Letter: How We View Young People Affects Health of Community.

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To the Editor:

How we view young people affects the overall health of our community.

Consider this: Young people meet the expectations that we set for them. If we have negative expectations, all we see is negative behaviors. If we have positive expectations, we start to see their capacity to be forward thinking adults.

During the approximate ages of 14-25, everyone experiences a period in which our brains are developing rapidly. Many of the negative behaviors that we see in young people are symptoms of this growth and are often responses to issues, systemic and personal, over which they have little power or control (i.e poverty, oppression, traumatic experiences, etc). For example, a young person wearing pajamas to school might not have clean clothes to wear because their caregiver couldn't afford to go to the laundromat.

If we look past some of these symptoms, we might see something more remarkable: young people who are gifted, resilient, and care about our community.

We "adults" play important roles during this period. As parents, mentors, friends, friends of friends, caregivers, and community members, it is our responsibility to support and value the next generation so that when they become adults, they have what they need to thrive.

Our rhetoric during community wide events, meetings, or campaigns is powerful. Youth issues are often targeted in campaigns where they lack the power to vote. This is oppressive behavior. It is important to recognize that many young people view this as oppressive behavior and feel frustrated about having little voice in change.

In my opinion, young people are capable of great things. In our community alone, I have seen young people advocate for the skatepark, start a teen center, build mobile food pantries, all with a looming perspective that their community doesn’t value them. Imagine what they would do if we all shifted that dialogue?

Studies show that a positive development approach is the most effective way to support young people in developing skills they’ll need in adulthood. In fact, by investing in their assets, we can have better community health outcomes, strengthen our economy, build resilience, and begin to end cycles of poverty and substance abuse (www.youthpower.org).

Thank you to our community leaders, the North Adams Public Schools, the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, The Playwright Mentoring Project, and Roots volunteers for approaching our work with youth through this lens. Together, we are nurturing young people, the roots of our community, and creating a stronger and more viable city for all of us to share.

Jessica Sweeney
North Adams, Mass.



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