Mountain Youth keeps a pulse on the community with surveys

Heather Hower
Mountain Youth

A proverb says, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Every day feels very much the same as we live in the times of COVID-19, but things may never go back to the “same.” We’ve heard, seen and been part of learning experiences over the past four months — and know families are working to find their way in life with coronavirus.

One of Mountain Youth’s fortes is tracking behaviors and perceptions, taking a pulse on the community and collectively assessing our fear, anxiety, joy, failure, and success. As with any program, the work cannot be done in a vacuum. Recently, Mountain Youth endeavored to conduct a parent survey that would allow us to understand the changing landscape, and identifying needs and gaps during COVID-19. This was a great enhancement to the community parent survey administered by Mountain Youth back in November.

Mountain Youth received feedback from almost 700 parents from around the Eagle River Valley to find out what challenges families faced, how they were either able to meet these challenges, or how they felt overwhelmed by them. Before we dig into our findings, we thank all the parents who took the time to answer the questions honestly. Sometimes it’s hardest to admit to ourselves where we are struggling.

“Collecting this honest and timely information from parent stakeholders is critical in ensuring we deliver the most impactful educational programming,” said Amy Baker, Family Education Manager at Mountain Youth. The November parent survey was sent to PTAs, shared in local newsletters and newspapers as well as on social media. Brush Creek Elementary, Battle Mountain High School and Homestake Peak School were the three top responding schools, and their PTAs, along with 21 other schools, received donations from Mountain Youth. These incentives were generously supported by Communities That Care and local safe driving initiatives.

Once we saw the quickly changing roles during COVID-19, Mountain Youth again reached out to the trusted adult community in April 2020 to see how they, and their families, were faring during quarantine and how they can be supported. During the height of the quarantine, parent survey respondents revealed the following:             

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  • 58% found the home school situation “stressful but managing”
  • 81% practiced social distancing all the time
  • 45% reported unemployment as an external stressor regarding their family’s mental health

Even though quarantine has ended, mental health issues, anxiety and stress related to employment, child care, virtual learning and the unknown, certainly has not. Mountain Youth continues to work with families, helping provide resources and answer questions.

From this most recent parent survey, we learned families are spending more time together, getting outside for walks and hikes, eating dinner together, watching movies, playing board games, and conversing more. These healthy moments together create opportunities to discuss what’s important to us, our value systems, and how we support each other through tough times. Celebrate this time with your child and use it to improve your relationship and lines of communication so they know you’re listening and hear them and their needs.

Mountain Youth reintroduced the parent survey in 2017 after a several year hiatus, and administered it again in 2019 during the same administration window as the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. Times are certainly different, but some of the needs are the same. During quarantine, the biggest challenges were finding time for self-care, establishing a working routine and finding the right words and advice for senior students who are missing out on important rituals. There’s a thirst for learning. Almost half (42%) of respondents wanted more opportunities for virtual learning, shared resources and ideas for establishing a routine.

Even during times of uncertainty and anxiety, we want to celebrate successes. This year, we applaud the parents and caregivers who have taken the time to take either or both surveys. They told us that 80% can recognize when their child has a mental health need, up from 50% in 2017 and more parents are monitoring their child’s social media and phone use. 

We know these positive changes often come from, and lead to, a better dialogue within families. From awkward conversations sprout gems that help families learn and grow together.

And we know there is always room to grow and improve. Here’s an easy one: fewer parents now tell their kids they are proud of them. Stop reading and go tell them now — because kids probably need to hear it just a little more today than in the past.

An area where we need to work — together — is regarding alcohol consumption and the laws around serving young people. The majority of parents are still “not sure” if other parents knew about the laws of providing alcohol to teens; and if parents knew the consequences if it would keep them from hosting teen parties where alcohol is served.

Almost 50% of parents surveyed support a social host ordinance, which is good since it is a felony to serve or give minors alcohol, unless they are your own child under your direct supervision and on your property or with the private property owner’s permission. However, alcohol and other substances interrupt the developing brain and sharing alcohol with your child sets unclear expectations about when and why it should be consumed. We support keeping family time sacred and healthy by keeping it substance free.

A safe family environment encourages honest dialogue and real conversations with resources that can help with even the most challenging topic. According to the 2019 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, overseen by Mountain Youth, 83% of high school youth say they can go to parents or guardians with a problem and 55% reported that parents/guardians have talked with them about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. In the coming weeks, Mountain Youth will share more results from the biennial HCKS. This is a chance for the community to learn what young people see, feel, hear on a daily basis… and how we can all work together to provide support and growth. 

“I’m excited to see the progress we made in the community and to get clarity on ways we can help families find resources and learn together, creating a stable home life,” Baker says.

Please join us on this journey by visitig to learn about parent education opportunities, as well as more information on youth behaviors, attitudes and perceptions.

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