In his 2017 song “American Teen,” Khalid bemoaned that young people “don’t always express what they mean.” However, following a school year marred by the epidemic, young people speak frankly about issues ranging from racism to their mental health.
Pandemic as a chance
The virtual meetings, which were covered by high school and college students affiliated with the journalism education charity Urban Health Media Project, provided insight into the state of American teenagers who had endured an emotional roller coaster over the last year.
At a Staten Island session, student speakers discussed mental health and racial justice – in part because the two are inextricably linked.
“Racism is a mental health concern because it results in trauma,” said Curtis High School senior Qawiyat Adesina.
“Organizing burns us out,” said Janelle Astorga-Ramos, co-founded an Albuquerque student advocacy group in 2015.
What is the next step?
As the panel talks came to a close, Azariah Estes, a junior at Ritenour High School in St. Louis, stated that one question was “floating about – ‘What next?'”.
There were numerous suggestions.
They include forming high school groups devoted to specific problems and joining community organizations that do the same.
In St. Louis, these measures include increasing the number of licensed therapists in schools, requiring a parent or guardian to attend all school safety discussions, creating “calm rooms” for students to center themselves, and having school safety officers – many of whom are former cops – dress in plainclothes rather than uniform.
“It only takes one person,” Wells explained, “but it is that individual’s responsibility to recruit 200 others.”
Whatever their ambitions, the students agreed that communication was necessary, particularly about frequently taboo topics, such as mental health. South Carolina students stated that they had witnessed an upsurge in teenage suicides and attempted suicides, but the issue is rarely mentioned. “It’s tragic that it takes so many people dying to bring up the subject,” said Elly Tate, an eighth-grader at Gaffney’s Ewing Middle School.
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