New Hampshire’s Schools and Children’s Well-being: Study Skills Replace Mental Health

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It's your turn.
It’s your turn.

According to a new Scholastic Inc. survey of high performing teachers, “family stress” and “psychological problems” are the two top reasons why children do not perform in school. Yet, academic performance remains the primary focus of schooling best practices and policies. The New Hampshire Board of Education has explicitly stated that they are against non-academic dispositions to be considered or taught, which is why pilots in the State are using “study skills” which are almost hidden, to replace important socio-emotional, emotional and psychological well-being attributions.

 Well-being refers to your psychological and physical health, where health is not simply the absence of mental or physical illness, but the more positive connotation of how well your life is going; your well-being is what is good for you. Well-being includes emotional health, vitality and satisfaction, life direction and ability to make a difference, physical health and energy to function fully, healthy behaviors such as diet and exercise, quality of relationships, financial wealth, experiencing a high quality of life, and living a good life.

Screenshot 2015-05-30 at 7.30.57 PMYoung people are suffering in silence about their despair that life can be positive as indicated by a recent American Freshman Survey: “The emotional health of incoming freshmen is at its lowest point in at least three decades.” The American Freshman Survey, an annual report that is now entering its 50th year, collected responses from about 153,000 full-time, first-year students at 227 four-year public and private institutions in 2014. What has happened over the past “three decades” to bring us to this crisis?

Well-being measures and outcomes have not been on the radar screens of our education leaders and policy makers nationally, and parents have been led to believe that if children do well in school academically then they will also be happy, healthy, flourishing children. Maybe it is time that parents learn the truth.

Parents and teachers must come together to align their views, since our policy makers and leaders do not understand the extent of the problems or how to intervene. Parents should be asking their public school leaders why the New Hampshire High School Risk Behavior 2013 survey results found that 25.4 percent of all students, with 32.7 percent of girls, actually felt depressed or sad almost every day such that they stopped doing usual activities.” And yet there are no methods advocated by school leaders for teachers, school counselors or parents to prevent these destructive thought patterns and associated feelings.

Maybe Tyler Carlisle who graduated second in his class at Central High School in Manchester, NH, would have benefited, among many others?

These personal, whole child, well-being metrics are just a few examples of the gaps between what schools are focusing upon – primarily academic outcomes – and the inner life of the young people in their care. Further, our mental health and education experts consider protective factors to be primarily external to the inner self of students and focus upon family, school, community with no inner psychological self-attributions considered. It is time to change this focus and lens that we use to educate our children toward what is the most important protective factor for a happy, healthy, flourishing life – self-knowledge.

In my book I describe in detail the extent of the emotional, psychological and physical well-being problems in our society and approaches to intervene. The Self in Schooling: Theory and Practice – How to Create Happy, Healthy, Flourishing Children in the 21st Century discusses research based programs such as: the Integrated Self Model (iSelf); Self Across the Curriculum (SAC); The Success Predictor; among other best practices used in K-16 schooling.

The data on whole child well-being is dismal, and we’re not even measuring what parents really want measured – those inner psychological attributions that will give children the tools for a happy, healthy, and successful life. Parents want to measure: what do our children know about themselves, do they know their strengths, do they have a sense of direction, do they have the self-confidence to be assertive and put forward their own ideas in the world?

To provide young people with hope for a better future during mental health month, shouldn’t we be taking more impactful action and doing more to create emotionally and psychologically well young people? Parents and especially their children want and deserve more serious and committed actions and methods to improve well-being outcomes.

The occasional seminar or mental health event is simply not enough, nor more pressure on children to perform academically, or replacing socio-emotional well-being with study skills. Our schools need the teaching of self-understanding and well-being to be infused across the curriculum. At the very least, academic outcomes will go up, at the most, we have happier, healthy children.

Dr. Henry G. Brzycki
Dr. Henry G. Brzycki

Dr. Henry G. Brzycki’s is the author of The Self in Schooling: Theory and Practice—How to Create Happy, Healthy, Flourishing Children in the 21st Century, and President of The Brzycki Group and The Center for the Self in Schools based in State College, PA. He can be contacted at:

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About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!