Mindfulness, adapted from ancient Buddhist thought and practice, was introduced into the West in a secularized and Westernized form during the 1980s. In subsequent decades, it spread around the world, into clinics, workplaces, and schools. The practice involves cultivating the ability to focus attention, and to notice any distracting thoughts and feelings without judgment or elaboration, in order to reduce stress and improve mental health. As such, it is a psychological phenomenon involving metacognition, or thinking about thinking, though this can be placed within a holistic framework that sees the mind as intricately linked with the body and the external world. In the early years of the 21st century, concerns grew about children’s mental health, and schools became seen as places to address this through universal programs; that is, mental health promotion programs that reach all students and that therefore do not stigmatize those who already have psychological difficulties, or are at risk of developing them. Evidence was also accruing that, with samples of healthy (non-clinical) adults, mindfulness had moderate effects on measures such as anxiety, and strong effects in reducing stress. Although research designs were generally not very strong, the positive results and public enthusiasm for mindfulness encouraged the introduction of universal programs into schools, and even preschools. However, the dissemination of school-based mindfulness programs ran well ahead of the scientific evidence examining their efficacy (under tightly controlled conditions) or their effectiveness in real-world school contexts. While studies were suggestive that mindfulness could affect many aspects of children’s and adolescents’ wellbeing and development, the body of research as a whole fell short in terms of scientific rigor. There were few well-designed randomized controlled trials that would enable firm conclusions to be drawn that any identified effects were due to the mindfulness program rather than to unknown factors. Moreover, little attention was paid to the presumed mechanisms of change or to the developmental appropriateness of programs. As more, and better-designed, studies began to emerge, accumulating results suggested that effects were generally small, but stronger for older than younger adolescents, and longer lasting for adolescents than for children. Issues that remained for further systematic attention included many matters of program design and implementation, the safety of the practice, its basis in developmental theory and research, and its ethical and political implications.
Rosalyn H. Shute
Xu Zhao, Zhiyan Chen, and Leiping Bao
Adolescent psychology and mental health needs in China are part of an interdisciplinary area of research. In this area of research, macro and micro processes are closely linked; biological, cultural, and socio-structural influences tightly intertwined; and patterns identified in other societies fall apart due to the impact of powerful societal forces on individual psychology. As a result, there has been a fundamental and long-lasting split between the idea that “Chinese adolescent psychology” should be a distinctive science within China, addressing issues specific to the circumstances of Chinese children and families, and the argument that it should contribute to a universal theory of human development by documenting its applications to Chinese societies. The problem of the first idea lies in its assumption of cultural relativism or the incommensurability of the human experience of growing up in particular sociocultural contexts. In contrast, the problem of the second argument lies in its failure to ask what is “universal,” when a universal theory is applicable to China, and when it may not be. Arguably, adolescents in all cultures carry vulnerabilities and strengths as they go through the process of major biological and psychological transitions. Certain psychosocial needs, such as the needs for self-exploration, quality peer relationship, and continuous guidance and support from adults, are shared by adolescents across the world, albeit through different forms. When their basic needs are neglected by ideology-driven policies and practices that are carried to an extreme extent, youth mental health is seriously threatened. It is important for researchers not only to go beyond the dichotomous view of the field by taking an ecological approach and multidisciplinary perspectives to investigate the salient issues in adolescent psychology and mental health needs in their specific sociocultural context, but also to consider their broader implications for understanding universally relevant questions about success and sacrifice in human and social development.
In the United States, gender and health in adolescence are sites of contestation and conflict marked by both hyperrepresentations and absences. Youth who are multiply marginalized by interlocking systems of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and so on are overrepresented in cultural and policy domains as “at risk” for negative health outcomes. At the same time, absences surrounding young people’s complex health needs and experiences abound in schools, healthcare settings, families, and the media. For instance, debates around sex education and teen pregnancy prevention have dominated the policy landscape for decades, with no signs of receding any time soon. Missing from these debates has been an analysis of how the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality structure the health outcomes and educational experiences of diverse youth. Likewise, queer, transgender, and gender-expansive youth are overrepresented in discussions about bullying to the detriment of the social structural factors that produce poor mental health outcomes. Understanding how gender and health play out in the lives of adolescents, as well as at the level of social institutions and structures, is central to teasing out the dynamics of gender, health, and social inequalities.
Sew Kim Low and Jin Kuan Kok
There is a global push for a comprehensive school mental health system to meet the mental health needs of children and youths in school. To respond effectively to these needs, parents, schools, and communities must recognize the value of collaborating as partners. The term parent-school-community partnership refers to the genuine collaboration among families, schools, communities, individuals, organizations, businesses, and government and nongovernment agencies to assist students’ emotional, social, physical, intellectual, and psychological development. To realize the goals of effective partnership in promoting school mental health of children and youths, ongoing assessment of the schools’ needs, and the available resources of local, state, and national communities, agencies, and organizations is necessary for the provision of effective partnership interventions. In partnership, parents, educators, and community members work together and share responsibilities for the development of the “whole child.” A multitier system of partnership support could be beneficial in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of school mental health interventions and evidence-based programs.
