School Choice May Improve Youth Mental Health in Some Cases

By Dr. Robert Wallace

January 18, 2021 6 min read

DR. WALLACE: I'm the parent of a teen who has admitted he has recently been contemplating suicide. Of course, my husband and I were shocked, but we immediately sprung into action to seek out resources in an effort to help our son.

One other parent I spoke with brought up the issue of school choice programs. I'm somewhat familiar with the concept but had never really given it much thought, since it seemed our son was a well-adjusted, normal teen attending a public high school.

Without getting into the specific reasons our son was considering suicide, let me say that this issue of school choice might be something we will now consider if possible. I know from reading your column that you are a proud public school veteran as a teacher in the classroom, a varsity basketball coach and an administrator at the high school level.

I'd like your honest opinion on school choice, as it specifically relates to a teen who has experienced suicidal thoughts and mental health issues. — Concerned Mother, via email

CONCERNED MOTHER: I am saddened to hear about the trauma your son has experienced, yet very hopeful that the swift and decisive moves you've made will truly put him on a path to getting him supportive professional help at this most difficult period of his life.

School choice programs can help young people with education opportunities that may best fit their needs. Even low-income families with no money to attend private schools can request tuition voucher programs to attend a charter school. At times, public schools can be burdened with governmental regulations that make it difficult for them to control discipline policies.

Students at private schools are statistically less likely to have bullying problems. School choice policies sometimes provide an additional avenue to help heal the ongoing mental health crisis plaguing our youth. This is crucial because adolescent suicide is quickly becoming the second-highest cause of death among teenagers and young adults, and the pandemic has certainly exacerbated this problem.

The school lockdowns and closures have caused a disturbing rise in contemplated suicide attempts as more young people have admitted to considering suicide as a way out of the pain and isolation they have felt recently.

As a person who loves and respects all young people, especially teenagers, I find this issue to be heartbreaking on many levels. I also am a huge advocate of public schools and their teachers and administrators, as I myself worked at public schools at many levels of responsibility for several decades.

I respect the right of each family and each student to make the choices that they feel are best for their family's educational and mental health goals.


DR. WALLACE: I have noticed during the pandemic that my dad works more now than before. My dad is working in the morning when I get up and is still taking calls and writing letters and emails to his customers on the computer sometimes late into the night.

He also has a habit of answering texts and even some emails on his telephone right at our dinner table. Before the pandemic hit, my father was always a hard worker, but it seems like back then he had more free time to spend with my brother and me.

I mentioned this to my mother the other day and she agreed that it seems a bit out of control. But she also said that since she got laid off, my dad is the only one bringing in money; he sees it as his responsibility to make sure we can make our mortgage payment and have enough food on the table to keep our family going.

I kind of understand this, but it's crazy that there are times my dad does not even get to eat a meal with us at all because of his job.

How can I get my dad to stop working so much? — Daughter of a Disappearing Dad, via email

DAUGHTER OF A DISAPPEARING DAD: It is indeed admirable that your father is such a hard worker, and he no doubt feels extra pressure since your mother lost her job. However, no human being can stay healthy while working every waking second, seemingly around the clock.

Let your father know that you love him and want him to stay healthy and that you want to be able to spend some quality time with him each day when your family has dinner together. Ask your father if there's any assistance you could provide him earlier in the day that would save him time. This might help him take a peaceful 45-minute dinner break to relax and enjoy conversation with your family.

Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. Email him at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: chezbeate at Pixabay

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