04/23/2014 04:46 pm ET Updated Jun 23, 2014

To the First Lady: It's Time for 'Let's Move' to Tackle Emotional Health

Dear First Lady Michelle Obama,

Let's for a minute imagine there is a vending machine that can help tackle the diminishing emotional health of our youth: a vending machine that replaces frustration, defiance and low self-esteem with respect, compassion and empathy.

Four years ago you made a commitment to improve the physical and emotional health of a generation with the "Let's Move" campaign because you believe the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.

I wholeheartedly agree, and tackling physical health makes sense -- it's tangible, it's easy to measure and develop actions that will support change and progress. And you've made huge strides in just a few short years by implementing better meal plans in school and encouraging all kids to make daily physical activity a priority.

I also acknowledge there's no quick fix for emotional health. You can't simply upgrade a vending machine to dispense character traits that will immediately help children feel more confident, resilient and capable. It isn't as easy to identify a 30-minute exercise that will strengthen our kids' emotional health as it is to identify a 30-minute exercise that improves physical health. Therefore, I urge you to take on the challenge of addressing the equally important task of working to strengthen the emotional well-being of our children.

Bullying, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, self-harm, substance abuse, promiscuous sex, etc. have become more prevalent in our children's behavior due to the lack of awareness and education on how to foster strong emotional health in our youth.

The journal Health Affairs reported in 2011 that the United States spends $113 billion on mental treatment. And as of May 2013, the CDC reported a total of 14 percent -20 percent of children living in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year.

Emotional health will never just be a school age or adolescent issue; the preparation and teaching starts as early as birth and continues throughout our whole lives. But until there is more nationwide focus on the matter, what can we do now to start fixing this?

Where is the curriculum that says, we as a nation, are going to focus our energy, time and resources on helping kids develop strong emotional health?

I've spent two decades helping parents (while raising five kids of my own) to take a constructive step back and to the side, so that their children can step up, solve their own problems and learn life-long skills and confidence along the way. Each of my strategies work with one goal in mind: to raise kids with the emotional stamina necessary to one day leave the nest and be successful contributors to society.

So who are the manufacturers stocking these metaphorical "mental health-vending machines"? We are: the parents, teachers, government officials, etc. who are willing to take on the challenge of changing the environment at home and in school to encourage emotional health in children from the time they are infants.

We can do more, and I believe it starts with:

  • Never doing for a child what a child can do for himself.
  • Inviting children to be a part of important decision-making and operations as early as possible.
  • Giving children opportunities to exercise life skills as soon as they can walk or show interest.
  • Taking the time to focus on OURSELVES, so we can be the type of people we want our children to be when they leave the nest and enter society as functioning adults.
  • Hold ourselves to the same standards and expectations we set for our children.
  • And most importantly, have and show faith in our children so they can develop faith and confidence in themselves.

From here we develop the necessary strategies and tools to start tackling emotional health at home and in the schools. Let's commit to the overall emotional wellbeing of our youth and establish a more thorough plan. It's time for more MOVEMENT.


Vicki Hoefle

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.