Teens In The News

Photo courtesy of KC MIller. 

The Teen Campaigning for Comprehensive Sex Ed

By
Christopher Pepper

Editor's Note: Christopher Pepper is a health teacher in San Francisco public schools, and speaks and writes frequently about health and education. Follow him on Twitter: @mrhealthteacher. Below, he writes about a teen advocating for sex education. To continue your lesson on a relevant aspect of sex eduation, please check out our March story, Let's Talk About Respect, which discusses consent and harassment, and what students need to know to avoidand stopthis behavior. 

 

As a high school teacher, I’ve heard lots of students complain about what schools are teaching, but I’ve never seen a student do as much to change it as KC Miller. Dissatisfied with the sex education in his home state of Pennsylvania, Miller, a senior at Westtown School in West Chester, wrote legislation that aims to change it, and founded a non-profit organization to push it forward.

 

Miller’s organization is called the Keystone Coalition for Advancing Sex Education, and its mission is to “foster a happier and healthier generation, prevent sexual violence, and reduce sexually transmitted diseases through education.”

 

The group’s legislation is called the Pennsylvania Healthy Youth Act, which was inspired by the California Healthy Youth Act, a 2016 law that requires all middle and high schools in the state to teach comprehensive sexuality education.

 

“The biggest change I'd like to see in Pennsylvania classrooms is a move away from abstinence-only and abstinence-based education programs,” Miller says. “Instead of feeding children fear tactics and medical inaccuracieswhich are the cornerstone of abstinence programs—we need to give our youth the tools to understand how to keep their bodies happy, safe, and healthy.”

 

As a health teacher in California, I’ve seen how much impact a law like the one Miller wrote can have. After the California law passed, school districts up and down the state updated their lessons and hired more health teachers. We’re now required to teach all of our students about topics like birth control, healthy relationships, sexual assault, and sex traffickingand all lessons must be LGBTQ-inclusive.

 

Typical sex education often focuses on heterosexual relationships and pregnancy prevention. That limited scope is one of the things that Miller hopes to change.

 

“As a gay student, I know firsthand how my fellow LGBTQ+ teens are failed by current standards,” Miller says. “Everyone deserves comprehensive, relevant, and inclusive sex educationregardless of their race, religion, gender, or sexuality.” Miller’s Pennsylvania Healthy Youth Act also includes provisions that promote inclusion of students with physical and intellectual disabilities.

 

When he’s not working on changing laws, Miller is often handing out condoms at school events as part of a peer-counseling program called Sexual Health Awareness Educators. In this program, Miller says: “We hold discussions on things like the intersection of race, gender, and sex, and what healthy teen relationships can look like.”

  

In the wake of recent sexual harassment scandals and the #MeToo campaign, many schools and communities are examining how they talk about consent and healthy relationships. Miller says that comprehensive sexuality education is crucial to advancing that conversation.

 

“We need to start discussing in the classroom the consequences of sexual misconduct,” Miller says. “If passed, the Pennsylvania Healthy Youth Act will promote age-appropriate discussions about these topics to foster respect and create a better understanding of consent.”

 

Studies show that families and medical professionals overwhelmingly support more comprehensive sex education. As a teacher, I’ve seen how the California Healthy Youth Act is transforming health classrooms in my state, and I’m inspired to learn about young people like Miller, who are speaking up for health classes and advancing the future of sex education.

 

For more resources on teaching consent and sexual harassment in an approachable way, please check out this month's story, Let's Talk About Respect, and its accompanying resources. Also, these teen-appropriate videos from AMAZE break down hard-to-discuss topics, like consent and healthy relationships. 

 

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12/15/17: 3 Articles You Need to Read This Week

We know you’re busy—that’s why we’re keeping up on the news for you. Here are some of the latest articles that are worth your time. Check back every Friday for more headlines you may have missed. 

