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Kansas 4-H Tip Sheet

July 15, 2020

The State of Youth this Summer: Engage Youth, Build Resilience

Submitted by Wade Weber


As we engage youth, families, and 4-H volunteers in our communities this summer, let us be mindful of the overall objective of 4-H Youth Development. 4 H empowers young people with the skills to lead for a lifetime.

As you all are well aware, this year has been particularly disruptive to routine of our everyday lives. We are in a season of dramatic political polarization, racial tension, economic uncertainty, and then COVID-19. I wanted to bring attention to a recent poll that confirms the stressors that are impacting today’s young people. The following blog post from National 4-H Council highlights some of the findings of a recently commissioned Harris poll of a representative sample of American youth and how they are coping with COVID-19 amongst the ongoing challenges of the teenage world. https://4-h.org/about/blog/how-teens-are-coping-with-the-covid-19-pandemic/

The findings:
“Teens today are more confident in their physical health than their mental health, with 81% saying mental health is a “significant issue for young people in the U.S.” and two thirds believing “the experience of COVID 19 will have a lasting impact on their generation's mental health” (64%). In fact, teens report that they more than 3 times as likely to feel peer pressure to hide their feeling’s, than to drink or do drugs.”

75% say, “there is still a stigma around mental health issues in this country,” while 62% say they are “tired of pretending to be happy all the time, being sad or anxious sometimes is part of a human experience.”

Lastly, 65% of youth stated that they “have to keep their feelings to themselves, pretend to feel better so as not to worry others, and deal with feelings on their own.”

This last part has broken my heart.

2 out of every 3 youth feel pressured to not to communicate their feelings or stressors with others. But we know from positive youth development, that communicating about what is going on inside is so key to developing positive coping skills.

Maybe you are thinking, “Great, So what should I do?”

I offer three suggestions as we resume face-to-face 4-H activities safely:

1) Ask how are things going? How has all this been affecting you?

Look for ways to connect and make time and space to hear from youth.

2) Model how you are coping with your own stress.

Adults too often think that by not revealing our problems that we are working or describe how we are responding to stressors that we are helping. The research says that we are actually help youth more when we share and model how to positively cope with stressors and uncertainty versus hiding it.

3) Involve youth in decision making

By involving them, you encourage engagement with others even when a decision or issue is stressful. Regardless of the fervor of political decision-making far away from you, each and every youth needs to grow and exercise their capacity to decide for themselves and in consideration of the community they are a part of.

Finally, my point is this. Let’s not lose sight of connecting with youth while we are doing. In 4-H we learn by doing, but I want to remind us the learning is not just about skill building about a project area. We also learn about ourselves in the midst of community. We learn about our capacity to handle stressors, ambiguity, community problem solving, and how to bounce back, not just from a red ribbon, but also from things that are outside our control. Helping build resilience in youth voice and youth choice is what we grow in 4-H.

Thank you for helping live out our shared 4-H mission each and every day!