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Research reveals that social and emotional learning (SEL) improves grade school students’ engagement with the academic curriculum. With online learning, it is still unclear how students have been negatively impacted, but lack of teacher-student relationships and low motivations appear to be strong contributors. Furthermore, there has been speculation that the fear and isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic increased mental illness among children. Dr. Tracy Bennett, Founder of GetKidsInternetSafe, said she has never seen the quantity of clients looking for outpatient psychotherapy or such high severity levels among adults and kids in her 25-year career as a clinical psychologist. She added that, in response to the child; and family distress, teachers have been heroic in their creation, adoption, and application of SEL curricula. In service of the positives of screen use, today’s GKIS article recommends SEL apps that can be used at home as well as in the classroom.

The Benefits of Social and Emotional Learning

Improves Behavior and Academic Performance

SEL programs tend to target:

  • Self-awareness in recognizing emotions, strengths, and limitations
  • Self-management by controlling emotions and behaviors
  • Social awareness in gaining insight into others and building empathy towards diverse backgrounds
  • Relationship skills in forming and maintaining healthy relationships
  • Decision making in acting upon productive choices[1][3]

Students use SEL skills to protect against substance use, bullying, and school failures among other benefits. The ability of teachers and parents to form a safe care environment with SEL results in less emotional distress, fewer conduct problems, and improves test scores and grades among children.[1]

Do SEL programs work?

A long-term study by Taylor and colleagues (2017) collected 18 years’ worth of data from 46 studies to examine if SEL programs make a difference. The SEL programs had students apply learned skills to personal development, social relationships, ethical behaviors, and productive work at school. This increased subject physical and mental well-being into adulthood demonstrating a positive trend in future social relationships, graduate rates and attendance, and low numbers of arrests.[3]

A study by Jones and colleagues (2015) found similar conclusions. They measured kindergartens’ future wellness in education, employment, crime, substance abuse, and mental health. Their data showed:

  • High self-control at an early age
  • High task completion rate
  • Improves multi-skill management
  • Improves organizational skills
  • Improve noncognitive skills (e.g., motivation, integrity, and interpersonal interaction)[2]

Taylor et al. also found that a “one size fits all” SEL program is not as effective as one designed specifically for a selected student population and a selected outcome. For example, according to their study students with ethnic minority backgrounds developed better emotional coping skills with SEL. In contrast, poor-income students developed better school attachment and achievement. Other benefits for SEL included decreased substance use, risk-taking, and problem behaviors while improving positive relationships using social support and growth opportunities amongst minorities.[3]

Friendly and Productive Tools for Long Term Success

Screen Safety Essentials Course

Achieve screen sanity and SEL skills with our own Screen Safety Essentials Course. To help your family form cooperative dialogue and teach critical problem-solving skills about your child’s online and offline life, we offer weekly coaching videos from our very own Parenting and Screen Safety Expert, Dr. Tracy Bennett. Designed for families with kids ages 8 to 16, our GKIS Screen Safety Essentials Course does the work for you. No more wondering what to say, which issues to cover, and how to stay relevant and consistent about screen safety and family connection.

Some of the resources the Screen Safety Essentials Course offers include:

✅ Weekly parents-only videos with the information and tools you need to earn the credibility to be their go-to expert

✅ Weekly family videos with insider and science-based teaching topics and fun family activities.

✅ Workbook pages and colorful infographic downloads

✅ Access to Dr. Bennett’s BEST webinars

✅ Psychological wellness and balance skills to avoid costly digital injuries

✅ Exclusive access to Dr. B and motivated parents like yourself on our private Facebook community page

✅ Options for private coaching with Dr. Bennett for extra support

✅ BONUS: Selected readings from our GKIS Blog articles and Dr. B’s book SCREEN TIME IN THE MEAN TIME


Safety, connection, less conflict, and so much more! Your first 30 days are totally free. Available through our GetKidsInternetSafe website.

Middle School Confidential

GKIS also recommends the Middle School Confidential app. Middle School Confidential offers a three-piece comic book series for ages 8-14 by Annie Fox and Matt Kindt. It covers lessons about character, problem-solving, friendships, and school situations. Quizzes, tips, real quotes from teens, and real-world resources support problem-solving and open dialogue skills between parents and children.[5] Specific tools like assertiveness and positive self-talk help users recognize and name emotions and build empathy.


  • App Store
  • Amazon App Store
  • Nabi App Zone
  • SmartEdPad

Awards received:

  • Tutora Best Educational App for 2017
  • Featured in IPad Apps for Kids for Dummies[5]

Positive Penguin

The Positive Penguin application offers 5-minute meditation practices for child resilience. Developers incorporated funny sounds and game modes to set a friendly environment. According to their website, Positive Penguin is “the app designed to help children understand why they feel a certain feeling and behave in a productive way.” The app helps children transform negative thoughts and emotions into a more optimistic perspective.[6] Positive Penguin helps kids improve SEL communication and problem-solving skills.


  • Apple App Store
  • Google Play Store.

Awards received:

  • 2014 Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero
  • The Apps For Challenge Award in 2014
  • #1 app in Australia in 2014[6]

Smiling Mind

Smiling Mind helps children seek mindfulness as a daily practice. Developed by psychologists and educators, this app encourages children ages 3 to 18 to reduce stress, tension, pressure, and challenges with a 10-minute meditation.[7] With daily check-ins, a meditation habit assists kids to form positive affirmations by thinking before they act.


  • Apple App Store
  • Google Play Store.


  • #22 in rank for Health & Fitness (as of 15 Feb 2021)
  • 5 million users leading Meditation app for Australia
  • Showcased in Be You
  • Showcased in HundrED 2018-2019[7]

To improve communication and empathy skills in your family, grab your SEL app of choice today! Thanks to CSUCI intern, Christian Sandoval for his contributions to today’s GKIS article.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph. D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

Photo Credits

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Photo by Gabby K from Pexels

Work Cited

[1] Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta‐analysis of school‐based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432. https://doi-org.ezproxy.csuci.edu/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x

[2] Damon E. Jones, Mark Greenberg, and Max Crowley, 2015:

Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness

American Journal of Public Health 105, 2283_2290, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630

[3] Taylor, R. D., Oberle, E., Durlak, J. A., & Weissberg, R. P. (2017). Promoting positive youth development through school‐based social and emotional learning interventions: A meta‐analysis of follow‐up effects. Child Development, 88(4), 1156–1171. https://doi-org.ezproxy.csuci.edu/10.1111/cdev.12864

[4] Sawyer, M. G., Arney, F. M., Baghurst, P. A., Clark, J. J., Graetz, B. W., Kosky, R. J., et al. (2001). The mental health of young people in Australia: Key findings from the child and adolescent component of the national survey of mental health and well-being. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 35, 806-814.

[5] https://www.middleschoolconfidential.com/apps.html

[6] https://positivepenguins.com/

[7] https://www.smilingmind.com.au/

Christian Sandoval
Christian Sandoval