Brian Underwood: Let’s do better this year

We can do better, we should do better, and we must do better.

You see, it’s our responsibility to do better, and we need to realize that no amount of money is going to help more than the investment we choose to give it.

I’m talking about the stewardship of our future. You know them, the oft-maligned young people in our midst. The ones we criticize for being cell phone dependent and social media addled, even as older adults are the fastest growing group of social media users.

So, technology is to blame? Not specifically, but it can be thrown into the stew.

The bottom line is, there is a longitudinal impact on how we invest in our young people. For example, the United States has the highest GDP in the world, but it ranks No. 4 in education spending on the basis of full-time students (National Center for Educational Statistics, updated, May 2018).

And even with significant resourcing, according to a 2016 study by Central Connecticut State University, the United States ranks only seventh in global literacy (Washington Post, 2016). So, there is not exactly a correlation between spending and results.

Moreover, a compilation of concerning data points evaluating the overall health of our society belies the sovereignty of money as the investment most needed to buoy the trajectory of your young people, our future.

The United States is ranked among the most depressed countries in the world, according to the World Health Organization. This is based upon quality years of life lost due to disability or death, which is a widely adopted public health metric that measures the overall burden of disease. Only India and China rank higher for unipolar depressive disorders (US News & World Report, Sept. 2016). And this condition has become alarming among U.S. teens.

In June, the Center for Disease Control reported young Americans saying they “felt sad or hopeless” rose to 31.5 percent, a three-point spike over the past 10 years. In fact, a June article published in the journal of Pediatrics reported that the rate of teen suicide tripled from 2008-15, making it the second leading cause of death among teens in 2016.

Research and theories abound in fingering blame, and it’s likely an amalgamation of factors. However, it’s hard to not consider the declining qualitative investment parents are placing in their children.

Sure, more than a third of American families say they planned to spend over $1,000 per child on school and after-school activity fees last year (Market Watch, August 2017), and, yes, many take a leadership role in their kids’ activities. However, resuscitating the mental health of our youth cannot be financially supported enough or reversed by volunteering enough. Making the biggest difference is simply committing to invest unfettered individual and family time filled with love and emotional support.

Research released by Cambridge University in May 2016 demonstrated that, “one of the major risk factors for depression in adolescence is childhood family adversity, such as poor parenting and lack of affection, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, family financial problems or the loss of a family member.”

The article went on to state that researchers also found that “supportive family or friends in early adolescence could help reduce depressive symptoms in later teenage years.”

So, we live in the most prosperous nation on earth that spends among the most on education in the world. And, as parents, we follow that trend of spending as a significant investment in our children. But at the same time we see the limits of what finance and volunteering can do for our children’s most pressing needs.

Depressing? It’s not meant to be, only illuminating. In fact, the subject is only depressing if we let it be. And we have a golden opportunity to reverse the trend — today.

Schools are filling day by day to begin another year of teaching and learning. As a community and as a nation we can learn a lot from self reflection and resolving to do better for our students and children. They deserve it, and they need it.

I am both a parent and an educator, so I’m first appealing to all who fall in these categories, and then to all others who interface with our youth to do two things this year to help our young people where they need it most.

First, recognize and believe that each student/child is a masterpiece, uniquely created to do great things. One of our primary roles is to cultivate their gifts and talents so they can fully be developed into who they were created to be.

Second, lift them up and pick them up. At their peaks and in their valleys, encourage them. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more powerful than encouragement. We all need it, and by all indications, our youth need it now more than ever.

Let’s do better.

Brian Underwood is a veteran educator with 33 years of collegiate and secondary school experience who serves as the director of school development at Sierra Lutheran High School. He can be reached at


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