District Administration May 2018 - 30

Outwitting ANXIETY
Educating an anxious generation
National data indicates that about onethird of teenagers will experience an
anxiety disorder, with 8 percent seriously impaired. Research and anecdotal
evidence suggest that these numbers,
higher than in decades past, reflect a real
increase, not just a rise in reporting.
"For the first time, teens are more
stressed than their parents are," says Jonathan Dalton, a psychologist who directs
the Center for Anxiety and Behavioral
Change, a private treatment facility in
Maryland. "It used to be 'Enjoy your
childhood. When you get to be an adult,
you have mortgages and jobs.' And now,
for the first time ever, it's flipped."
Anxiety is also starting younger,
experts say. Where students might once
have worried over junior-year testing,
"now you're seeing kids-in third, fourth
and fifth grade-who are worrying about
being kidnapped, they're worrying about

germs," says psychologist Philip C. Kendall, who directs Temple University's Child
and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders Clinic.
In younger children, anxiety may
manifest as clinginess or stomachaches;
older children may report feeling overwhelmed. Some anxious children withdraw; others become aggressive or oppositional. And some refuse to go to school
at all.
"Almost every high school I'm in has
10-plus kids not able to attend," says
Jessica Minahan, a former special needs
teacher who consults with schools on
behavior. "That's a newer phenomenon."
Untreated anxiety has immediate academic consequences: Students battling
their fears have little mental space left for
learning algebra. But the impact can outlast the school day.
Forty-five percent of students who
refuse to attend school never graduate,
Dalton says, while Kendall notes that

WARNING SIGNS AND COPING SKILLS
Signs of anxiety
In young children:
1. Unexplained physical ailments, such as stomachaches or headaches
2. Clinginess and fear of separation
3. Refusing to speak in school
In older students:
1. Avoiding developmentally appropriate situations or activities, such as school
attendance and sleepovers
2. Uncharacteristically irritable, oppositional or defiant behavior
3. Inability to tolerate uncertainty about the future
4. Social isolation
How schools can help reduce or prevent anxiety
1. Identify young children who seem lonely and withdrawn, and give them
opportunities to learn social skills.
2. Review coping skills before handing back tests.
3. Give awards for growth and improvement, not just achievement.
4. Offer work breaks-featuring Mad Libs, sudoku, trivia questions and other
games-that distract anxious kids from intrusive thoughts.
5. Help teachers reduce their own stress.

30 May 2018

teens with untreated social anxiety are
over six times more likely to have substance abuse problems as adults.
Educators and psychologists offer differing theories for the apparent increase
in anxiety levels-from family dysfunction to the rise of social media to the
heightened competition for admission to
elite colleges (see online sidebar).
Whatever the explanation, school
officials increasingly realize they must
address the problem. "If we don't get this
under control, then working on increasing student achievement is not going to
work out, and working on integrating
technology is not going to work out,"
says Patty Oakley, superintendent of the
1,400-student West Bridgewater Public
Schools, south of Boston.
Helping students face fears
To combat this damaging new reality,
districts often begin by making students'
emotional health an explicit priority.
Last fall, after parents in the
4,800-student Hamilton School District,
west of Milwaukee, raised concerns about
student stress, the district incorporated
social and emotional wellness into its
strategic plan.
"It's always kind of been in the background, but we put it front and center,"
says Paul Mielke, superintendent of the
affluent, high-performing district.
The next step is creating structures
to support teachers, whose training seldom includes mental health but who
find themselves on the front lines of the
anxiety problem. Consultant Minahan
recommends training teams of teachers,
counselors and administrators to help colleagues cope with anxious students-the
equivalent of the teams many schools use
to address students' academic struggles.
Teachers welcome the help, superintendents say. West Bridgewater adopted
national curricula dealing with depression, social skills and classroom behavior,
and hired a specialist to help with the
implementation. "The teachers really did
buy into it," says Oakley, the superintendent. "They're the ones who said, 'We
District Administration



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration May 2018

District Administration May 2018 - Cover1
District Administration May 2018 - Cover2
District Administration May 2018 - 1
District Administration May 2018 - 2
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