The times they are a changin' (and so are your children)
by Tara Fortune
In the age of technology that is always changing, more children gravitate towards iPads than playgrounds. A Scarborough psychotherapist thinks that advances in technology have caused more cases of mental illness in youth.
This year the Ontario government updated the health curriculum for grades 1 to 8. The curriculum had not been modified since 1998. A lot of news headlines have been about the controversial concepts of the sexual education portion of the curriculum. There has been little talk on the mental health lessons the curriculum teaches.
The mental health section of the curriculum includes coping with stress, building healthy relationships, communicating with others, recognizing mental illness and a lot of other concepts.
Maria Paonessa, an elementary school teacher at Woburn Junior Public School and a mother of two, one child in senior kindergarten and one in daycare, agrees with the new mental health aspects of curriculum.
She thinks the update is overdue and she has even had a student ask her what gender is. “I kept thinking to myself, this is actually a curriculum I think all human beings should be following,” Paonessa said. “The previous curriculum was before smartphones; it was before the Internet. This is definitely overdue.”
Although she thinks it’s a step in the right direction, Paonessa also thinks that it might be difficult for her to have some of these conversations with her students. She wants to address it in a way that will be respectful.
Ema Nardella, a Scarborough psychotherapist who deals with adults and children speaks highly of the new curriculum and thinks it’s a good step towards promoting mental health. Nardella thinks that there is one more key thing that needs to be taught and added. “I know this word is becoming more of a cliché, but it’s just so powerful, and that’s the word empathy,” Nardella said. “I think different people; educators and theorists, have touched upon this for a few decades now - but it just doesn’t seem to get enough active exposure.”
A Toronto mother of three, Wanda Lynch, has one daughter in middle school and agrees with the complex subjects being taught at a young age. “When you think about it there are a lot of children, for example, who have anxiety, concentration or behavioral problems which affects them greatly with their education,” Lynch said. “Children spend more than half of their day in school, so teachers should be trained to be aware of any mental health problems they see within any student. Having this knowledge, they can catch odd behavior earlier in children and use the proper classroom strategies to assist those children.”
Elementary and middle school can be a traumatizing time. As children mature they face challenges including peer pressure, body changes, sexual desires, bullying and family troubles.
“There’s a lot of pressure that children (and adults) face. If you don’t have coping mechanisms or nowhere to go, some people take the problem solving into their own hands – and it’s not always a positive outcome,” Paonessa said.
Paonessa thinks that her school needs to eliminate certain layers to create a safer space. She feels that the new curriculum could help this happen.
Nardella suggests that teachers and the curriculum only play one part of the development of a child’s health. Parents grow along side them everyday. It is not always easy for parents to confront their children on sensitive subjects. Nardella thinks it’s always easier to start when they are little. She suggests to use it as a learning experience with your child. “This is the most valuable lesson you can teach your child,” Nardella said. “To navigate their emotional world and to value it – that no feeling is bad or unimportant.”