s website, “Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stress of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” This was one of the main topics discussed during the annual multi-school Student Community Council (SCC) meeting that was held in Martensville on Thursday, February 1st.
Both representatives from the SCC and administration from Venture Heights Elementary School (VHS), Valley Manor Elementary School (VMS), Lake Vista Elementary School (LVS) and Martensville High School (MHS) were in attendance for the meeting. Special guest speakers included School Resource Officer Constable Nave and School Counsellor Patsy Ispolito. The theme for this year’s meeting was around student mental health and student anxiety and what each school can be doing to help students and to educate parents. “These meetings are a great way to come together and find some common fronts and find ways to work together and unite our schools intentionally. We choose not to work in silence, but instead work together,” VHS Principal Ron Biberdorf commented. “As administrators, we want to work hand and hand with parents outside of school because ultimately, what is going on outside of school comes back to affect us and what we are doing inside of school,” VMS Principal Garth Harrison added.
NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF SOCIAL MEDIA
The meeting kicked off with conversation about fundraising, school goals, parent engagement and how to get them involved and other topics before moving into the main focus, which was on a positive mental health in students. Constable Nave then discussed the impacts of social media and how it can affect children negatively, causing them anxiety and stress. Research has proven that the more time spent on social media, the more likely an individual is to suffer from mental health issues, such as; decreased self-esteem, anxiety, depression/depressive symptoms, addiction, feelings of inferiority and more. During his presentation, Constable Nave also explained how the creators of software and apps for these devices use human psychology in order to keep users addicted, comparing the “typing awareness indicator” on an iPhone to that of a spinning slot machine, generating anticipation and keeping users interested, which increases the likelihood of one being addicted to a cellphone. Another topic was the stress of Snapchat and the amount of stress caused by the need to ‘keep a streak alive’ with their ‘friends’. “They may have 300 friends on their phone, but how many of those would they share their deepest secrets with? We need to make them aware of these things because students do open themselves up on their phones and it can take them down a bad path and we want to make parents aware of those kinds of things. If we can do that through our SCC, we believe we are providing a service that will in turn benefit us back at the school because we will have mentally healthy kids coming to us each day,” Harrison said.
An additional negative impact of social media is that with such an abundant lack of face to face contact, it is creating a lack of empathy within children and is leading to an inability to read faces, understand body language and pick up on human emotions. Harrison also added that with printed word, things are often misinterpreted, leading to unintended altercations.
Bullying was another subject that was discussed, with focus on how bullying has now taken a turn for the worse through social media. “The reality is that an extremely high amount of bullying goes on in social media and that is where empathy is diminished because people don’t seem to have the empathy that they have on social media that they would have if it was face to face, so the level of things that get written that would be considered bullying is so much farther ahead,” Biberdorf noted.
HOW CAN PARENT’S HELP?
One major piece of advice taken from the meeting by those attending was ensuring that kids do not have access to Wi-Fi, tablets and cellphones at night. Constable Nave shared a story about a Grade 2 student that woke up at 2am and played on a tablet until his father found him at 6am. “How often are things like this happening? They have access to the world at their fingertips and there are a lot of negative and dangerous influences in that,” VHS Vice-Principal Nicole Lacoursiere said.
Nomophobia (no+mobile+phone+phobia), is the irrational fear of being without your mobile phone or being unable to use it, and it is a real issue, facing not only children, but all ages. Phone addiction is a legitimate addiction and it will not be easy for parents to just take it away. It is going to be a fight and it is going to be a struggle; however, the administrators within the schools agreed that if there was one piece of advice to pass along to parents, it would be to limit access to their devices at night. Additionally, since parents behavior is a model for their child’s behavior, they recommend being cognitive of your own mobile phone usage in front of your child. “If a parent is on their device all the time, they are modelling for their kids that it is okay for them to be on theirs as well,” Harrison advised.
WHAT ARE SCHOOLS DOING TO HELP?