Helen Cahill, Babak Dadvand, and Annie Gowing
The well-being challenges of the 21st century are deeply ethical in nature and require activation of collective as well as individual responsibility for the ways in which others are treated. For this reason, school reform initiatives need to equip young people with a wide range of capacities to engage with the challenges of advancing both the wellness of humanity and that of the planet. There is a robust body of theory and research available to inform school reform efforts that aim to accomplish improved individual and collective well-being. This knowledge base emanates from different paradigms and disciplinary traditions. Brought together, these knowledge sources highlight the importance of ensuring that schools invest efforts toward developing ethical, critical, personal, social, and creative capabilities that enable young people to enact care for self, others, society, and the planet. A transdisciplinary approach that expounds on research and theory from diverse disciplines, including well-being education, critical, feminist, and postmodern traditions, and scholarship on youth voice and participation can help efforts toward well-being-centric school reform. Evidence suggests that research-informed well-being education programs can have positive impacts in terms of improved mental, social, and relational health, contributions to learning, and fostering critical thinking skills. These are the skills that are needed by young people to navigate and respond to ethnical challenges with care, compassion, and a sense of responsibility as a relational ethos. Taken together, these advances in thinking and knowledge, derived from different traditions of scholarship, can be harnessed to inform a “well-being-centric” approach to schooling reform that is responsive to the past, present, and future lives of persons, peoples, and the planet. A well-being-centric approach to school reform should harness developments in education knowledge and thinking generated across diverse disciplines within the past 50 years, since the 1970s. This, in turn, requires disrupting the ways in which the disciplinary structures and assessment regimes of secondary schools work as impediments to the transformative change needed to advance student well-being and learning in these changed and challenging times.
Brian A. Gerrard and Gertina J. van Schalkwyk
School-based family counseling (SBFC) is an integrative systems approach to helping children succeed academically and personally through mental health interventions that link family and school. SBFC may be practiced by any of the mental health approaches and is best viewed as a supporting approach to traditional mental health disciplines. An important precursor to SBFC was the guidance clinics attached to schools that were developed by the psychiatrist Alfred Adler in Vienna in the 1920s. A core assumption in SBFC is that the two most important institutions in the life of a young child are the family and the school and that an effective way to help children is by mobilizing both family and school resources. SBFC has eight strengths: school and family focus, systems orientation, educational focus, parent partnership, multicultural sensitivity, child advocacy, promotion of school transformation, and interdisciplinary focus. Despite its early origins, SBFC remains a new approach that challenges traditional mental health disciplines that focus on either school or family, but not both. There is moderate evidence-based support (EBS) for the effectiveness of SBFC, but further research is needed on different approaches to SBFC.
Laura Sokal and Jennifer Katz
Inclusive classrooms provide new opportunities for group membership and creation of effective learning environments. In order to facilitate the success of inclusion as an approach and philosophy, it is important that all class members as well as their teachers develop the skills to understand one another, and to communicate and work together effectively. Social emotional learning (SEL) is aimed at developing these skills and is generally defined to involve processes by which individuals learn to understand and moderate their own feelings, understand the feelings of others, communicate, resolve conflicts effectively, respect others, and develop healthy relationships. These skills are important to both children with disabilities and to those without, in terms of overall social development, perceptions of belonging, and promotion of overall mental wellness, as well as mitigation of the development of mental illness. Research suggests that SEL programming has the potential to effectively enhance children’s academic, social, and relational outcomes. Moreover, teachers who teach SEL in their classrooms have also demonstrated positive outcomes. Despite these encouraging findings, implementation of SEL has been hampered by some limitations, including the lack of a consistent definition—a limitation that in turn affects research findings; lack of teacher education in SEL, which erodes confidence in the fidelity of implementation; and concerns that current SEL programs are not sensitive to cultural differences in communities. Together, the strengths and limitations of SEL illuminate several policy implications regarding the most advantageous ways for SEL to contribute to the success of inclusion in classrooms and schools.
Students identified with emotional and behavioral disorders (E/BD) comprise a diverse group in terms of academic, social, emotional, and behavioral strengths and needs. Identification and diagnostic criteria and terminologies vary widely across and within many countries and school systems, resulting in a complex research base. Estimates of prevalence range from 4 to 15% of students meeting criteria for an emotional and/or behavioral disorder or difficulty. Approaches to teaching learners with E/BD have shifted since the turn of the 21st century from an individual, deficit-focused perspective to a more ecological framework where the environments interacting dynamically with the learner are considered. Research increasingly demonstrates the benefits of multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) where the needs of most students can be met through universal preventative and whole-class approaches. Students who do not find success at the first level of supports receive increasingly specialized services including intensive, wraparound services that involve partners beyond school walls. MTSS are common across North America and beyond and are typically focused on externalizing behaviors; positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) is the most prevalent multi-tiered system currently being implemented. Since the mid-2000s, efforts have been made to focus on academic as well as behavioral goals for students, often through the inclusion of response-to-intervention approaches. Comprehensive strategies that combine academic and behavioral support while drawing on learner strengths and relationship-building are successfully being adopted in elementary and secondary settings. Approaches include social and emotional learning, mindfulness, peer-assisted learning, and a range of classroom-based instructional and assessment practices that support the academic, social, and emotional development of students with E/BD.