When she was 11, Goldie Hawn was terrified of the atomic bomb. It was 1956, and she saw a training film in her fifth grade class about the dangers of a Russian nuclear attack, complete with screaming mothers, spattered blood and cities in rubble. She was traumatized.
“I called my mom at work and I was still shaking when I said, ‘Mom, come home quick! We’re all going to die!” she told USA TODAY.
After 9/11, the fear returned.
“And I felt our kids felt that too,” she said. “And that’s when, I don’t know if anything went wrong, I knitted the American flag. It was the only thing I could do to find some comfort. I knitted the flag and I cried and thought, ‘The world is forever changing.’ And what can I do?
“And, you know, the ‘I’ is really small. I didn’t know what I could do, but I promised myself that whatever I did to help, if I helped 10 people, that would be enough. . And then at the end of the day, MindUP is what was created.”
MindUp for Life is a 15-lesson social and emotional learning program for schools, created by the Goldie Hawn Foundation in partnership with researchers and scientists, that teaches children how their brains work and how to develop optimism and resilience. The program now serves children, parents and educators in 47 countries.
Hawn worried about children’s mental health 20 years ago. The problem has only exploded since.
This week, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy sounded the alarm in a USA TODAY Opinion column.
“Since the start of the pandemic, anxiety, depression, loneliness and negative emotions and behaviors have increased among young people,” he wrote. “Imagine a high school with 1,000 students. Now imagine about 450 of them saying they are constantly sad or desperate, 200 saying they have seriously considered suicide and nearly 100 saying they have tried to end to their days over the past year. That’s the state of the mental health of young people in America.”
I spoke with Hawn about stress and solutions at Concordia’s annual summit in New York. Here is part of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
What happens with the children; why do we need programs like this?
Children are encouraged to use their brains. They are never told how to use it. They don’t even know what’s inside. They don’t know how to access the different things that they can fundamentally achieve in order to feel better, to have a sense of resilience and optimism on some level, or to be able to access an area where they know that joy lives inside of them. They got it; they own it. They just have to clean things up so they can smell it.
American Surgeon General:The mental health of our children is as essential as their grades. Here’s how to prioritize the two.
Guys, don’t close your eyes. The most important thing we have to do, among a few other important things, is to teach children how to listen, how to behave, how to feel better, understand that the brain has plasticity and that we have the ability to to be and do the things we might want to do, because that’s what we’re going to tell our brain.
With all the pressure teachers are under, how do you persuade them to add one more thing to their lessons?
In fact, it adds nothing more. It’s creating something that you do because it’s important to your well-being in the classroom. I believe these programs also help educators. It really helps everyone create more joy in the classroom, more connectivity. And research has actually shown that children are able to work better together. If we could create a community of trust, faith and joy in a classroom, damn it, I think they could take it outside. They might learn that it’s a way of solving problems, you know, rather than hating and pushing and ugliness and name-calling.
What about social media and the impact on children?
You give kids the understanding that what goes into their brain actually comes out, that they need to figure out how to self-manage even while online. Now they’re not going to do it without us. The parent has to stand up and say no, we’re all going to disconnect. We will disconnect on Saturday. We’re all gonna do this together. There is new research on this, namely: our parents still matter. So we can’t give up. On the other hand, there’s a way to chat about what’s going on, meaning, “I saw this stuff on TikTok. What did you think?” It’s not going away. So if it doesn’t go away, then you have to embrace it. It’s kind of like, you know, keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.
I remember when Katie (her daughter Kate Hudson) was growing up and Madonna was everything. I didn’t say you couldn’t watch Madonna. She had a wonderful voice. I just wanted her to know that I was involved in watching Madonna and complimenting her on her talent. You know, I wonder a bit about his costumes (laughs). So we have to (join) our children so that we can show our opinion. Instead of judging, we can participate in a conversation.
You say emotions are contagious, what do you mean by that?
Laughter is contagious. If you hang around angry people, you’re going to be angry. This is what our brain does. This is how it works. You associate with aggressive people, you will become aggressive. It’s all about science and research. So you want your kids to imitate something actually productive. Mimic positivity. Knowing all of these things in terms of how the brain works is why we can create programs to make it stronger, healthier, and more resilient.
You can talk about suicidal thoughts and depression. The USA TODAY editor offers advice after her mother died by suicide.
How has mindfulness impacted your life?
Well, mindfulness actually helped me a lot when I was going through my anxiety attacks. I wanted to go back to Maryland and, you know, marry a Jewish dentist and literally have babies and open a dance school. That’s what I wanted. It didn’t happen that way. And I had a funny reaction. So I did about eight years of psychology and studied my own mind and my own behavior and a lot of my history. But I also think it manifested in writing and meditation. And I remember the first time I did that, it was probably the most amazing experience where I was breathing and concentrating. We now know the research behind meditation. This is very important for your brain, it actually brings a bit more harmony to your own body.
I mean, I produced, I acted. I tried to remember the lines. I did this thing that I wrote, I directed. I did a lot of things, very stressful. Sometimes I was going to play, then I was like, look, I just have to go look at a wall. And I would, because I had to bring the energy back to me. I mean, life is messy and we have to find all the ways we can help each other and ourselves.
Why isn’t your advocacy for brain science in schools better known?
I will be honest with you. Goldie Hawn wasn’t going to be someone anyone would listen to about a program. Sorry, but I wasn’t that person, nobody knew me. Right. So I didn’t get involved. I wanted to stay back. I did a few interviews. But proving the premise was really important to me because I wasn’t going to come out with a program that maybe didn’t work or had a problem. Now we have the data, now we have all the information. We now have all of our research, which is amazing, and we continue to research.
I brought schools, doctors and you call him to write this program. It took about 17 months to set it up. And now I can’t move on. There’s no script that made me more interested than what I’m doing right now. I look at my career like now this. We all have milestones in our lives, and I wasn’t going to be someone who just waited for the phone to ring. I wanted to do something that mattered. It came to me because it is part of me. Few things can keep me away from it.
Nicole Carroll is the managing editor of USA TODAY and president of Gannett’s news division. The Backstory offers a look at our biggest stories of the week. If you want The Backstory delivered to your inbox every week, sign up here. Contact Carroll at EIC@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter: @nicole_carroll. Thank you for supporting our journalism. Subscribe here.
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