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Opinion

Thoughts from Dr. Joe: A wellness center offers safe haven to Gen Z kids

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A lounge area in the new Wellness Center at La Cañada High School. The new center offers social-emotional support where teens can get help or hang out.
(Tim Berger/La Cañada Valley Sun)

It’s common for adults to proclaim that youth these days act worse than their generation. Each generation develops proclivities and values based on events that happened while they were growing up.

For example, the “traditionalists,” my parents’ generation, were born before 1945. Many experienced the stock market crash and two World Wars. They learned that perseverance, determination and hard work paid off. Their efforts resulted in war victories and an economic transformation the world had never seen. They valued patriotism, education, courage, hard work and perseverance and passed these to the “boomers.”

I’m a boomer. We experienced the potential of prosperity, unleashed consumerism, self-indulgence, and we live in the shadows of the Vietnam and Cold wars. However, my generation wrote the book on social change. It was the Age of Aquarius: the peace movement, women’s liberation, civil rights and Woodstock. Yet the proliferation of drugs would affect all subsequent generations. We were influenced by the Beatles. It’s all rock ‘n’ roll to me.

Move over Millennials and Gen-Xers, there’s a new sheriff in town: Generation Z, those born between about 1995 and 2012 or 2015, depending upon who you ask. Researchers have devoted considerable effort to understand the maladies of Generation Z and suggest that youngsters today are less hedonistic, better educated and behaved, but lonelier than ever before. In 2018 Pew Research Center found that today’s youth are less concerned about traditional teenage problems than they are about mental health. Also, Pew researchers found that stress, depression and obsession regarding scholastic success are major issues among Generation Z. What is most alarming is that Generation Z is more likely to self-harm.

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Writers, social scientists, historians and philosophers have predicted these maladies since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. In 1970, Alvin Toffler wrote “Future Shock,” which is an accurate prediction of the political and social climate that we experience today. At the time, I was in Vietnam and found his work far-fetched.

Toffler argued that society is undergoing an enormous social change that people will eventually find overwhelming. He predicted that the accelerated rate of technological advancement would leave people disconnected from each other. Toffler used the description “shattering stress and disorientation,” which he believed will cause what he referred to as, “information overload.”

Thoughts of suicide, drug addiction, the potential of an ecological collapse, school shootings and cyberbullying may plague members of Generation Z during the school year.

As recently reported in the Valley Sun, under the guidance of Supt. Wendy Sinnette the La Cañada Unified School District begins the academic year with a positive solution to the maladies of Generation Z. The Spartan Wellness Center at La Cañada High. Housed in the Information Resource Center, it is a calm and quiet space where students can speak with someone regarding mental health services.

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It’s here that, as a matter of transparency, I remind readers that my wife, Kaitzer, is a member of the LCUSD Governing Board. But please know this: My thoughts about this wellness center are mine alone.

I find it encouraging to see that the LCHS center’s holistic approach emphasizes dimensions of wellness: physical, emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual. The current literature as related to today’s teenage students particularly address the importance of social wellness; for example, dealing with self-identity and self-esteem. Also, emotional wellness is a major consideration, enabling students to find a sense of peace and connectedness within society.

I grew up in a volatile section of the Bronx. Yet, there was always a sense of connection. We “baby boomers” knew that we were part of something greater than us. As I look back, Puglia’s Delicatessen on Pitman Avenue was sort of its own wellness center. If a kid was hungry, they could always get a meal, if someone needed protecting, my dad and I would see to that, and if someone needed advice, my mom always knew what to say.

Wellness centers work, and I am happy to see that La Cañada has brought it back.

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