Adolescent Emerging Issues

Publication Date: Wednesday Jan 31, 2001

Adolescent Emerging Issues

Family and Individual

Issue: Isolation, disconnectedness, alienation from the larger society (adults have too little time, isolation from extended family)


As our fast-paced lifestyles reduce family time, and young people are increasingly influenced by media, society is less successful in integrating young people into the larger community. Parents often deny risk behaviors because they are too hard to deal with.

Teens may find it hard to establish good communication with their parents. Parents are also feeling isolated--their busy work lives don't leave enough time for family, they don't know the resources available and don't realize the need for parental skills.

Relationships are often superficial and needs aren't communicated both ways. As a result, youth tend to "create their own families"--peer groups which could lead to negative behaviors. We need to find ways to cut through the isolation to help youth deal with the other issues of adolescence.

Resources There are good resources but more are needed--Adolescent Counseling Services, Youth and Family Assistance, and other agencies, youth centers, mentoring programs, parent information hotlines, and parent networks. We need more parent education, including more nighttime educational opportunities on parenting teens, bilingual and bicultural, with childcare and transportation.

We need more networking among agencies that serve youth. Most of all, we need to support parents in their commitment to their children and emphasize the resiliency and assets of youth.


In society at large, youth are often devalued and not treated with respect. In middle and high school, the educational system doesn't adequately support autonomy. Economics and poverty, as well as cultural and language differences, pose barriers to accessing services.

For the family, lack of time is a factor. Parenting models can also be a problem--issues recycle from one generation to the next.

Community and Culture

Issue: Ability to Value Ethnic and Cultural Diversity Implications

With an increasingly diverse community, we need to appreciate and know other cultures. We need to foster interaction among various cultural groups. All services need to be culturally competent--recognizing the different languages, customs, and even names and acknowledging that different groups may have different issues to address than mainstream youth.

We must affirm the different groups and their values and address the issues of communities of color. If we don't do this well, then we marginalize children of color. As they search for their identify they lose interest in the system, creating their own group even as they struggle with maintaining their cultural identity vs. assimilation.

Immigrant youth and communities of color who must fight for everything can bring anger--we need to learn how to bridge the gap between family and school.

Resources There are a number of effective local programs including Camp Anytown at Palo Alto and Gunn High, Latino Outreach, Pacific Islander Outreach, MOMS: Mothers on a Mission to Save the Children; RISE (working with African American students at Menlo-Atherton--it should be expanded to other cultures and schools); Young Latino Leaders; MESA (focus on math); and Upward Bound (Stanford).

Barriers The majority culture does not recognize that racism is institutionalized in America. Economic disparity and unsafe communities mean that problems often begin at home with young children.

The educational system and books do not adequately include and acknowledge diversity. The system needs to affirm the importance of the family and its culture and help parents to become more involved.

The bias is invisible to the majority culture, while the minority teen learns to hide his or her cultural identity at school. The school system is failing children of color, who are more likely to drop out of school. We need to offer more electives in school as well as more opportunities to mix outside of school. We need small group settings to focus on issues and develop more comfort sharing with others.

Education and learning

Issue: Meeting the needs of underrepresented youth

Implications Underrepresented youth are defined as those who are not included in the available resources and opportunities. It is important to address the needs of ethnic and cultural groups, dealing with specific issues of different groups.

We need to include groups such as non-college bound students and teach students that there are different paths to achieving a meaningful life. We need to make sure that teachers can respond to the needs of the student population.

Resources There are programs available to students during non-school hours, including those through churches, Canada College Stepping Stones Pasos and Boys and Girls Clubs. Youth have the voice, the energy and the knowledge.

Teachers are a valuable resource, and there are other adults willing to commit time and money.


There is a lack of institutional support; the system is too big to be able to listen to the voice of youth. We do not share a common goal, and there is a disconnection between current programs.

We tend to focus on the agency instead of the student. There is pressure on schools to do too much, and schools also find it difficult to change their culture. We need to apply the knowledge that we already have on how the biorhythms of young people work by starting school hours later, and to apply concepts that use everyday practical experiences to academic learning/teaching.

Community and Culture

Issue: Need to Listen & Involve Youth in Decision and Policy-Making

Implications Without youth input, adults may assume that the issues facing today's youth are the same as in previous generations. Mistakes can be made.

We may be addressing the wrong issues. We run the risk of stereotyping youth--individuality gets taken away. There is also the risk of developing adult-oriented services instead of appropriate adolescent-oriented services, leading to failure and poor outcomes.

We send the message to youth, "Your opinion is not valued. You're not a whole person. You're not ready to participate in the process." This leads to lowered self-esteem as well as loss of the opportunity to develop or encourage leadership in young people.

