These teens have our attention

When you are a teen, you can still sleep in most weekends — a reward for getting up early all week and likely working after school or participating in extracurricular activities. And don’t forget the homework.

But for several Granite State high school students on a recent Saturday, sleeping in wasn’t part of the plan. They were up early preparing to speak on stage, under the lights with microphone in hand, in front of a conference room full of adults, about difficult subjects. And this after a long day of talking with hundreds of their peers about substance abuse, mental health, race, bullying, sexuality, and suicide and more.

Early in April, Dartmouth-Hitchcock hosted its first-ever Youth Summit, two days of exploring issues that impact youth and families. On day 1, high-schoolers from across the state participated in focus groups about issues that affect their daily lives. The information gathered the first day was summarized and presented by teen ambassadors on day 2 to an audience that included educators, parents, and medical professionals. The teens took an active part in facilitating and driving the morning’s panel discussion and adults were able to ask questions of them, as well.

One of the goals a magazine editor has is to develop relevant and timely content for the magazine’s readers. So, I thought, why not go straight to the source? The summit seemed like a good opportunity to hear directly about teen’s concerns and how we as a community can help them.

I walked away with a greater and broader understanding about what today’s teens are thinking about.

A common thread that ran through the groups that presented is that students would like more guidance and resources so they know how to deal with issues when they arise. This is a generation that I think more than any other embraces peer leadership and seeks to connect with their peers to be a source of support and education — to be problem-solvers — whether in person or through social media.

A few other suggestions from the student presenters:

  • Having more school counselors would be helpful, so in turn they could be more available to students
  • An earlier start to health education
  • They believe if adults learn more about what it means to be gay or transgender there will be more understanding
  • More unisex bathrooms in schools
  • They would like their education to better reflect diverse viewpoints and different backgrounds
  • In light of recent school shootings and other violent acts, many said they don’t feel safe at school. They would like to learn coping skills to manage their anxiety along with having “more-realistic” safety drills.
  • They would also like adults to be more proactive to their problems than reactive

I am just scratching the surface of this informative discussion. I was impressed by the amazing students who served as youth ambassadors. They were well-spoken, intelligent, passionate and not intimidated by their audience. They spoke honestly and compassionately. If these teens are any indication of the next generation of leaders, we will be in good hands.

Kudos to Dartmouth-Hitchcock for empowering teens and giving them a voice. I will be excited to see if there are any changes in our school communities or at the legislative level that emerge from the summit. They need to know that we were listening.

To learn more, go to www.dhyouthsummit.com.

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