2019 Ellis Lecture on Trends in Children's Wellbeing

On Tuesday, March 26, Nashoba Brooks School hosted its annual 2019 Ellis Lecture on the  topic of Trends in Children’s Wellbeing.
Distinguished panelists included Dr. David Gleason, Dr. Rachel Kramer, and Susan Ryan, MSW, all parents of Nashoba Brooks alumni and experts in the field of child and adolescent psychology.   

Before introducing the “all-star lineup,” Head of School Danielle Heard paused to remember Pat Ellis, who served as the head of Nashoba Brooks School from 1972-1992. Inspired by her work, wisdom, energy, and vision, Danielle reflected upon Pat’s time at the School, her enduring legacy, and her belief in the power of education to make a better world.

Each panelist shared insights into the health and wellbeing of young people today and offered practical  strategies that could lead to positive and healthy outcomes. Trends noted include the rise in anxiety and depression among our young people; the unrealistic standards of perfection placed on today’s children; and the impact of technology on young people and families.

Sue Ryan described how parents and teachers can help children feel safe by helping them identify and experience their feelings, even negative ones. Parental modeling, she suggested, is also important. “Our children are watching us and they can feel when we are spinning out or are stressed. If you feel out of breath, our kids may feel the same way,” said Ryan.

Ryan also reminded us that mindfulness and breathing through hard feelings can help kids regulate their emotions and feel like they are back in charge. With older children, Ryan suggested moving away from building self-esteem and focusing instead on self-compassion and builds resilience.

Her final words of advice for the for everyone in the room, “slow down,” was met with much nodding from members of the audience .

Dr. David Gleason, author of At What Cost?, has extensively researched and written about the increase of anxiety and depression in competitive high schools, including the dangerous manifestations of substance abuse, eating disorders, self-injury, and suicide. He noted that “much of the pressure kids feel in secondary schools, starts way earlier.”

Gleason stated that children born between the years of 1995-2012 will find themselves in the midst of the “most dangerous mental health crisis in decades.” Kids are pushed to levels that are dangerous. We see increasing rates of suicide as well as eating disorders and an over emphasis on the college process. He reminds us that educators and parents, while committed to educating their students in healthy, safe, and balanced ways, also need to be mindful of overscheduling, overworking, and expecting kids to act like adults long before they are ready.

Pediatric psychologist Rachel Kramer—who refers to herself as a “problem solving doctor” with her young patients—does not see the uptick in psychological disorders linked to one trigger or events. Instead, she observes a pattern that appears to be rooted in the collective impact of stressors associated with how we are living today versus a singular event.

Kramer focused on the ways that electronic communications impact families and children, including brain development, concentration, and social communication skills. In an age of 24/7 communication, parents need to be mindful of what children are exposed to, including messages parents are sending with their own electronic habits.

Parents can reclaim the conversation with kids by setting clear limits and rules (i.e. no electronics at the table or one hour before bed, etc.). She offered advice on how to teach children the best ways to manage distraction and become proactive problem solvers. The use of gratitude journals and mindfulness meditation (what she calls a “personal superpower”) can help bring calm reactions and build/maintain connections.  

Dr. Kramer’s parting words to parents and employees were simple: “Be the thermostat, not the thermometer.” To support children in learning to manage stress, adults can help to read and regulate emotion as a thermostat does, without rising in emotion as a thermometer does.  

Nashoba Brooks School thanks our speakers for this enriching and enlightening conversation and for their participation in the 2019 Ellis Lecture.

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Nashoba Brooks School is a coed Lower School from Preschool to Grade 3 and an all-girls Middle School from Grades 4 to 8 located in Concord, Massachussetts.