Working as a Community to Address Teen Stress

by Carrie

On Mercer Island, the Teen Services Librarian brought together school district folks, parents, and mental health counselors to address issues related to teen stress, anxiety, and mental health.  Teens at the Library and at the high school also helped frame the conversation. 

THE IDEA:  “The community decided to work together to bring anxiety-reducing perspectives into the conversation and hopefully provide tools to move the needle an inch or two,” says Teen Services Librarian Carrie Bowman.  “We started by thinking about the KCLS Life after High School series in combination with other community events during the year.  We knew we could not completely change the culture, so we decided to focus on the nuts and bolts of the college preparation process through a stress reduction lens.  I worked with presenters to adopt this lens for programs about writing college essays, choosing a college, and getting financial aid.”  Then, the Library and the PTSA featured speakers offering alternative approaches to achievement in order to broaden and reinforce the message.

THE RESULT:  The Library offered two workshops in early summer to help students start thinking about college application essays.  A couple of weeks later, the school district paid teachers to run writing workshops where students worked 1-on-1 with teachers on essay drafts, in small groups to brainstorm topics, or on their own.  The relationships developed in the summer continued in the fall after school started.  Each Life after High School program (essay writing, choosing a college, and financial aid strategies) was planned around a complementary set of programs offered at the high school.  Parents and students had more than one opportunity to learn about these topics.

Next, the Library and Mercer Island Parent Edge (part of the PTSA) collaborated to bring speakers to the community, reinforcing the nuts and bolts programs.  Denny Meadows talked about the value of encouraging a love of learning in high school—emphasizing the skills needed to thrive in our changing world—as well as ways to shift focus from “where kids go to college to how they go to college.”  This approach impacts college choices. 

Dr. Anne Browning from the UW Resilience Lab talked about the importance of “owning failure,” embracing it, and practicing self-compassion.  “Self-compassion, unlike self-esteem, doesn’t promote narcissism, judgements, comparisons, or need peer approval.”  Anne led students and adults through small group exercises, including a comparison between how we help others versus how we help ourselves (or not) work through experiences of failure. 

Michele Borba talked about her book Unselfie - Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World and offered tips to parents and students about learning to empathize, collaborate, and problem-solve.  Parent Edge and Mercer Island Youth & Family Services organized round table discussions a week later so that parents could continue the conversation with school district folks and mental health counselors. 

In 2019, the Library and these community partners are planning a resource fair and several panel discussions on topics related to teen mental health and achievement-oriented culture.  Teens at the high school are putting together a panel to answer student questions.  In addition, MIHS academic counselors are offering a college options fair to highlight choices beyond the standard four-year track. 

FINAL THOUGHTS:  Carrie says, “The Library is a recognized partner in our community, bringing ideas, information, and logistics support to the table.  Friends of the Mercer Island Library provides financial support.  Librarians can facilitate access to information and resources by initiating conversations about issues important to the community and including multiple community members in those conversations.”