The vision described in Chapter 1 rests on an understanding of what healthy mental, emotional, and behavioral (MEB) development is and how the risk and protective factors that influence it can be modified. Many aspects of healthy development have been well understood for decades, but research emerging since 2009 has significantly elaborated this picture. Chapter 2 offers a detailed look at the complex factors that affect development at multiple levels. We set the stage here with a brief picture of what constitutes healthy MEB development.
There are numerous frameworks for describing the skills, interests, habits, and values a young person must have to lead a productive life and have caring relationships with others. Researchers have identified developmental outcomes in domains that include cognitive development, psychological and behavioral health, and social and emotional competence.
Cognitive development refers to the emergence of verbal and reasoning skills that are involved in academic success, as well as the accumulation of knowledge in specific subject areas. Executive functioning skills, such as planning, impulse control, and the capacity to delay gratification, are other examples of higher-level cognitive skills. Current measures of cognitive ability are predictive of academic progress and success, which in turn is an important factor in resilience. Milestones have been established for executive function, literacy, abstract reasoning, and critical thinking for stages from infancy through adolescence.
A primary goal for psychological and behavioral health is psychological flexibility—the ability of a person to pursue her goals and values effectively by persisting or altering her behavior as the situation demands (Kashdan and Rottenberg, 2010).
While there is no precise definition of what constitutes healthy MEB development, ways to measure core features of social and emotional competence have been the focus of attention in the last few decades, as educators in particular have sought ways to assess and teach particular competencies (Stecher and Hamilton, 2018). The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional
Learning has developed a five-component framework for understanding “students’ capacity to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviors to deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges,” which provides a reasonable summary of the attributes of healthy development;1 see Box Part I-1.
Many factors contribute to the development of healthy MEB attributes, hamper their development, or contribute to the development of risk behaviors or MEB disorders. The 2009 National Research Council and Institute of Medicine report notes that “individual competencies, family resources, school quality, and community-level characteristics” are among the influences on MEB health, and that the more negative influences a growing child experiences, the greater is the likelihood of negative outcomes (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2009, p. 16). That report also takes note of interactions between genes and the environment and points to emerging research on how genes may influence processes that may play a part in MEB disorders and help explain individual differences in their occurrences. Researchers continue to explore the components of healthy MEB development and the myriad factors that influence it.
CASEL. (2019). Core SEL competencies. 2019. Available: https://casel.org/core-competencies.
Kashdan, T.B., and Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 865–878.
National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. (2009). Preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders among young people: Progress and possibilities. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Stecher, B.M., and Hamilton, L.S. (2018). Learning how to measure social and emotional learning. Available: https://www.future-ed.org/work/toward-ameasure-of-social-and-emotional-learning.