 

1. Teen drug use is stable, but more teens are using marijuana

The new report from the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, found that among 45,000 teens in 8th, 10th, and 12th grade the percentage of those who smoked marijuana increased to 24 percent, a 1.3 percent increase since 2016. Among students in 12th grade, 40 percent had used an illicit drug, while more than half had used alcohol. Among students in eighth grade, about 13 percent had used drugs, while 18 percent had used alcohol. More teens approve of marijuana use than in the past: 64.7 percent of high school seniors disapproved of marijuana use this yeara decrease from the 68.5 percent disapproval rate last year. 

 

2. France is banning mobile phones in schools

In France, where 93 percent of those ages 12 to 17 have mobile phones, a total phone-ban is being planned in secondary schools. While phones are already banned in classrooms, next year they will also be banned from use between classes and during breaks. According to Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French education minister, "This is about ensuring the rules and the law are respected. The use of telephones is banned in class. With headmasters, teachers and parents, we must come up with a way of protecting pupils from loss of concentration via screens and phones."  

 

3.  Diet affects mental health in young adults

In a new study from Binghamton University, State University of New York, researchers found (via an anonymous online survey) that for young adults (ages 18–29), the brain seems to be more reliant on meat to regulate mood. According to researchers, more meat increases the "availability of neurotransmitter precursors and concentrations in the brain." In older adults, this need subsided, but the need for antioxidants (often from fruit) became more important for mood. According to Lina Begdache, assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University, "Young adults who ate meat (red or white) less than three times a week and exercised less than three times week showed a significant mental distress."

 

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12/8/17: 3 Articles You Need to Read This Week

We know you're busy--that's why we're keeping up on the news for you. Here are some of the latest articles that are worth your time. Check back every Friday for more headlines you may have missed. 

 

1. Facebook is using artificial intelligence to prevent suicide

In an effort to prevent suicide, Facebook is rolling out a new "proactive detection" software to catch suicidal behavior before it leads to something worse. The pattern-detection software will detect comments such as "Are you OK?" and "Can I help?" to get first responders to those in danger. The app will also be able to send resources, like the Crisis Text Line and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, to those in need. 

 

2. Study reveals teens may bounce back from online risks

It's not a secret social media and online activity can lead teens to experience negative content, like cyberbullying and unwanted solicitations. A recent study, conducted by the University of Central Florida, Pennsylvania State, and Ohio State, has found that more often than not, teens bounce back from these negative online experiences.

The study had a small sample of 68 teens chronicle their online experiences for eight weeks, then evaluated responses, testing for emotional state and well-being. Of course, teens were more likely to report negative well-being during weeks when they encountered cyberbullying, but in the majority of situations, teens showed resilience, bouncing back in a week. "I think if there is a message here, it is that teens are being exposed a lot, but they bounce back and show resiliency," said Bridget McHugh, who worked on the study while a Ph.D student at UCF and is now a leadership development consultant at Ohio State University. "We're not exactly sure how they are learning the coping skills, but they are and that's good news."

McHugh said coping may be happening through other online interactions with friends or through support from social media communities.

Pamela Wisniewski, a computer science assistant professor at UCF in Orlando, and co-author of the study, concluded that more research needs to be conducted into how teens learn to cope in the constantly changing social media world.

 

3. Facebook creates app that targets kids and tweens

With Facebook's Messenger Kids, the social media site is inviting kids and tweens under 13 to download their own messaging app. The only catch: it's almost completely controlled by a parent. The goal is to provide a way for the under-13 group to have access to conversations with friends and family, without being exposed to possible risks by having their own Facebook profile. Even to befriend a classmate, a parent has to become friends with the classmate's parent. The app also comes with a built-in reporting interface, where kids can flag any inappropriate content. 

 

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12/1/2017: 3 Articles You Need to Read This Week

We know you're busy--that's why we're keeping up on the news for you. Here are some of the latest articles that are worth your time. Check back every Friday for more headlines you may have missed. 

