The arts: dance, drama, music, and creative writing are often first introduced in an academic setting. Many recognize that education in the arts promotes the development of creativity and a mode of emotional expression. But what does that really mean?

Arts education is fought for in schools and academic institutions all over the world by students and teachers alike. This is because it is not only supplementary in the development of performance skills and even history, but it is essential to developing well-rounded individuals.

Character building and emotional health have become increasingly important as educators try to create an optimal curriculum that will not only serve a student academically but also socially. In an age of social media, average teenagers are more likely to feel disconnected from their peers than ever before. Not only that, but electronics give kids access to an unhealthy escape, as technology is easily accessible in times of emotional distress, creating a pattern in which teens are more likely to distract themselves from stressors than confront them head-on.

This new degree of isolation, coupled with an increased degree of stress that comes with the competitive atmosphere of high school, which itself is fueled by the presence of college prep curricula and/or athletics used to aid students in the battle of gaining admission to top colleges. In summation, teens are more stressed than ever before, and a great reason is that they are not learning healthy emotional skills to handle their stress.

While this may not seem so dire at face value, this pattern of thinking in teenagers that is self-developed due to a lack of proper instruction in how to deal with emotional trauma, often leads to destructive behavior such as drug and alcohol use, demonstrated by the opioid epidemic in America, and the rising rates of prescription amphetamines being abused by students. Stress can also contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

One could argue that the reality in which teenagers live today is undefeatable. Some would also say that it is not the responsibility of schools to include stress management education in their curricula, but the reality is, schools hold the responsibility of creating an environment in which students are prepared for the future, and with what is known about mental health and the culture of unkindness that exists within society, schools should not only prepare students academically but also socially, especially because there is a very real and accessible fountain of possibility within an arts education.

By no means is an arts education a quick fix to the issue at hand, nor does it work for everyone. But, what many fail to recognize about today’s generation of teenagers is that many of them are deprived of healthy ways to express themselves.

Fine and performing arts usually present themselves in the classroom in the form of visual art, dance, drama, and music.

However, their emphasis is often minimal and their budgets are more than likely underfunded. What many are missing in the power of these programs is the ability to provide stressed students with healthy and productive methods of self-expression.

The arts work as a form of emotional expression that allow students to delve deep into their emotions, in an innocent indirect manner, to produce feasible and sustainable work. It effectively creates and reinforces a pattern in which students face their emotions head on and turn them into something positive instead of the existing unhealthy self-enforced method that lacks any outcome other than mounting distress.

It has been found that students who are educated both academically and artistically are more likely to succeed, as proven by significantly lower dropout rates, higher attendance rates, greater academic achievement, and even higher standardized test scores. The arts do not make children smarter, but they help reduce stress and make them more motivated to succeed. Children with emotional stability are more available mentally to commit themselves academically and socially at a level on par with what is expected from them.

Dance teaches connectivity between the mind and body. Drama allows one to gain insight into cross-cultural perspectives. Music brings fluency in a language and way of thought absent of words. Visual art instructs a deeper consideration of the unseen beauty in the world.

Undeniably, the arts create a safe space for children and teenagers that they are so actively missing.

It is time for this to be taken into consideration when educators and school administrators are attempting to optimize curricula to the benefit of the students.

By: Julianna Portillo-Del Valle