We all know there is a mental health crisis out there. We have real numbers that highlight elevated rates of anxiety and depression for kids, teenagers, people of color, men, working mothers. The numbers tell the story. The percentages, increases, and statistical significance are all important.
As a writer and scientist, I am compelled to include links to my data to highlight my concern. The data demonstrates that you can trust I’m not making important claims based just on my feelings. We have all spent years and thousands of dollars in school learning to effectively dissect the numbers. Even more, our brains are naturally inclined to solve problems– numbers make that easier.
Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by data, as are our children. Their GPA’s, instagram likes, rebounds, SAT Scores, tardies, goals, and more, are all measured and highlighted. “What is measured gets done.” The data tells the story. Numbers are concrete, clear, and feel important.
Yet we don’t keep data on what actually counts in life (you all- that’s a numbers pun). There are no decimal points for kindness, helping others, empathy, or quality of relationships. We don’t spend hours on excel sheets analyzing if we are actually building connections with each other and our communities. In fact, the “Citizenship” grade on elementary school report cards is the most data our children receive on their interpersonal relationships. And because there is no data to be analyzed for these qualities in this numbers-crazed world, we have learned not to value the qualities that make us healthy and whole. No wonder there is a mental health crisis.
As a parent, clinician, and member of this beautiful community, I have to fight our data-driven culture to make sure I am teaching my kids to value what is important– and reminding myself! I try to give more air-time to talking about kindness than GPA’s, create routines around saying something supportive to soccer teammates, and look for every opportunity to talk to my kids about taking the perspectives of others. But it is hard and I frequently fall into the trap of over-analyzing my pace on a set of 50’s butterfly (I’m a swimmer, you all!)
The reality is that the numbers aren’t always the most important; sometimes they don’t tell the story. No statistically significant difference will highlight helping a kid who fell on the soccer field, offering an invitation to someone who was left out at lunch, reflecting to see where we can learn from mistakes, openness to differences, or anything that includes real-life connection.
So, next time you find yourself talking about data with your kids, remind everyone that numbers are NOT the measure of who we are. Even if numbers are concrete and feel important, the connections we have with each other are the most valuable. Let them know that it’s the relationships that count.