 

Smartphones may have brain-altering effects

According to a recently released study presented at the Radiological Society of North America, teens addicted to smartphones showed chemical imbalances in their brains. The study looked at 19 teens in Seoul Korea, who all had some sort of smartphone addiction. Teens with more severe addiction had increased GABA levels, "a neurotransmitter in the brain that inhibits or slows down brain signals." In addition to raised chemical levels, addicted teens also showed higher rates of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and impulsivity.

 

More middle school girls are inflicting self-pain. A possible culprit? The smartphone 

Since 2008, emergency room visits related to self-harm for girls ages 10-14 has seen an increase. Experts say this could be because more middle-school girls now have access to smartphones and are more susceptible to internet bullying.  From 2009 to 2015, the number of girls who visited the ER for self-harm increased by 8.4 percent annually. This comes at a time when the suicide rate (in 2015) hit a 40-year high, increasing almost 50 percent since 1975.

 

Two students help create an app to raise awareness for teen mental health

Two high schoolers in Montana realized that too many teens at their school were unaware of the signs and risk factors for mental health issues, so they set out to make a difference. The two sophomore students joined their Alliance for Youth program coordinator, Nicole Zimmerman,  to work on creating content for an app Zimmerman was working on, called #LetsTalk. The app, meant as a resource, contains information on symptoms of mental health issues, lists of numbers to call for support, and a map of safe spaces in the girls' hometown of Great Falls, Montana. 

 

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11/17/17: 3 Articles You Need to Read This Week

We know you’re busy—that’s why we’re keeping up on the news for you. Here are some of the latest articles that are worth your time. Check back every Friday for more headlines you may have missed. 

 

1. Teen lack-of-sleep is only getting worse

But luckily, some influential health organizations are starting to take notice. Most recently, the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) has released a call to action, encouraging local, state, and national leaders to enforce a start time no earlier than 8:30 for middle schools and high schools. Other organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the National Association of School Nurses, and the Society of Pediatric Nurses, have echoed this call. Experts are recognizing the fact that teens' sleep cycle changes during puberty, where teens are more rested when they stay up a little later and sleep in a little more. To read more about the sleep epidemic affecting teens, check out Generation Zzzzzzz

 

2. This 13-year-old is using creativity for change

When 13-year-old Jordan Phillips found out her mom had breast cancer, she wanted to make a difference to help find a cure. She got the idea to sew coffee-cup sleeves, and made $500 in one night! Now, Jordan has created her own non-profit, called Cozys for a Cure, and has donated $18,000 to the breast cancer foundation, Susan G. Komen. In honor of breast cancer awareness, Jordan's "cozys" will be on sale in Wal-Mart stores across the country through the month of November. 

 

3. Phone time may be increasing depression and suicidal thoughts among teens

According to a new study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, long hours spent on electronic devices, like phones, computers, and tablets, correlated with an increase in thoughts of alienation, leading to depression and suicidal thinking among teens. Study leaders suggest that one or two hours each day isn't harmful, but it's when teens are online three, four, and five hours (or more) that issues tend to arise. This particular study looked at 500,000 teens ages 13-18, asking them a series of questions to determine risk of depression. Based on the questions, 16 percent of teens in 2010 showed signs of depression, and in 2015, 22 percent showed signs. And the increase from 2010–2015 could be seen mostly among teenage girls. 

 

 

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11/10/17: 3 Articles You Need to Read This Week

We know you’re busy—that’s why we’re keeping up on the news for you. Here are some of the latest articles that are worth your time. Check back every Friday for more headlines you may have missed. 

 

1. Teens are cyberbullying themselves

According to a new report, 1 in 20 middle school and high school students bully themselves online. This behavior usually presents itself in the form of anonymous messages or posts, that may signify a cry for help. Experts are terming this practice "digital self-harm" or "self-trolling," and are concerned that it may be a forewarning of suicide. 

