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Empowering Generation Alpha: GIS Counselors Address Mental Health in the Digital Age

GIS counselors Marie and Kristy

We are blessed to have two school counselors at Grace International School, Marie Payne and Kristy Griffth. Marie Payne has worked in multiple counseling-related roles with at-risk youths, churches, prisons, and various communities. After retiring at the end of 2021, God has led her to her next chapter of life serving in Thailand. Kristy Griffth and her husband have been doing ministry in Thailand for many years, primarily working with hill tribe youths in Chiang Mai. There is a huge need for accessible counseling services for this group, so the Griffth family has laid the foundation for counseling and trauma-informed care training. Kristy is now getting her master’s in clinical mental health counseling and has chosen to do her practicum hours at GIS. 

Marie and Kristy are knowledgeable and passionate about students’ mental and emotional well-being. Research has shown that Generation Z and Generation Alpha are more anxious than previous generations. In a survey, half of millennials between 24 and 39 said they’d left a job at least partly for mental health reasons. For Gen Z, between ages 18 and 23, the percentage spikes to 75%, compared with just 20% among the general population. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 35% of Millennials and 37% of Gen Z reported receiving therapy or mental health treatment in 2019. 

Then comes Generation Alpha. Kristy says, “I have seen even here as well as in America where the children are just suffering from anxiety and fear, depression, bipolar disorders, and more. While Millennials and Gen Z are becoming more aware of their mental health and taking the initiative to protect it, Gen Alpha is too young to grasp what is happening to them fully. A lot of parents don’t realize this. This mental health crisis is on the rise. People are not okay, and kids are not okay. Anxiety and depression rates are significantly higher than they were ten years ago. And it is the same with TCK statistics when we look at the GIS community.” 

So, what are the reasons for the global decline in this generation’s mental health?

Aside from the global pandemic, which has affected all generations across the board, Generation Alpha, ages 0 to 12, is the most digitally attuned generation, with 54% having their own devices. In Marie’s opinion, media and digital influences have impacted mental health standards across the globe due to how easily accessible and highly addictive they are. Parents are handing children these devices at 2-3 years old to keep them quiet. However, the result is overstimulation, which feeds into anxiety, thus worsening a child’s inability to sit still. Media is changing parents of this generation, and parents are allowing their children access to those changes at an age where impulse control and executive functioning have yet to be well developed. 

Kristy gives a personal example, “My Addy is two years old, and when I am in the room with her, she will take my phone and put it away saying, “Mommy, no touch it.” She is asking me to attune to her. She is only two years old but can verbalize wanting me to put the phone away and see her. Having a phone in the room with you will measure how connected we are. In the Anatomy of the Soul by Kurt Thomson, he says that every child is born into this world, searching for somebody looking for them. We are born with this need to connect and be seen, but when we carry our devices, we cannot fully connect with others because our devices are these connection pieces that tie us to the outside. We are not fully here because we are always aware of that tie.”

How can we support Generation Alpha’s mental health in this digital age?

“Our goal is to be more proactive than reactive,” says Marie. “In my past career roles, I dealt with many traumatic situations that have already happened, so a lot of the work was reactive. Whatever it takes to be proactive, we will do it, such as one-on-one group training and speaking in classrooms on different subjects based on the issues that appear. For example, if a teacher says bullying is happening, Kristy and I will teach about bullying. Right now, we’re looking at what has been done, what resources we have, how we can expound and build upon that, and what we need to rebuild or start that hasn’t happened yet.” 

Kristy adds that building relationships is the most important thing for her and Marie. Building relationships is done through recess duty and hanging out with the students to hear what they like to talk about and do. “I’ve already had a few groups reach out to me to discuss things. All of this is taking a preventive approach. They have an interest they’ve brought to our attention, and we get to strategize how to meet that need. So, I think this is an exciting time, especially if this becomes a new normal and a counseling department is being built and established for the school.” 

The counseling rooms are strategically located in a place that is easily accessible but also discreet for the student’s privacy. Marie and Kristy want their offices to be places where students can pop in and say hi whenever they want to chat. However, the counselors will notify parents if a student books an official appointment beforehand, either by themselves or a teacher. Parents are also encouraged to contact the GIS counseling department if they have concerns about their children. 

The counseling department at GIS can impact students in ways that change the trajectory of their lives through improving mental and emotional well-being, interpersonal skills, prevention and intervention, crisis management, healthy transitions, connecting parents with helpful resources, and much more. By improving these areas, Kristy and Marie can help students boost their academic success and readiness to handle different situations at GIS and beyond.

You can also listen to the story on the Grace Podcast HERE.