- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2022

A new survey suggests that teens confide mental health struggles to teachers more than their parents, sharing family dynamics at school while telling parents only about campus stress.

According to the survey that CVS Health/Morning Consult published Thursday, 78% of educators say students aged 13 to 17 have reached out to them with a mental or emotional concern. By comparison, 58% of parents say their children in this age group have confessed similar struggles to them.

As a result, the survey reported that educators are “significantly more” alert than legal guardians to teens’ mental health, with 76% of teachers and 43% of parents expressing concern.

“Young people continue to face a mental health crisis, but they are not facing it alone,” CVS Health President and CEO Karen S. Lynch said in a statement. “Most are turning to the adults in their lives for help both at home and at school.”

American teenagers share more family issues with teachers and more school issues with parents, the study found.

Most educators named family dynamics and relationships (94%), self-esteem (91%), bullying and social dynamics (85%) and social media use (83%) as the top emotional stressors that teens divulge to them.

Parents mentioned academic pressure (52%), self-esteem (51%), pandemic-related stress (48%) and bullying and social dynamics (43%) as the biggest issues they hear about.

Teens are especially likely to trust teachers more than parents to discuss sexual struggles. While 72% of teachers mentioned the negative impact of “gender, race and sexuality” issues on adolescent mental health, only 25% of parents did the same.

In a press release, CVS Health called the parallel conversations “complementary,” noting that 94% of parents and an equal share of teachers “are confident they would be able to find appropriate support” for a teen in a mental health crisis.

Some parental rights advocates expressed concern about the findings.

“Years ago, schools used to work with families to advance students’ best interests, yet all too often today, schools deliberately undermine the role of the family to advance an ideological agenda,” said Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education. “Playing tug-of-war with children is a surefire way to worsen these problems.”

Despite educators hearing more about teens’ mental health concerns, 49% of surveyed parents say they initiate conversations about mental health with their children. That’s more than double the 22% of teachers who say the same.

The results come as America’s K-12 schools add mental health staff and resources to support students who struggled emotionally during two years of pandemic-restricted learning.

Psychologist Thomas Plante, a professor at Santa Clara University, said the study confirms a “mental health tsunami” of teens suffering anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies and substance abuse as they return to campus after two years of COVID-driven school closures.

“We need teachers, parents, mental health professionals, school administrators, politicians and others to work together in solidarity to do whatever we can to help students cope,” Mr. Plante said.

The American Psychological Association fellow noted a “variety of reasons” that a teen might trust “an inviting teacher or coach” more than a parent in the pandemic era.

“Teachers and coaches may actually clock more hours with students than many busy parents do,” Mr. Plante said. “Parents also may see their children through rose-colored glasses and may have a less objective view of their challenges and struggles.”

The CVS Health/Morning Consult online poll surveyed 500 parents and 340 educators of teens aged 13 to 17 on Aug. 12-23. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points for parents and plus or minus 5 percentage points for teachers.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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