Meet the man who makes children’s mental health a priority and accessible to students of all income


When five teens realized during the virtual learning that their classmates in Glenbard, Ill. Were struggling, they set up an SMS support chain and delivered quarantine gift bags to the home of their classmates.

“Every child was calling us,” one of the teenagers told school psychologist Michele Borba, “and after thanking us, they would sob because they thought no one cared, and then we would cry because. that we realized we could make a difference. “

Borba tells the story in his latest book, “Thrivers, The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine,” a guide to teaching children the traits they need to deal with adversity, including empathy.

While most parents want to raise empathetic and selfless people, there are other compelling reasons to encourage tweens and teens to turn to volunteerism and activism – especially during this protracted pandemic, when so many my students tell me they feel helpless.

“That’s all ‘Do I matter?’ thing, “said Dr Ken Ginsburg, adolescent medicine specialist, director of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication and author of” Building Resilience in Children and Teens. “When children contribute to the world, they know they One of the most protective factors is knowing that they matter. It boosts their self-esteem and boosts their motivation. “

In addition to having a positive impact, children who volunteer gain perspective, find purpose, and experience the ripple effects of their actions. Doing work that makes them feel good can boost self-esteem, Ginsburg said.

“When you help an elderly woman with her groceries or help someone learn to read, you are surrounded by ‘thank you’ instead of condemnation,” Ginsburg said. “Especially for teens who get so many negative messages, being immersed in gratitude really boosts a person’s self-esteem.”

Volunteering is a win-win, but some kids will need help getting started. Here are four ways parents can build a teen’s resilience by teaching them how to help others and advocate for positive change.

1. Follow your child’s passion

The key is figuring out what makes your child tick – not what you think is good for them, or what the neighbor does, or what will look good on their resume, Borba said.

This is the approach that Robyn Silverman, a child development specialist, takes with her 11 and 12-year-old children, who ask that instead of gifts, guests attending their birthday parties bring items that help people or causes they care about.

“My kids have been adopted and care about foster families, so one year we were part of a pajama collection effort,” said Silverman, who hosts the “How to Talk to Kids About Everything” podcast. “They love animals too, so another year they asked friends to bring leashes and dog food to an animal shelter.”

Silverman recommends looking for opportunities that will personalize volunteering, such as buying holiday gifts or school supplies for a family that has a child of the same age. But instead of doing the shopping yourself, have your child pick out the items.

“We could say, ‘Pick a winter jacket or a backpack for that person who is also 12, because you have an eye on what a kid that age would want,'” she explained. .

Silverman also makes sure his children see the impact of their actions. “It has become a tradition for them to help pack the car and help deliver the donations, looking the volunteers in the eye and listening to how it will help others.”

2. Identify the purpose behind the action

Teens can find a purpose in challenging the status quo if it is inconsistent with what they think things should be, said Ryan DeLapp, a child psychologist at Montefiore Health System in New York City.

He worked with a teenager who was upset after reading a book he said misrepresented members of the LGBTQ + community with mental health issues. To deal with this frustration, the teenager posted a book review on Goodreads.

“We spent a lot of time talking about the purpose of writing the review, and for this teenager, the value was heard and offered an opinion that was not represented in the reviews already out there,” DeLapp said.

Mindful thinking can help an activity resonate more deeply, he noted, so he asked the boy questions such as, “What was it like hitting the post button?” How do you feel now that you know your voice is there? “

Tweens and teens may need help identifying a cause they care about, so pay attention to the types of issues they raise and the trivia they share, Silverman suggested.

If they are frustrated with a particular policy or situation, for example, show them examples of other children who have advocated for change and remind them that “they don’t have to sit idly by,” she declared.

3. Address the reasons for their resistance

If a child resists volunteering, meet them where they are. “If it is an artist, would they be prepared to allow this or that organization to use their art to promote their cause? said Silverman.

Also consider their temperament. If they’re too shy to participate in a group activity, for example, “make them feel gratitude in your home,” Ginsburg said. “Help them see how useful it is for you when they help around the house. This experience may make them want to expand it. “

DeLapp asks the teens he works with, “If you had a magic wand and could change things the way you wanted, what would that be like?” he said. He follows this question with, “What do you think is standing in the way of this?” The idea is to help a child identify the kind of meaningful change they would like to see and the obstacles that stand in their way.

4. Define “change” flexibly

Instead of defining success as achieving a desired outcome, ask your child, “How did you strive to live your values ​​and how proud do you feel about your efforts?” DeLapp advised.

“If not, what happens when the child makes the effort to advocate for a change in school policy, but the district does not change it?” he said.

Either way, there is a silver lining. “Seeing an element of change, however defined, can help to feel more hope, control and optimism, which contributes to greater overall well-being,” said DeLapp.

“I think kids feel very small these days, very helpless – between Covid and racial conflict and climate change – but when given the opportunity to contribute and see another person affected, then things that they deal with can become eclipsed, ”added Silverman.“ That doesn’t make them unimportant; it gives them context. “

Beyond serving others, children who seek to make a difference learn to ask for help when they need it, Ginsburg said.

“They learn how good it is to give; therefore, when it is their turn to receive, they can do so without shame or stigma, ”he explained. “And that’s the ultimate act of resilience – turning to another human being and saying, ‘Please give me a hand. “”

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