Here are things we know about today’s teens: More of them than in previous generations struggle with anxiety and depression and, as a whole, they are feeling more stressed. And rates of teen suicide are on the rise and at an all-time high: The national suicide rate for kids 10 to 14 years old nearly tripled between 2007 to 2017, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Colorado, it’s the leading cause of death for teens, and it’s claiming the lives of younger children than ever before.
What can we do to help these children and young adults overcome difficult times? Is it possible to bolster kids’ skills and abilities to better navigate through obstacles, failures, misfortune and defeats — potentially avoiding tragedy? We don’t know because it hasn’t been studied. But we aim to find out.
About a year ago, I sat with researchers, mental health professionals and key community stakeholders. Our goal was to construct a program that might help young people build what an increasing number of experts believe is a vital characteristic: resiliency. The ability to recover from disappointments, embarrassment, hard luck, put-downs and the myriad other challenges young people contend with.
Navigating the ups and downs of the adolescent years has always been difficult. Now, more than ever, they need the capacity to bounce back from challenging times and move forward.
Our goal is to find ways to equip children in our community to strengthen their psychological durability and emotional elasticity — to change their trajectory by developing their capacity to recover from all the unpleasantness and heartache they inevitably encounter.
In conceptualizing a program, we wrestled with many questions: how best to reach kids where they are, how to reliably measure success and the ideal age range to start. We concluded that the age matter was vital. If a 14-year-old or a 16-year-old is to have the emotional strength and skills to ride through stress effectively, they must have a toolbox. Focusing on prevention, our experts proposed implementing this resiliency-building program with fifth- and sixth-graders.
Next month, this unique program, named “Building Resilience for Healthy Kids,” will launch a pilot at two schools — one each in Colorado Springs District 11 and District 20.
Children’s Hospital Colorado is placing health coaches into these schools in some fifth and sixth grade classes. Children will have the option of receiving guidance on developing healthy coping skills. Coaches will generally meet weekly with participating students. Parents will be invited to monthly seminars.
At the end of the school year, two researchers associated with Children’s Colorado and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs will evaluate responses from students, while protecting student privacy, to determine the impact of the program and to craft improvements for future years.
We are hopeful this program will provide real-life solutions for kids in an increasingly complex world. If our research shows promise, we are hopeful that it will expand to many other settings so our community of young people can move through the difficult years with greater confidence and coping skills.
I’d like to extend a special thanks to our initial partners who are early supporters in what we are trying to accomplish: University of Colorado at Colorado Springs; D-11; D-20; and Pikes Peak United Way, as well as U.S. Olympic Museum which will be more involved in future stages. We are thankful for their part in this initiative.
This program was built as the result of a simple question we ask every day at Children’s Colorado: How do we help keep a child healthy and out of the hospital? It’s not a question we can answer alone. The answer will involve parents, our community, our military neighbors, community leaders and officials, organizations and institutions, and philanthropic supporters.
Colorado Springs is a tight-knit, caring community. We treasure our children and young people. We hope to find answers that will benefit not just our kids, but all kids.
Our kids can’t wait.
Margaret Sabin is president of Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado Springs.