Bockelman: The kids are not alright |

Bockelman: The kids are not alright

Kathy Bockelman
For the Craig Press

It’s tough being a kid today.

The teen years are a difficult time for most adolescents, even if they live in a stable and supportive home environment. Being a teenager can be tough. 75% of all mental health and substance abuse disorders begin before the age of 24 with half of them starting before age 14. There are changes that take place in the body and brain that can affect how one learns, thinks, and behaves. The consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults.

The pandemic hasn’t helped:

According to an American Psychological Association survey of Gen Z teens (ages 13 – 17):

  • 50% say the pandemic has severely disrupted their plans for the future.
  • 51% say the pandemic makes planning for their future feel impossible.
  • 81% say they feel they have been negatively impacted by school closures.

The past year and a half has proven abominable for youth mental health.

Teen anxiety, depression and suicide are local concerns

As a retired School Counselor (10 years at Moffat County High School and 19 years at Craig Middle School), I am still very passionate about this issue. During those years, I saw far too many kids choosing to cope with life in negative ways – truancy, abuse of alcohol and other drugs, eating disorders, self-harm, teen pregnancy, and suicide attempts. I learned that way too many kids live in homes where there is domestic violence, substance abuse, child abuse and neglect, depression, poverty, and/or food insecurity. The effects on children living in homes with many of these issues (especially domestic violence and child abuse) are similar to living in a war zone. Children can develop a pervasive form of PTSD. It affects many aspects of their lives. It can affect their education. These Adverse Childhood Experiences (often called ACEs) are very powerful.

According to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (2017):

  • 47% of youth in Moffat County report experiencing depression and anxiety symptoms, including but not limited to believing life is not worth living, thinking that they are not good and a constant failure, and being sad or depressed most days of the month.
  • Moffat County youth report a high risk of depressive symptoms, a rate 11% above the national average.
  • A research project conducted several years ago at a local elementary school in Craig found that 63.46% of third, fourth and fifth graders reported that they felt depressed or sad MOST days all the time or sometimes. 69.23% of these children reported thinking they are no good at all either all of the time or sometimes.

According to the American Psychological Association, suicide is now the leading cause of death for teenagers nationwide.

All of these statistic are preventable!

What is currently being done?

The vision of Moffat County Communities That Care is that “All young people in Moffat County grow up supported and nurtured by their families, schools, and community, and become healthy adults who contribute positively to society.” Communities That Care (CTC) is partnering with the Craig Boys and Girls Club and Grand Futures Prevention Coalition to offer some great alternative activities for teens this summer. They will be offering “Thursday Thrills” almost every Thursday this summer for middle school and high school students. For more information about these activities, call 970-824-0411.

The C.R.A.I.G. Group (Craig Residents Advocating for Inclusion and Growth), a local community group supported by The Colorado Trust, has been in conversation about the importance of youth mental health and is looking to collaborate with local partners and youth to support these efforts.

The Moffat County School District has been evaluating their Social and Emotional Learning Curriculums and will be implementing some new programs in the fall.

What can parents and community members do?

We all want our children to be well, happy and successful. Research at the Search Institute in Minnesota has found that the difference between children in trouble and those leading productive, healthy, positive lives is strongly affected by the presence in their lives of developmental assets. Assets are good things such as family support, boundaries, self-esteem, caring schools and neighborhoods, and hope for the future.

The more assets young people have, the less likely they are to use alcohol or other drugs, have sex too soon, fail in school, be violent or engage in other negative behaviors. This is what we want for all of our youths. Unfortunately, youths across the nation are lacking in developmental assets. The C.R.A.I.G (Craig Residents Advocating for Inclusion and Growth) local community group supported by The Colorado Trust has been in conversation about the importance of youth mental health and is looking to collaborate with local partners and youth to support these efforts.

There are many specific, practical things everyone in our community can do to make a difference in young people’s lives. What adults do makes a big difference in the lives of children. Everyone in a community can make a difference in the lives of children and youth. Even if you don’t think you can tackle tough problems such as violence, alcohol and other drug use, or depression, you can make a difference by being a caring, responsible friend for young people.

What children need most in their lives are adults who care. You can make a difference!

Ways to show kids you care:

Notice them. Acknowledge them.Smile at them.Learn their namesLook in their eyes when you talk to themListen to themPraise more; criticize lessTell them how terrific they areGive them lots of complimentsInclude them in conversationsBecome their advocateAsk for their helpWelcome their suggestionsSet boundaries that keep them safePresent options when they seek counselDiscuss their dreams and nightmaresSuggest better behaviors when they act outGive them space when they need itLearn what they have to teachShow up at their concerts, games, eventsGive them your undivided attentionMeet their friends and their friends’ parentsLet them act their ageBe consistentLet them make mistakes and learn from themHelp them take a stand and stand with themInspire their creativityExpect their best; don’t expect perfection

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