This school year, VHS initiated a ‘cellphone free’ school, and has seen many positive impacts on students by doing this. Following their initiative, administration at VMS plans to follow suit in the upcoming school year. “We are working towards consistency within the schools and taking the device out of their hands to take that stress of social media away during the day and instead providing learning devices. Venture Heights has seen great results in that, thus leading us to where we are going to go next year,” Harrison said. VHS made the transition to a cellphone free school after visiting MHS for the Grade 8 orientation last year and students were asked to hand their phones in. “From there, we started thinking about how we weren’t really helping the high school by allowing our kids to have cell phones, so we worked with Const. Nave, the SCC and the staff to make this happen. We think it has been a really positive change, and we now see kids talking to each other more, and enjoying each other’s company more,” explained Biberdorf.
With hopes that the increase in real human interaction within the schools will extend outwards into their lives outside of school, the challenge is taking the information learned and sharing it within the student’s homes via social media, newsletters, blogs, media and other outlets.
The annual meetings are not only held to inform the SCC for them to pass information along to parents, but also for the school administrators to learn from and make modifications within their schools for the betterment of the students, parents and community as a whole. “We aren’t here dumping information on the SCC, we are here learning and thank them for sitting beside us and learning with us,” Biberdorf stated, adding that parents have been getting together for decades saying, “kids these days, here’s the problem with them”, and the issue that is affecting children today is anxiety in many different forms.
The amount of knowledge that today’s youth has when it comes to technology is astounding, and often, you will see a toddler with the ability to unlock a device, take pictures, play games, watch movies and more. “Our kids know so much more typically than what the parents do and they know how to navigate the system. I think we are all guilty of saying, “I can’t see my kid doing that” and that is one of the worst things that we can tell ourselves as a parent and if we think that, then we are naïve in thinking that they aren’t curious. Kids are curious, and they are looking and searching, they are facing peer pressure. There are so many factors that come into play,” Lacoursiere said.
HEALTHY MIND PLATTER
During the meeting, School Counsellor Patsy Ispolito shared information on “A Healthy Mind Platter”. On this mind platter, which was created by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, there are seven essential mental activities that can be used to optimize mental health and create an overall well-being. It is recommended that individuals engage in each of these seven areas for a time suitable for them each day. In doing this, it can create a balanced mental health and help to strengthen your brain’s internal connections, as well as your connections with others and with the world around you. The seven areas consist of:
Sleep Time – ensuring your brain gets the rest that it requires to consolidate learning and recover from the day’s experiences.
Physical Time – both body and mind see benefits from physical movement.
Focus Time – focusing on tasks and setting goals can help to make deep connections within the brain.
Time In – taking the time to quietly reflect internally, to focus on feelings, thoughts, sensations and more, can help to better integrate the brain.
Down Time – it is healthy to give the mind the time to wander and relax without any specific goal, which allows the brain to recharge.
Play Time – being creative and spontaneous and enjoying experiences helps to make new connections within the brain.
Connecting Time – connecting with others and with the world around us can activate the brains relational circuitry.
The schools each took the advice from the “healthy mind platter” and now plan on using that knowledge to better educate students and parents on how to promote a positive mental health. With plans on taking the information and using it at their next SCC meetings within each individual school and looking at ways to not only build parental knowledge, but how they can provide activities to promote more face-to-face connections. Having activities such as the Christmas Evening and Hot Dog BBQ’s at VMS and the Pancake Breakfasts and Spring Festival at VHS, the community elementary schools are looking at what more they can do to meet the needs of their students and the families of the students.
WHERE TO FIND HELP
“A question a lot of our families ask is when your kids come home and they are struggling with some of these things, what can they do to help, and that was something that was brought up. Our job at school is how do we support our kids and teach our kids and support our families to develop those resiliency skills, those coping skills and that platter of mental health so that they don’t reach a tipping point,” Lacoursiere said. The schools all agree that it is important to provide information to parents on where to access information and to find support locally and to work with students when they are younger, and continue throughout the grades, so that as they get older, they have the skills in place to cope with those anxieties and to ask for help if they need it.
For more information, some options include contacting your child’s school administration, visiting www.saskatoonhealthregion.ca/locations_services/Services/mhas for Saskatoon Health Region contact information, or call the Saskatchewan Health Line at 811 to talk to a health professional.