tiktok, elyse myers

TikTok user Elyse Myers drives home why we need to be careful with our words.

As adults, sometimes we forget how much impact our words can have on the children in our lives. But most of us can recall things that were said to us as kids, positive or negative, that stuck with us. Some of those words may have influenced how we see ourselves our whole lives, for better or for worse.

Elyse Myers is a popular TikTok user who has a knack for storytelling. Most of her videos are funny, but one of her most recent ones has a serious—and seriously important—message for us all.

"It is no secret that as a child, and specifically as a middle schooler, I was a little bit…round," she said. "That would have been one way to describe me. Other ways that would have been more appropriate? Funny, cute, has curly hair, determined, sarcastic, witty, smart, talented, musical—so many ways to describe me, but the one thing that people loved to latch onto was the size of my body."


"Was I ashamed of that?" she asked. "No. Other people seemed to be. You would be shocked at how determined other kids and adults were at making sure that I knew that they knew that I was larger than other kids my age."

Myers then made a statement that millions of people, especially women, can identify with:

"I was made aware of the size of my body long before I was ever taught how to love it.”

Watch:

@elysemyers

Your words are powerful. #coffeetalk #theadhdway #words

Myers is dead on. Her story about a male substitute teacher going out of his way to "save her from herself" by telling her in so many words that she should give up the idea of being a cheerleader because of her size is appalling, but unfortunately not uncommon.

"The audacity of a man to walk up to a 7th-grade girl, in front of her friends, and comment on her appearance in any way is disgusting," she said. "I met that man for one hour when I was like 11, and I am 28 and still undoing the damage that that one sentence had on my life. So if you are an adult, if you are around children—if you are around humans in any way—I want you to understand how powerful your words are. As easily as they can tear someone down, they can build someone right back up, but it's going to take a hell of a lot more work to build them up after you've torn them down."

In reality, it's always far easier and faster to break something than to build it. In fact, research from The Gottman Institute found that in a happy, stable relationship, couples had an average of five positive interactions for every one negative one. Couples who had a smaller ratio than that were less happy, and a 1:1 ratio, meaning evenly balanced between positive and negative interactions, equaled an unhealthy relationship "teetering on the edge of divorce."

It takes far more positive words to create a positive experience than it does negative ones to create a negative experience, which is why it's so important for us to choose our words carefully. And because children are so impressionable, what we say to them sticks.

“I was taught how to perceive my body through the eyes of other people that didn’t love me, that didn’t care about me, that thought they could just make a passing comment and move on with their life, and I carried that forever," said Myers.

"We have to teach people how to speak kindly about themselves, how to love themselves, how to see them as beautiful and worthy and more than just what they look like. If I had as much attention poured into the things that I was good at, and I cared about, and I loved, I would have been a completely different kid."

Right on, Ms. Myers. Thanks for the reminder that what we say matters more than we might think.

Connections Academy

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

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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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