 

2. With marijuana legal in many states, it's hard to warn teens about risks

When it comes to illicit substances and drugs, teens think that if it's legal, it's OK. While research has shown that medical marijuana can be helpful in some cases, its recreational use can lead to car accidents and respiratory issues, especially among teens. But, in states where the substance is legal, teens are often confused when they are told marijuana can be dangerous. And according to experts, the advertisements for cannabis are akin to those for cigarettes and alcohol, normalizing the substance and presenting it as a fun, recreational activity. To combat this, experts suggest reminding teens that even though the drug is legal for those over 21 in some states, it doesn't mean it is risk-free. 

 

3. The college admissions system is not fair

As juniors and seniors (and maybe even sophomores) begin the painstaking task of rifling through admissions requirements and applying to their dream colleges, they need to understand that this process is not fair. According to this detailed report by the New York Times, even if a student has a 33 percent admissions rate, that does not guarantee one in three students will get in. There are many factors colleges need to consider, and many items they have to check off the list, making sure there is a balance of majors, and representation from most states, to name a few of the considerations. Some universities even give priority to children of alumni, called "legacies."  Many colleges now are looking for students with maturity and character, and some are asking applicants to focus on ways they've helped others in the past, and given back to their communities.  

 

 

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11/3/17: 3 Articles You Need to Read This Week

We know you’re busy—that’s why we’re keeping up on the news for you. Here are some of the latest articles that are worth your time. Check back every Friday for more headlines you may have missed. (And don’t forget to take a peek at our brand-new website and let us know what you think!)

 

1. These are the most influential teens

Time released their annual list of the 30 most influential teens of 2017. This year, Time recognized teen actors, like Stranger Things actress Millie Bobby Brown, teen entrepreneurs, like Mikaila Ulmer of Me and the Bees Lemonade, and teen philanthropists, like Muzoon Almellehan, a Syrian refugee who is now UNESCO's youngest ambassador. 

 

2. Social media leads to anxious thoughts in teen girls

In a recent experiment set up on the morning show Good Morning America, teen girls spoke openly about their struggles with social media, and how social media poses a nearly constant stress. The teens revealed that social media exerts pressure on their lives, making them overthink about little things and criticize themselves. What the teens didn't know, is that their mothers were on the other side of the room, listening in. The experiment revealed that parents often don't realize the stress of social media. Experts say that social media can even be stressful for teens when they aren't onlineteens often worry if friends are liking or commenting on their posts. And if teens who are regularly on social media suddenly step away, it may be a sign that something is stressing them out more than usual.

 

3. Author John Green's recent book confronts teen mental illness

John Green, the esteemed author of young adult novels (namely, The Fault in Our Stars) has a new book that deals with mental illness in a very open and real way. In Turtles All the Way Down, the novel's teenage protagonist, Aza Holmes, struggles deeply with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. From the first chapter, the reader is pulled into Aza's anxious thought spiral—a churning, icy hole that seems inescapable as Aza strains to fight against her uncontrollable thoughts. The realness of Aza's mental health struggle exists because it actually is real—John Green himself has endured anxiety and OCD into adulthood and pulled much of the novel's inspiration from his own life. Encourage teens that struggle with mental health issues that they aren't alone and that mental illness is not shameful—reading Turtles All the Way Down may help them remember.

 

 

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10/27/17: 3 Articles You Need to Read This Week

We know you’re busy—that’s why we’re keeping up on the news for you. Here are some of the latest articles that are worth your time. Check back every Friday for more headlines you may have missed. (And don’t forget to take a peek at our brand-new website and let us know what you think!)

 

1. Is social media contributing to mental health problems and suicide?

Sadie Smith took her own life earlier this year, after dealing with bullying, mostly on social media. This comes at a time when a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis has recently confirmed that the suicide rate among teenage girls is higher than it's been in 40 years. And a study released this week in the UK suggests that self-harm has increased 68 percent from 2011 to 2014 among teenage girls. Experts say social media is just one of many problems contributing to teen suicide, but social media can cause feelings of loneliness and isolation, despite its promise to connect.

