Before 2017 follows too closely in the footsteps of 2016 as yet another year of divisiveness, filled with Twitter wars and men on TV yelling about "hateful this" and "PC culture that," let's take stock of some things we can all agree on.

An accurate visualization of America right now. Photo via iStock.

From the special-est snowflake liberals to the don't tread on me-est conservatives, these are a bunch of plain and simple agreements that most, if not all, Americans can come to. We're probably not going to hug and sing "Kumbaya" after this, but maybe we can tear down a little bit of that wall that's dividing us. (Then part of it can be a fence!) (See, we're already laughing together.)


Things like...

1. Freedom is good.

That's right: freedom. You love it, I love it. People have fought and died for it. Alexander Hamilton and Beyoncé have both written hip-hop songs about it.

Some people who love freedom.  Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images.

Freedom is the reason you can leave a nasty comment on this article (I can't wait, by the way) and it's the reason I walk past two mosques and a Catholic school every time I go to my local Jewish deli here in New York City (true story).

Freedom makes this country an eclectic and exciting place to live, and none of us want it to go anywhere.

2. "Batman v Superman" sucked, but the director's cut made it suck less.

Yeah, lets talk about that. "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" was a hot mess. The tone, the pacing, the story, it was all completely off. Lex Luther's plan made no sense, and he was acting all weird the whole time. Just terrible.

They all know it, too. Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Bai Superteas.

Thing is, Zack Snyder's nearly three-hour director's cut was way better. Not "great," not even "good" really, but thoroughly watchable. It was, at the very least, an original take on the characters instead of a cookie-cutter action movie with no personality, right?

Boom, look at that. You. Me. Same page.

3. Going to the doctor shouldn't cost like a crap ton of money.

Hang on! No, this isn't me using a young, hip platform to shoehorn in an advertisement for the Affordable Care Act. (Who do you think I am, President Obama? Zing!) (See? We can do this.)

Photo by Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images.

I'm just saying: No one should have to go to the doctor and be horrified at the bill. Did you know that nearly half of American households are one emergency away from entering poverty? Imagine if you had to worry about your health while simultaneously worrying about being able to put food on the table. That's a position no one should have to be in.

Whatever becomes of health care in the future, let's agree to agree: No one wants to (or should) go into massive debt because of a health crisis.

4. Billy Joel.

Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images.

I mean, right? Come on. Piano Man? He's great.

5. We need more jobs.

Jobs are good! Unemployment is bad. More jobs means a stronger economy, more opportunity, and more money for you and yours. Who doesn't want that?

Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images.

I'll go you one further! We need more American jobs. We need jobs to be created right here in the homeland, making American stuff and building American industries that we can pass down to future generations.

The fact that we've steadily added jobs over the last eight years is great, but it's not enough. Now, we may disagree on what those new jobs should be and how best to create them, but at our core we're all chanting the same mantra: Mo' jobs, fewer problems.

6. This is a weird picture.

Photo by Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images.

What are these people doing? Why does that one guy have an umbrella? Did they survive a pink kayak disaster or is this some kind of ritual sea-bath in Northern France? The world may never know, but you and I and the rest of America can rest assured that we agree — there are no two ways about it — this is a bizarre picture.

7. People should be able to afford their educations, regardless of income.

More people being able to pursue their education beyond high school is pretty much always a good idea. It helps us foster innovation and create those jobs and opportunities we were just agreeing on a few minutes ago.

Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images.

The massive student debt crisis is hurting all of us. Millions of young people are spending the best years of their lives buried under mountains of loan debt while trying and failing to get one of those jobs that there aren't enough of. Pursuing education should give people more opportunities, not hold them back, and, in turn, hold the whole country back.

That's just not cool.

8.  Brendan Fraser is the only actor who should star in "The Mummy."

Can't faze the Frase! Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.

We're all thinking it. What's Tom Cruise doing in that new "Mummy" movie? Does the world need more Tom Cruise? Does Tom Cruise really need another franchise? Are movie-goers really that thirsty for more Tom-Cruise-runs-away-from-things summer blockbusters?

Get Fraser back in there! This is his fight.

And finally...

9. Too many toddlers are shooting people.

Yep, this is a thing that is happening.

In 2015, there were 58 shootings committed by toddlers. Which is too many by about 58. There were over 50 in 2016 as well. Here's a chart from the Washington Post with a terrifying title:

So yeah, we can probably agree that we should do something to keep guns out of toddlers' hands. I know this is a divisive issue. I don't expect us all to suddenly agree on the need for more gun control laws (although most people agree on that too) because we all saw what happened after Sandy Hook and after the Pulse shooting. (You know — nothing.) I'm not talking about taking anyone's guns away, either. I'm talking about agreeing that we should all practice enough personal gun safety to protect ourselves from toddlers with guns.

Many of the stories in that Washington Post report involve gun owners who weren't practicing proper gun safety protocol. If we can't agree on more gun control laws and regulations, I'm pretty sure we can all come together and agree that anyone who has a gun should be keeping it far away from where any kid could reach it.

Making 2017 a year with substantially less toddler-shootings shouldn't be too controversial, right?

Honestly, the list doesn't end there. It's on all of us to keep it going.

There's a lot more that we can agree on. Pie, Nutella, campfires, funny hats. The list of things that unite us has always been longer than the list of things that divide us. That's good to keep in mind.

So yes, we're probably going to keep yelling at each other in 2017. We're going to openly disagree, debate, stumble, and evolve, and we should be truly thankful to live in a place where we have the freedom to do so.

In a world of Twitter, talking heads, and fake news, it's too easy for us to lose our common ground and lose sight of our shared humanity. We forget that we all love this beautiful, messy country of ours and want it to be better, and that we want to make it better through hard work and good ideas*.

*If you consider "good ideas" ones that strip away the rights of already marginalized groups, please see above: "Freedom is good."

OK now. Back to it.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

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