Stecher: Grateful for tough topics, imperfections and open conversation
Do you have a middle or high school student in your home? Between sports, extracurricular activities, homework, meeting up with friends, and the natural tendency for one- or two-word answers to your questions, it may be hard to always know what is going on in their lives.
As parents, caregivers or trusted adults in the Eagle River Valley, we need to know what is affecting young people and how we can connect with them. Enter the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey — an anonymous survey that asks middle and high school students myriad questions that impact their lives.
This school year marks our eighth administration of the survey over the course of 15 years. While Mountain Youth oversees the efforts, we could not do it without so many in the community taking the time out of their days to proctor the survey (223.5 hours to be exact). We’re ever grateful to the schools that allow us every other year to come in and take over the school for an hour or so.
Over the two-week period, 3,786 students in 14 schools at 16 campuses took a class period to answer questions: 82 questions for middle schoolers and 138 for high schoolers. The questions covered many topics from vaping and marijuana use to nutrition, extracurricular involvement, depression and suicidal tendencies. It’s an anonymous survey, but what an opportunity to ask the teen or tween in your life what they think about the life that happens around them.
Some of the takeaways we learned in the past are that young people have, in general, a strong support system. They feel safe in school. Many choose not to vape, smoke or use alcohol and drugs. It’s not all rose-colored, however. Mental health is just as much of an issue to youth as it is with adults. It’s with information derived from the HKCS survey over the past decade-and-a-half that new programs are created and services are implemented (think mental health counselors in each public school in the Eagle River Valley).
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As you sit down with friends or family over the next few weeks, ask the youth in your lives about the survey, what perceptions they have and what realities they hope to achieve. It may feel nerve-racking to bring up topics that are challenging — but the answers, conversation and discussion that follows will bring us together. We know, more than ever, that working together we can all create positive change for youth and families.
A perfect holiday doesn’t have to be filled with perfect smiles and generic small talk. Let’s celebrate our imperfections; it’s in those imperfections that we can come together to help create a better community for all youth in Eagle County. Just being present is a gift unto itself.
Stay tuned … we receive statewide statistics in the spring, with Eagle County-specific stats a bit later in the year.
Michelle Stecher is the executive director of Mountain Youth. For more information, visit http://www.MountainYouth.org or call 970-949-9250.