 

2. Distracted driving is still increasingly an issue

Especially among teens, distracted driving, usually in the form of texting while behind the wheel, is an increasing problem. Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teens, and according to the American Automobile Association, while only six percent of teens condone texting while driving, 34 percent admit to having sent a text while driving in the past month. And according to the driver-safety organization TeenSafe, 40 percent of teens have been passengers while the driver (who could be an adult) was texting. While cell phones do not cause all distractions, text messaging is especially dangerous.

For more information on distracted driving, be sure to read Danger Behind the Wheel, and direct students to read Power Passenger Pledge at the end of the story. 

 

3. In Honolulu, pedestrians will now be fined for texting and walking

Pedestrians in Honolulu can now be fined up to $35 for viewing their phone screen while crossing the street. This comes at a time when many cities in the United States and around the world have enacted various laws and signage to prevent distracted walking. In Germany, after a teenager was struck and killed by a vehicle, one city installed pedestrian stop-and-go LED lights to help ensure safe crossing. Use this article to spur an in-class debate on pedestrian texting laws. What could be a drawback?

 

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10/20/17: 3 Articles You Need to Read This Week

We know you’re busy—that’s why we’re keeping up on the news for you. Here are some of the latest articles that are worth your time. Check back every Friday for more headlines you may have missed. (And don’t forget to take a peek at our brand-new website and let us know what you think!)

 

1. Facebook acquires tbh, a teen compliment app focused on improving mental health

The app, tbh ("to be honest"), has only been around since August 2017, but has more than 5 million users and is the number one app of all free apps in the iTunes store. The app allows users (who are mostly teens) to anonymously compliment one another, which the founders hope will increase mental health among teens. The founders of the app believe that tbh helps "fill the gap between being 'liked' and actually feeling appreciated." But could this kind of social media app make teens remove themselves even further from IRL interaction and communication? 

 

2. Four high school students in Kansas are running for governor

The four teens running for governor vary in their political views—one is a Democrat, two are Republican, and one is Libertarianbut they all have the same overall goal: to show their state that age doesn't hold them back. 

 

3. The number of obese teens continues to increase 

In the past forty years, the amount of kids and teens (ages 5-19) considered obese has risen tenfold, according to a new study led by Imperial College London and the World Heath Organization, published in The Lancet. In 2016, 124 million kids and teens were overweight compared with 11 million in 1975. If the quickly growing trend continues, the number of obese kids and teens will surpass the amount of underweight kids and teens by 2022. 

 

 

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10/13/17: 3 Articles You Need to Read This Week

We know you’re busy—that’s why we’re keeping up on the news for you. Here are some of the latest articles that are worth your time. Check back every Friday for more headlines you may have missed. (And don’t forget to take a peek at our brand-new website and let us know what you think!)

 

1. More American teens than ever before are suffering from anxiety

In the past two years, there have been more college students seeking counseling services for help with anxiety than ever before. At the same time, 62 percent of undergraduates in 2016 felt overwhelmed by what they had to do, and in the last 10 years, the amount of teenagers admitted to hospitals for being suicidal has doubled. And in high schools, administrators are seeing a steady increase in anxious students. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety is the most common mental disorder, but because of that, it is often dismissed as less serious. Teens need to be aware that their anxieties are valid, and there is never shame in seeking help.

 

2. Amazon is targeting the teen market

A new feature on Amazon is now allowing Generation Z to have freedom while making purchases, by making a way for 13-to-17-year-olds to have their own login. Teen accounts link to parent accounts on Amazon, and when a teen makes a purchase, a text or email is sent to the parent to make the final decision. This comes at a time when Generation Z, the most media-connected generation, is on a path to lap the previous generation in size and spending power. What do your teens think? Is this change a good way to build positive spending habits?

 

3. IRL community is important for teens

Generation Z is sometimes referred to as iGen, the generation that has grown up surrounded by technology. For iGen teens, connection is often synonymous with screen time and social media, when in reality, these teens often lack in-person community. To combat this, experts suggest it's important for teens to see adults interacting without cellphones, to have "technology-free time," and to engage in activities that don't require technology.

 

 

 

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