Mental Health: Teaching Teens They Are Strong


This year has been hard, and I’m end-of-the-year-teacher-tired. I’m absolutely on my last nerve – not with my students, though. Actually, they’re the brightest part of my day. I soak in their smiles, their hugs, their laughter and desire to please. It’s about teaching teens about mental health.

I teach middle school. 7th – 8th – 9th grade. And they’re struggling.

Now, they’re not without their moments – especially the 8th graders. They’re the big questioners, the ones who wonder ‘why’ and ‘how come we have to do this’ and ‘ does this really matter’.

My 9th graders are just ready to move on. The run in the classroom completely oblivious to much besides themselves, their friends, and the latest ‘T”.

But my 7th graders….aah, they’re just special. This is my first year back in 7th grade since 2001, and I’m loving it. Every moment they try something new, agree to take a risk, jump into a discussion about a book or a topic or debate about global warming or plastics in the ocean or gun control or why animals should be rescued just makes me smile.

But they’re a whole lot of energy. Like herding puppies, in a way.

The hard parts of teaching mental health

This year there have been too many ‘not-so-happy’ times, too. I’ve seen more kids breaking down over struggles – not just with academics, but with relationships. Parents. Expectations. Friends.

My AVID 9 students learned about Mental Health issues and how to overcome the stigma associated with asking for support with this Mental Health hyperdoc lesson.  I wish I knew the original creator, so I could thank them for helping me help kids with mental health. Please make a copy and use it in your classroom, or with your own kids at home. It’s powerful.

I’ve had too many 12, 13, and 14 year-olds run through my door in tears about what happens ‘outside’. I’m finding myself giving lots of hugs, wiping gallons of tears and going through bottles of lavender oil (it reduces stress, you know!). Mostly, I’ve been reminding them that despite what’s happening, they are strong. Stronger than they know…stronger than whatever force is trying to tell them that they’re not.

It’s hard for kids to trust in that, you know? The world seems like a pretty frightening place right now. I’ve got kids who are worried about deportation. Divorce. Sex. Gender confusion. Homosexuality. Learning Disorders. Substance Abuse.

Oh yeah – and remember, they are 12-14 years old. And we have 1.5 counselors on our campus. And I’m tired. And I’m searching for messages to give them that will mean something, especially over the summer when they don’t have the stability of a safe place at school.

I found this.

Have you seen Amy Morin’s TEDx Talk?



Amy says, “The only person you should compare yourself to is the person that you were yesterday.” I TRY to remind
my students of this, but it’s hard. They’re constantly checking grades and evaluating their success based on a percentage. And navigating teachers with assinine rules about ‘no test retakes’ and no ‘do-overs’ and all the things that work precisely against the type of growth mindset we know helps create strong mental health.
She reminds us that “unhealthy beliefs about the world come about because deep down, we want the world to be fair. We want to think that if we put in enough good deeds, enough good things will happen to us.” I have to remind kids that the world isn’t fair – that equality and equity aren’t the same things, and that in school, they often have little control of how their actions can make a difference because someone else is creating the rules. At 12, kids have a hard time believing this. Often, they aren’t cognitively developed enough to understand this, and even when we tell them to ‘work hard’ and ‘do your best’ it’s not always going to turn out the way they expect.
mental health

So what’s next?

Instead, I’m going to remind them of Amy’s definition of mental strength:
“Mental strength is a lot like physical strength. If you wanted to be physically strong, you’d need to go to the gym and lift weights. But if you really wanted to see results, you’d also have to give up eating junk food. Mental strength is the same. If you want to be mentally strong, you need good habits like practicing gratitude. But you also have to give up bad habits, like resenting somebody else’s success.No matter how often that happens, it will hold you back.” –

And I’m going to add her book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, to my classroom bookshelf.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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  1. Teens are the next era of leaders for our society. It’s important to keep that massive angle in thoughts due to the fact we, adults, are generally so engrossed in our very own commitments that we have a tendency to simply give knee-jerk reactions to some thing young people supply that day.

  2. You are in the trenches for sure!! You can also normalize the idea of therapy! I think all teens and young adults can benefit from individual or group therapy as a safe place to be vulnerable with their worries, goals, failures and successes! Life is hard for all of us, but especially for adolescents because their normal developmental stage is to be separating from their families and developing their own identity which is so hard to do in a world that feels scary!! Thanks for al the work you do Day to day!!

    1. Thanks, Laili. I’m always thinking about how to support my students – and it seems as if mental health issues are taking center stage in the last few years.

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