At Roybal Learning Center in Los Angeles, Robert Montgomery, far right, teaches a “transition to college math and statistics” class to 12th graders. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Whittier Christian High School

Opinion: Promoting mental well-being, positive education benefits students

Demanding workload, competition between peers, choices about future careers and many other factors burden today’s high school students with stress and anxiety.

However, while some students suffer in depression and anxiety during their puberty, many others stay resilient. What is the key factor that determines this?

Positive psychologists claim that the key to the resilience lies at optimism.

Optimism is a thinking style that contrasts with pessimism, the key indicator for depression and anxiety. When bad events occur, optimists think the bad events are temporary, local, not personal, and controllable.

So, when bad events occur, they think it will pass, it relates to just that one situation, it is not (entirely) their fault, and there is something they can do about it; whereas pessimists think that the bad event will last permanent, it is going to undermine everything, it is all their fault, and there is nothing they can do about it. 

Using this fact, about 30 years ago, researchers at University of Pennsylvania conducted a research on whether they could prevent anxiety and depression in adolescents through education in younger ages. This program, the Penn Prevention Program, was the beginning of positive education.

They took 8 to 11-year-old children who had pessimistic thinking style and taught positive intervention through cartoons, role plays, and more. The program taught the pessimistic children how to recognize their own catastrophic thought and argue realistically against through their catastrophic thoughts.

Basically, what the program was doing was teaching the children how to become their own cognitive therapists on themselves.

The result was significant: compared to the control group who did not get the positive education, the experimental group showed about 50% decrease in depression and anxiety during puberty. It showed that the children who were under the Penn prevention program were able to utilize and rehearse the positive intervention skills they learned during puberty.

Like this, positive education has a profound effect on preventing anxiety and depression among students. Not only preventing anxiety and depression, positive education also builds well-being among the school community.

Previous positive education curriculums implemented by various schools abroad show that the programs rejuvenate the teachers and further engages the students.

Furthermore, it has been shown that if traditional school curriculum is mixed with positive education, students learn and retain the traditional curriculum more effectively. Standardized testing score, as well as students’ well-being increased after the positive education. 

Psychological difficulties have become some of the most urgent problems among adolescents in modern society. They not only affects students’ academic performance, but also personal lives, relationships, physical health and many other areas of their life.

Research and previous cases in countries abroad are clearly showing us that positive education would be one of the effective solutions to this urgent issue. We go to school to learn, acquire knowledge, and to be more disciplined.

But of all, we are there to reach our full potentials and live a happy, fulfilling lives. Shouldn’t schools be guiding us more to get there?