Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

How to Help Students Take a Mental-Health Break This Summer

By Angela Duckworth — June 23, 2021 2 min read
What can students do this summer for their mental health?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

“Ask a Psychologist” is going on summer vacation. See you this fall!

What should I encourage students to do this summer for their mental health?

I’m not a clinical psychologist, but here’s something I can recommend from a piece I just wrote for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:

What’s one thing you hope the young people in your life do this summer?

I recently asked a version of this question to the grandfather of one of my students.

Without hesitation, he leaned forward and said with conviction, “I’d say, get off those screens!”

I couldn’t agree more.

Come September, what will young people look back on this summer and remember? Will their highlight reel be an endless stretch of mornings, afternoons, and evenings in their bedroom, faces down, staring into their phones? For too many students, this has been a necessary reality for more than a year.

My fondest hope for young people this summer is that they spend as many hours as possible screen-free, talking to people in three dimensions rather than two. The blue canopy sky above has much more to commend it than the blue-light glow of a phone.

Recent research shows a remarkably strong link between green space and mental health. Young people who grow up near more greenery—literally more vegetation in their immediate neighborhood—are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and a range of other mental-health afflictions. This is true whether children are growing up in cities (think parks and street trees) or in rural communities. And the dose-response relationship between greenery and mental health holds even when controlling for socioeconomic status and other risk factors.

What’s so special about nature? Many things, probably. One is that natural beauty tends to grab our attention “modestly” as some cognitive scientists put it. The sun, moon, and stars call to us gently, inviting us to observe and reflect and sometimes filling us with awe. In contrast, social-media feeds, automatically advancing Netflix episodes, and pop-up ads are attention bullies—forcing us to effortfully resist them.

Don’t let the young people in your life spend this precious season glued to their devices. You love them too much.

Do plan a picnic in the park, a hike in the woods, or even a walk around the block. And give young people the freedom to explore on their own. “I think that I shall never see,” Joyce Kilmer wrote, “a poem lovely as a tree.”

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Opinion Social-Emotional Learning and the Perils of Teaching as Therapy
SEL risks overburdening teachers with responsibilities they aren’t trained for, compromising their ability to build academic skills.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Student Well-Being Opinion Culturally Responsive Social-Emotional Learning: How to Get There
Bringing culturally responsive SEL into class can't be done as an add-on. It needs to be integrated into daily routines and academic work.
14 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Student Well-Being Fewer Teens Appear to Be Vaping. How Schools Can Keep the Momentum
A handful of studies suggest that adolescent e-cigarette use dropped substantially during the pandemic.
7 min read
Image of E-cigarettes for vaping. Popular vape devices
Nijat Nasibli/iStock
Student Well-Being Quiz How Much Do You Know About the Needs of the Whole Child?
Answer 7 questions to see how much you know about the needs of the whole child.