In an increasingly tech-heavy world, children are growing and learning in ways that can be somewhat foreign to their parents and older generations. Students have access to more information now more than ever, but with a with this opportunity comes the responsibility and expectation of academic and individual excellence.

Image credits: USAID.

Over the last decade, we have seen colleges become increasingly selective, making it more and more difficult for strong applicants to earn admission into their university of choice. With societal pressures mounting on students to do well and to stand out, it is no surprise that they are feeling overwhelmed and overworked. In the United States, 1 in 5 children have or have had some form of mental disorder — that is no small amount at 20% of our children experiencing a debilitating mental health issue, at some point in their life, prior to reaching adulthood.

As a parent struggling to cultivate balance and joy in your child’s life, there is one key factor to consider: the educational route you decide to take. From ages six to 18, children devote upwards of eight hours to school each day, spending the majority of their days in an educational setting. Oftentimes, we send our children into their local school system without much of a thought. Should issues arise, we expect the school to address them neglecting to consider if the school environment is the root of the problem. Increasingly, parents and their children are discovering the benefits of alternative education programs.

With the world around us growing increasingly digitized, children and adolescents are becoming more tech-savvy. While traditional brick and mortar schools are working to integrate more technology into the classroom, alternative education options such as online schools have fully embraced a virtual interface for learning. Alternative options to learning have become increasingly popular among students as they find programs that better align with their technological, academic, and personal needs and aptitudes.

Here are three reasons why alternative education may benefit your child’s mental health:

A Sense of Community

  • Traditional schools are overcrowded and can be overwhelming for a child. In a sea of thousands, a child can feel lost and overlooked. Feelings of isolation leave one increasingly vulnerable to mental illness and is a major risk factor in the onset of depression. Furthermore, there is evidence that isolation may lead to different forms of addiction.
  • One of the key tenets of alternative education programs is the drive to create a sense of community for its students. Children who feel a part of something have a better sense of connectedness to the world around them, leading to a more positive attitude and healthier coping skills when faced with obstacles and challenges.
  • Oftentimes, alternative education programs emphasize smaller class sizes and more individualized attention from teachers. This individualized attention fosters closer relationships between students and their teachers resulting in a wider support system and a form of extrinsic motivation.

Image credits: Alex Starr.

A Customized Approach for Every Learner

  • With an increased emphasis on standardized testing and common core curriculum in the traditional classroom, students are subjected to a regimented delivery of content. Given the high-stakes nature of testing in traditional schools, students are expected to meet various benchmarks leaving less time for the crucial work of self-exploration and pursuit of extracurricular interests.
  • Alternative education programs allow students to learn and grow both academically and personally in different ways. Some programs promote imagination and holistic intellectual growth, other programs might emphasize a more scientific or artistic approach to learning, while others might deliver more traditional educational content in a non-traditional environment such as independent study or online or homeschooling.
  • There are so many different types of alternative education programs because there are different types of people and learners. Finding a program that meets the needs of your child will help foster his or her learning and enjoyment of school.
  • As an example, online schools have become increasingly popular as students seek a more balanced life consisting of both school and the pursuit of their passions. Participating in independent study, home school, or online schools allows students the freedom to achieve personal growth while obtaining an education. Having hobbies leads to increased social connectedness, a sense of purpose, and can serve as a healthy coping mechanism in the face of stress.

Safety

  • Tragically, school violence is on the rise and students attending large schools are more likely to be targets of violent behavior. Mass shootings are not the only form of school violence that students are at risk of, physical fights and harassment are more common occurrences and can lead to problematic behaviors and increased risk of mental health disorders among students. Increased absenteeism, low self-esteem, poor grades, anxiety and depression are some possible outcomes of violence, harassment, or bullying at school.
  • In response to these possible threats, some students have turned to alternative education settings, particularly online charter schools and home school programs, where school violence is less likely to occur. Feeling safe is paramount in our ability to properly function on a day to day basis. Students who have this fundamental need met are better able to focus on their academic and personal growth, which is why alternative education has become a safe-haven for those who desire a better sense of security in order to thrive.

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