Education’s Role in Curbing Teen Anxiety

Does modern education contribute to teen anxiety? And, if so, how can we change school culture and methodology to help our children gain a sense of well-being?

Studies prove that it is nearly a third of all teenagers are being classified as being frequently anxious, and even experiencing an anxiety disorder.

Paediatrics journal released a study of national trends in depression among adolescents and young adults that showed an upward trend.


What has changed in the last decade that would make such a marked difference in the mental health of our young people? Smartphone itself is less the issue than the larger culture of adolescence and how teens interact with one another via social media. But these teens are on their couches and engaging with one another via text, are less likely to engage in risky behaviour. We all have become more vulnerable to changes brought on by technology. Adults also are susceptible to our always-on, hyper-connected media culture. We know about every act of terrorism, the moment it happens, as alerts pop up on our phones. We spend our free time in very different ways than generations before us. And our economic and job landscape shifts greatly from year to year. How does this then influence the way we teach our kids in school and parent them at home?


School pressures too, play a key role in the increasing anxiety. Parents and teachers place pressure on students to do well in class, and on standardized tests, to help ensure their future college and career success. This goes along with often overscheduled extracurriculars, also deemed essential to be accepted and do well in the competitive adult world. The competitiveness, the lack of clarity about where things are going have all created a sense of real stress. We need to build resilience among students. Activities like exercise, mindfulness, good nutrition, and time outside are a part of the Waldorf curriculum for a reason. That reason is not to ease anxiety, but to establish a sense of well-being through connection with learning, self, peers, and the greater community.

When it comes to movement, Waldorf educators understand the importance of using our bodies to connect with ourselves, the world around us, and the academic material at hand. Considering that studies have shown that as little as a 10-minute walk can relieve anxiety and depression, it won’t take much to help students lift their spirits. Keeping speech and movement class, recess, and sports in the daily curriculum should be enough to help our students’ well-being.

What does mindfulness look like in a Waldorf classroom? It looks like attention brought to a task, such as review in morning main lesson. Beauty and ritual also speak to mindfulness — an opening verse, seasonal songs singing, traditional festivals and ceremonies, or even journaling can all bring mindfulness to students.

Certain nutritional strategies to ease anxiety. For example, a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruit will metabolise in a way to “maintain a more even blood sugar level, which creates a calmer feeling.” Also food higher in magnesium, zinc and Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce anxiety.
While it is difficult to require students to maintain balanced diets, it is not difficult to create a culture of respect for wholesome, fresh food. Students can connect with better food through gardening and farming programs and through direct lessons in curriculum about the importance of food for mental and physical health.

The Outdoors
Study upon study has shown that time in nature reduces stress, depression, and anxiety. One study even found that people who experience greener areas periodically, even in urban settings, receive sustained mental health benefits. Time outdoors is essential to our children.

Adequate sleep is a stress buster. People low on sleep are more likely to be depressed and are more prone to negativity and anxiety. Helping teens to put away their gadgets before bed can also make a huge difference in sleep patterns. We encourage families to keep bedrooms technology free zones.

Ultimately, what well-being comes back to is a healthy sense of connection both with self and with others. People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. Social connectedness generates a positive loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.

We must help our children see the long-term value of all these pillars of well-being. More importantly, we must teach them, in school and at home, how to connect genuinely with themselves and others. If we can do that, then they will have the skills they need to advocate for the peaceful and fulfilling lives of their future selves.

10 NEEDS for a Healthy Children and Educational Experience

  1. Proper Nutrition: A good, hot, nutritious breakfast every day before school. Breakfast, snack and lunch should contain lots of protein, and no sugar or food additives.
  2. Adequate Sleep: Be in bed no later than 8:00 PM on school nights. Most young children still need 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night.
  3. Minimal Media: No murder, mayhem or adult movies or videos on the weekend, ever.
  4. Quiet Time: Provide some daily quiet time. Give your child the gift of silence.
  5. Time in Nature: Spend some time in nature. Experience the weather; pay attention to the seasons, moon, stars and sky.
  6. Chores at Home: Assign some responsibilities for taking care of the home- cleaning, making one’s own bed, pets and plants.
  7. Appropriate Dress: Pay attention child’s clothing.
  8. Cultivate Reverence: All spiritual traditions offer practices that help develop the reverence for life that supports home, school and community relationships.
  9. Support Your Child’s Education: Help develop healthy homework habits, participate in school activities, and communicate honestly about your concerns with your child’s teachers, spread no rumours.
  10. Support the Class Community: Get to school on time. Plan vacations during breaks. Support the class code of conduct. Children need shared values and alignment among their adult role models.