Blogger Liza Purdy

A Crisis in Youth Mental Health: How the Public Library Can Respond

On December 7, the United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a warning about youth mental health, stating that there has been an “alarming” rise in certain mental health challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic. He states, “Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real, and they are widespread. But most importantly, they are treatable, and often preventable.” Dr. Murthy calls on everyone from youth themselves to caregivers, schools, community organizations and governments to do their part to create a healthier society. He says “we have an unprecedented opportunity as a country to rebuild in a way that refocuses our identity and common values, puts people first, and strengthens our connections to each other.” Children and Teen librarians are among the front-line workers who have direct communication with this population. We can intentionally and consistently shape our programming, collections, outreach, collaborations and in fact every day to day interaction with the goal of promoting positive mental health. It is imperative.

From the research I’ve been doing, it seems like emotional regulation and fluency in emotional language are two key areas of social emotional learning. Other important areas include cognitive regulation, behavioral regulation and cognitive-emotional Integration. This paper from the Administration for Children and Families has tons of solid, easy to understand info. Additionally, it appears that there are two periods of exponential growth in these areas for children- the preschool years and early adolescence characterized here as ages 11-14. What are some practical applications we could do in public libraries to strengthen these skills?

In service to all age-groups, it is recommended that we “build warm, responsive relationships, coach self-regulation skills, and structure the environment to buffer against environmental stressors.“ That means getting to know the kids that walk through our doors, creating predictable environments in our programming, and responding with empathy and calmness to those children and teens who are experiencing distress during their visit. There are a wealth of social emotional activities to be found on the internet; I particularly like those that are based in science, such as the recommendations from  the Center for the Developing Child from Harvard University which is an AMAZING resource.

Storytime is an ideal platform for increasing our fluency in emotional language. We can pause, note and name the emotions of characters in picture books. We can ask the participants to reflect on how similar situations might make them feel. Co-regulation, which means caregivers helping children to regulate their emotions, is vital during the preschool years, and such reflections could help the adults in the room ponder as well.

I think it is also vital that we provide opportunities for social emotional learning to our tweens, since this is such a crucial time in their growth. Keeping our programming to this age range process focused, rather than product, can give us the time and space to foster appropriate relationships with them. As they mature into their later adolescence, knowing that the library is a place of refuge, predictability and warmth may be just the shelter that they can turn to in their community to buffer life’s many storms.

How do you promote the principles of emotional regulation in your library?

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