Our world is shrinking. How do we prepare kids to thrive in a global society?

We live in an ever-shrinking world. Today, people can travel to practically any place on the planet—distances that used to take weeks or even months to traverse—in less than a day. People on opposite sides of the globe can talk face-to-face through handheld devices—a reality that was a futuristic dream even in my own lifetime. Thanks to constant advances in transportation and communication, we're living in an increasingly global society—one that our children will need to understand as they inherit it.

After 9/11, author and mother Homa Sabet Tavangar felt compelled to explore the impact of our rapidly changing world on her children. Tavangar had worked for 15 years helping companies become competitive in the global market, but she knew humanity needed more than than global business savvy. It needed compassionate, culturally competent people who strive to understand others and see themselves as citizens of the world.


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When Tavangar looked for resources to help her parent her kids toward that goal, she came up short. So she researched and wrote the book she wanted to read herself. Her first book, "Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World" became a tool for parents and educators to encourage global awareness and citizenship. Since its publication, Tavangar has written several more books and create additional resources for teachers to bring the world into the classroom.

Her newest project takes a hands-on approach to exploring the world. The Global Kids activity deck, is a set of 50 colorful, educational cards with activities from around the globe, designed to help kids explore the beauty, wonder, and diversity of humanity. The activities can be done at home or in a classroom, and (refreshingly) require no screens or technology of any kind.

Annie Reneau

The activity cards are split into five themes—Create (arts and crafts), Play (games), Eat (recipes), Celebrate (holidays and traditions), and Help Out (ways to be of service). Each activity comes from a different country or culture and uses inexpensive, everyday materials. Some activity examples include a froggy coin toss game called Sapo from Peru, Maasai-inspired beadwork from Kenya, a Three Sisters Soup recipe from the Iroquois nation, and a "Plastics Penalty Pot," inspired by Rwanda being the first country to ban all single-use plastic bags.

While all five themes fulfill specific educational purposes, Tavangar says the Help Out category was particularly important to her and her team:

"We really wanted kids to consider how they can make a difference in their local community and the wider world, how they can build their empathy muscles, and unlike so many products aimed at children, to help them think beyond their self-interest and serve others and our planet. So, for example our Japan Wishing Tree activity has kids think about their 'circles of caring,' and the South Africa card teaches Ubuntu ('I am because we are')—the meta-cognitive activities help kids grow in empathy beyond themselves."

Wendy Turner, Delaware's Teacher of the Year in 2017, has been using Global Kids in her second grade classroom with great success. She told Upworthy:

"Global Kids has allowed my students to learn about countries and cultures they would not otherwise know about. These activities are accessible and highly engaging and offer opportunities for geography connections and social emotional learning.

Learning to say thank you in multiple languages has ignited a passion for just saying thank you at every opportunity in our classroom, which creates a positive culture. Our wishes for the world based on the activity from Japan fostered deep, thoughtful connections to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and what we hope to see in the world. Ubuntu, an activity from South Africa, reminds us we are all connected and dependent on each other.

All of these activities support self-awareness and social awareness, key social emotional learning competencies. I love Global Kids on so many levels!"

Global Kids was designed for kids ages 4 to 10, but Tavangar says that the cards make great conversations starters for older kids, teens, and adults as well. "We hope that as kids do the activities or families start conversations based on the cards, their curiosity about and empathy for the world will grow," she says. She hopes the activities will help "to remove the barrier of 'otherness' so that difference or distance are not to be feared."

Tavangar was born in Iran and has lived on four different continents, but she knows that most kids will have to learn about the world from wherever they live. "Privileged kids will have an opportunity to travel, but every child deserves the world," says Tavangar. "The globalization train has left the station. Our learning and mindsets need to catch up, and not just for those who can afford it."

Collecting diverse activities from 50 different cultures sounds pretty straightforward, but Tavangar and her team found that the process wasn't so simple. "It turned into quite a complex challenge," she says, "based on our commitment to demonstrate diversity through many lenses: geographic, ability, activity types, religions and traditions, centering indigenous cultures where possible, moving beyond the 'single story' of a culture, and all at the same time keeping descriptions, activities and materials simple enough for a five year-old to enjoy."

That balance between complexity and simplicity is tricky to strike when helping young kids learn about our vast, diverse world. But Tavangar says her experiences with her first book revealed a universal theme that brings the concept of "global citizenship" down to a child's level—friendship.

"I've had a chance to travel all over the United States and to various countries to speak with parents, executives, educators and kids about global citizenship," she says. "When I ask any audience, 'What are the qualities of a good friend?' the answer is the same, wherever I go: loyal, kind, good listener, helpful, respectful, non-judgmental, fun, and so on."

"Being a global kid is like being a friend to the whole human race," Tavangar explains, adding:

"When we explore the beauty, fun, and wonder that our wide world has to offer, it makes us feel happy, connected, and curious to learn more—just like a good friendship does. Plus, you can have more than one friend, and they can be very different from each other. This shows us that thinking in an either-or construct can be hurtful, just like we don't have to choose between local or global. We can grow room in our hearts to care about our local communities and our wider world. So, being a global or world citizen can feel intimate and personal, not 'foreign' or compromising of our concern for our community or country."

Tavangar says that the most challenging thing about helping kids become conscientious world citizens is actually adults. "We all grew up with biases, were educated with 'colonial' worldviews, and continue to take in news media that pits 'us' against 'them,'" she says. "Our children are born free of these prejudices, and while even an infant's brain processes bias, thanks to neuroplasticity, the brain can quickly replace bias with love and curiosity—if it is demonstrated."

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So what advice does Tavangar have for parents or educators who want to make sure kids are prepared to live in and contribute to a global society? "Don't be afraid you don't know enough!" she says. "Learn alongside your children, and model to them that you are learning, too. You can demonstrate that this openness to learning, respect for diverse cultures and traditions, appreciation of beauty, practice of empathy and kindness are your core values, and that you don't ignore differences, but you celebrate them and 'see' them."

Tavangar also suggests some specific habits families can establish to help encourage global citizenship:

"Hang a world map or put a globe in a prominent spot, take adventures in your hometown to try new foods, meet new neighbors, watch a movie from another country. Read books by diverse authors—both for your own reading and with your children. Consider how world peace can start at the dinner table—from the variety of foods you eat, to the quality of conversation, and the friends you invite to break bread with you. None of these need to be complicated or expensive, but each step creates a lasting impression on our children."

Here's to raising kids who will make our global neighborhood a compassionate, just, and prosperous home for us all.

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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