How do kids think about life and death?
The second leading cause of death in children aged 18 and younger is suicide; the third is homicide. Death from drug overdoses and accidental shootings is included in unintentional or accidental causes of death which is the leading cause of death in children.
How do kids process routine “shooter” drills? How many kids asked about school shootings have said, “it’s not if, it’s when.” If not them, how many of their friends do they see descend into drug abuse?
What do kids think when adults around them are unavailable because they cannot overcome their own anger and say “the awful others” are to blame?
Two recent reports raised troubling trends and questions about the perceptions and lives of young people today.
“The Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2011-2021” was produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) based on data gathered over 10 years of surveys of American high school students.
The full report is available online. Sequim High School participates in the survey every two years. Note the data is reported exactly as the questions were stated.
Positive or improving trends included less risky sexual behavior (using condoms) and substance use. Less students reported being bullied.
The most talked-about trend due to its seriousness was the increasing percent of high school students who reported experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year. Persistent was defined as feeling so sad or hopeless that they could not engage in their regular activities for at least two weeks during the previous year.
An astonishing nearly 60 percent of female students said they experienced those feelings, thirty percent seriously considered attempting suicide and nearly 25 percent made a suicide plan. Having a plan is an indicator of serious intention.
Twenty-nine percent of male students reported periods of sadness and hopelessness. Fourteen percent of male students seriously considered attempting suicide and twelve percent made a suicide plan.
Female students were more likely to report violent experience. Twenty-one percent reported sexual violence in the last year (male students 5 percent) and 14 percent reported being physically forced to have sex during their lives (male students 4 percent).
Not surprisingly, parental monitoring — defined as parents or another adult in the family knowing where their child was and who they were with — was seen as an important factor. The survey reported 86 percent of students said they were monitored.
School connection or feeling close to those in school was also seen as an important factor. Fifty-eight percent of female students and 65 percent of males student felt a close connection. The report suggests that schools make efforts to improve connectiveness for lasting benefits.
The Youth Risk Behavior survey report does not draw correlations between the data; we cannot help but wonder about interrelationships or what comes first. Nor does the report predict.
I could not help but wonder if the revelations from the PEW report might give us some indication.
The second report comes from the PEW Research Center that, in celebration of Valentine’s Day this year, lists five facts about single Americans. Single is defined as not married, living with a partner or in a committed relationship.
The most talked about statistic from this report is that 63 percent of men aged 18-29 report being single while 34 percent of women of the same age report being single. Young women are apparently partnering with older men or other women.
Like the survey trend data, this report tells us the what not the why. Left to our own or my imagination and seeing the singleness discrepancy, connectiveness did not take hold with many young men.
We can ask why and speculate on the impact of social media, the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturing moving out of the states, political unrest, and wealth inequality on all these data points. It is probably all the above.
What should we do? What about our own sense of power or powerlessness that we convey to the kids of our community? Do we role model apathy or passion to make things better for kids now and in the future?
Win-win future, with a purpose
We can help seed the hopes and dreams of kids as demonstrated by programs that meet the needs of students and the community, much like the current effort to build a vocational center on the Sequim High School campus to train and build a cadre of qualified skilled workers to support our growing community.
Students win by having more options from which to choose a career direction and the community wins by having someone to fix plumbing, install wiring, nurse the seriously ill and more of those important services we need to manage our lives.
This important project demonstrates the need for and power of connectiveness and collaboration. The Sequim School District, Sequim Sunrise Rotary, Clallam Economic Development Commission among many others who joined the effort are planning to raise $1 million to demonstrate community interest to state legislators for the eventual funding of the $15 million vocational center.
We can tell kids these stories and show them the value of collaboration and cooperation over common cause and purpose. They can learn some of the thorniest problems can be overcome as a group or individually.
We can show kids that feeling sad or hopeless is not a failure but rather a temporary state that tells us we must do something different. We show them by demonstrating we are resilient in the face of our own sadness.
We help them find or be for them the person or group that they know cares about their well-being, listens well and supports their future. We watch for their readiness. We steer them away from artificial solutions found in drugs.
We can be the community they know that cares for them and their future.
Bertha Cooper, an award-winning featured columnist with the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation and is the author of the award-winning “Women, We’re Only Old Once.” Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 20 years. Reach her at email@example.com.