Teens, Emotional Health, and What We Can Do

As part of my job at BGCA, I get a METRIC TON of emails every day about the latest research and reports and initiatives and information from across the field of youth development. Unfortunately because I’m so busy, a lot of them end up in a folder called “To Read” that is really more of a goal than a title.

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But sometimes, the content of the emails is just so good that I read it right away. Such was the case with one about a study of teens called Teens, COVID and Coping done by Well Beings and PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs in October. They asked 1,000 teens across the country from ages 16-19 questions about how COVID-19 has impacted their lives, and how they think it will continue to have an impact on their future. Some of the findings really jumped out at me:

Mental health is the top-ranked concern for the future of respondents.

  • 28% rank mental health #1, ahead of physical health, financial health, or ability to obtain desired education,
  • 58% rank mental health in their top two concerns.

50% say the pandemic has made their mental health worse. 15% say the pandemic has made their mental health much worse.

  • 67% report experiencing depression in the past year. 22% say they’ve experienced serious depression.
  • “Lonely,” and, “worried or anxious” are the most common feelings frequently experienced during the pandemic- each selected by over 60% of respondents.

72% say COVID-19 has created a disadvantage for their generation. 33% say it has created a strong disadvantage.

  • 59% say COVID-19 has negatively impacted the quality of their school work. 49% say it has negatively impacted the quality of educational instruction they’re receiving.
  • Climate change is the biggest societal concern for the future, ranked first by 23%. Racial strife is a close second, receiving the top-rank of 22%.

You can read the whole report and the rest of the summary findings online.

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WHEW. While none of that is surprising, it is still a lot. For those of us who deeply care about young people and how they are experiencing the world, it is difficult to know that they are feeling anxious both in this moment and for their future. And it is exactly why our work at Boys & Girls Clubs remains as vital as ever.

Through environments that are physically and emotionally safe, Boys & Girls Club and Youth Center staff create supportive relationships with youth, opportunities to try new things with high expectations for their success, and recognize their growth and effort, while also having fun and building a sense of belonging in the Club community. These Five Key Elements for Positive Youth Development have positive impacts on how youth interact with and perceive their world, which we know because they tell us so on the National Youth Outcome Initiative annual survey. These Five Key Elements don’t change whether we are working with 6 year olds or 16 year olds, or whether we are in person programming or virtual. We shape our direction based on the needs of the youth we serve, and do whatever it takes to create great futures.

All that to say, our direction and focus right now is all about supporting our youth through the pandemic. Youth Development Professionals across the actual world (shout-out to Military Youth Center staff!) have the incredible joy and responsibility to equip young people with the skills they need to navigate this time with strength and resiliency. In last week’s blog I said that SMART Moves: Emotional Wellness is one of the best tools we have to do this, and while I usually try not to say the same thing two weeks in a row, I am absolutely going to now. I truly believe and recommend that your Club should run SMART Moves: Emotional Wellness to kick off the new year. And for your teens? The new SMART Moves: Emotional Wellness Teen Expansion Pack is here!

Emotional Wellness programming helps youth to identify and communicate their emotions, practice coping strategies when they are feeling strong emotions, and consider how to use these coping strategies in different situations. The Teen Expansion Pack will help you to integrate these in a developmentally-appropriate way into your Club’s teen center programming in a bunch of different ways. It includes:

  • Implementation Tips– Guidelines and facilitation tips when implementing Emotional Wellness content
  • Emotional Check-In Examples
  • Teen Discussion Activities– Discussion-based activities to guide facilitators in having structured, effective conversations with teens about recognizing and communicating their emotions
  • Supplemental Activity Planning Guide– Activities and guidance for incorporating emotional wellness across the program schedule

The entire SMART Moves: Emotional Wellness Teen Expansion Pack is available for download on BGCA.net.

Circling back to that original email, in addition to the Teens, COVID and Coping report, Well Beings also hosted a panel conversation featuring psychologist Dr. Lisa Damour alongside teens and educators. It serves as an interesting look into the minds of teens, some insight into how we can help, and a model for how we could elevate youth voice through similar kinds of media. If you get a chance, I recommend watching.

At BGCA, we are here to support you in your work with youth, and we also want to hear what you are hearing from them! Their voice and their needs impact the work we do at every single level, from a part-time YDP in a Clubhouse to BGCA CEO Jim Clark himself. Also, don’t neglect your own mental health and emotional wellness through this time. Check out our series from earlier in the year for staff resources like managing stress, moving your body, and just general empathy for each other and ourselves. For more on serving teens specifically, including posts on racial trauma, youth advocacy, and virtual programming, check out the Teens tag.

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How are you meeting the needs of your teens during this time? What are they telling you about their mental health and how they are coping? We want to hear! Contact us by commenting below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email ClubXBlog@bgca.org.

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