“I’ve noticed a tremendous spike in anxiety left untouched in our youth,” said JR Harris Jr., Counselor & Academic Advisor at Fort Bend Christian Academy. “Students are overwhelmed and stressed, but the vast majority of them just want to be heard.”
Harris has noticed that parents tend to want to quickly fix the issue their child is facing, but he says it’s important to intentionally listen, identify underlying problems and provide time and additional resources to truly help them cope.
“When a child is facing a mental health crisis, we listen, we refer him or her to a trained specialist if necessary, and then we have the opportunity to pray with the child,” he said. “Praying for a student is so soothing for them, and we follow up and that makes them feel truly cared for.”
Although he is making strides with providing training and open discussions, Harris admits that there is still a negative connotation with the term “mental health,” which makes many people shy away from the conversation. To help address the stigma, Harris invited Jordan Murphy, a licensed professional counselor, to speak in late February to upper school parents regarding mental health. The presentation sought to help parents learn to identify warning signs and alleviate any misconceptions about getting professional help.
“Emotions are an alarm system,” Murphy said. “It’s all about how we interpret them. There are coping strategies we can learn such as time management, caring for the physical body and seeking help.”
One of the most important things parents can do, according to Murphy, is to validate what their child is feeling.
“Your child may feel like he or she is drowning, and you may want to minimize what they are working through, but it’s best to acknowledge what they are feeling,” she said.
During the questions and comments section of the meeting, one mom expressed the grave concern of phone addictions and the increased anxiety this generation faces due to constant connectivity and busyness.
“When we were young, we could escape the drama of the school day,” the FBCA mother said. “We got to go home to a safe space. If someone wanted to contact us, they had to come over or call the landline. Now, our kids never get a break; they never have quiet. We all know this is a problem for this generation. We have to do something.”
Murphy admitted that many of her young patients suffer from anxiety related to being overly-scheduled and having extreme pressure to achieve. Harris also partnered with the Dean of Student Life, Shelby Hooper, to provide a workshop for upper school students on failure.
“It can be very difficult for high-achieving kids to experience failure, but it’s important for them to understand that failure can be a positive thing—a learning experience and an opportunity to grow,” Harris said.
In the future, Harris hopes to provide additional trainings and discussions regarding mental health as it affects the ability of the child to thrive in all aspects of life. These conversations seek to support the mission of Fort Bend Christian Academy to equip students to thrive spiritually, academically, socially and physically. Harris earned his M.A. in Counselor Education/School Counseling and Guidance Services from Marshall University. He has worked at Houston Baptist University and UNC Charlotte and holds a School Counselor K-12 certification through the West Virginia Department of Education.