It reinforces the tendency for youth to "keep to themselves" and not seek help. We need to remember that youth will find a way to express themselves. Without access to the right outlet, that expression may be negative, with dangerous emotional and physical health implications.

Without involvement in decisions that impact their lives, it is more difficult to develop the critical thinking skills so necessary for navigating the teen years and making safe choices. We need to be responsive to be cultural differences in the conditions under which youth voices can be obtained.

Resources There are a number of venues where the voice of youth is heard. School Board representatives, school leadership classes and school Site Council representatives can directly affect school policies. Schools often have conflict resolution and/or peer counseling and mentoring programs.

The Student Support Fund at Menlo-Atherton raises funds and determines policies for granting scholarships/loans. With youth mapping, the youth go into community, identify resources (or lack of) and report back. County School-to-Career Boards and Youth Councils influence county policies regarding youth.

Various cities have Youth Councils. City of Palo Alto "Youth Master Plan"--under development--includes student representation. With "Kids Voting"--actual polls in presidential election for youth--votes are cast and counted as the youth vote. The Canada College Stepping Stone Pasos program serves Latino youth.

Barriers We have a lack of intergenerational experiences, resulting in the loss of each generation's wisdom. Ageism works both ways--stereotyping the other generation leads to self-fulfilling prophecy that the other can't be trusted, isn't deserving of respect or having their points-of-view truly considered.

Adults may not want to face youth's reality. It can be too painful, and it is difficult to change the current approach. It can also be difficult to recruit youth because the requirements of meeting attendance can add to already over-burdened schedules, and because there is no single body that coordinates youth input.

Community and Culture

Issue: Socioeconomic disparity

Implications The face of the community will change. Middle- and low-income families and young adults will move away because they can't afford to live here. The Horatio Alger myth that people can pull themselves up by their own boot straps can lead to the "haves" feeling entitled, and not understanding the problems of those who have less--instead blaming the victim.

Meanwhile the "have nots" become more hopeless. Society will become more divided by social class and ethnicity: the less well to do will become disenfranchised, while the well-to-do will be more protective of what they have.

Youth who are low income are less likely to get identified and referred to services and resources that they could use. The have nots feel let down and don't trust the system. The impact of increasing socioeconomic disparity will fall more heavily on some ethnic groups.


There are a number of effective programs--for example Camp Anytown (Palo Alto and Gunn High) is a three day camp whose goal is to be more tolerant of diversity; Stepping Stones at Canada College provides supportive education for at risk youth who have experience in the juvenile justice, mental health, foster care systems or who have dropped out--the goal is role redefinition from problem student to college student, and skill building; public and private programs including the Job Corps and School to Career can provide opportunity; and churches and the faith community provide a safety net.


Because of insufficient funding, there aren't enough resources. The safety net has been reduced. Services are often means-tested, but not adjusted for the high cost of living here. There also isn't enough information about what resources are out there--we need more networking among service providers about information sharing and providing services.

In general, the system has the wrong priorities. Youth who need services the most are often not identified or referred. It is hard to bridge the gap created by the huge difference between the haves and the have nots.

Families may not know how to negotiate the system and make connections with referrals. Youth and families may not trust the system due to their past experiences with it.

"In this country if you have money we can't do enough for you. If you don't have money we can't do enough to you."

Physical and Emotional Health

Issue: Stress and Pressure--academic, social (sexual, substance), physical (body image)


In addition to concerns about body image and social pressures around drugs, alcohol and sex, many local teens experience intense academic pressure and stress. The physical and emotional health impacts of stress include depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other risk behaviors, depletion of coping skills, and the exacerbation of chronic illness.

The academic pressure leads to belief that "I'm not good enough" as the majority of youth cannot keep up with the level of competition or achievement. There are unreasonable expectations for performance. As a result, youth's perception of "success" and "failure" is skewed as is their perception of themselves and their peers. The average student is overlooked, and those not bound for college see themselves as failures.


Parents and caring adults within the school system (individual teachers, administrators, counselors) make a big difference. There are a number of good resources, including Adolescent Counseling Services, Youth and Family Assistance, and other agencies, Teen Centers, YMCA/YWCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, churches and temples, Planned Parenthood, speakers on health-related issues, "Teen Kick Off," a Bay Area dramatic troupe of young people who story-tell their own experiences.

College Centers offer a balanced perspective and alternatives to college as well as support for the immediate college-bound.

Barriers There is a perception that it is uncool to seek help, and teens may be unaware that they even need help. The system is complicated--some don't know where to go for help, for others required parental permission is a barrier, or the fear that their discussions won't be held in confidence, or the perceived cost in time or money.

For those not on the college track, there is little in the way of alternative educational models. Alternative models would provide much-needed skills and training, appeal to different learning styles and interests and would also provide validation for a different "track," provide multiple definitions of "success" or views to the future.

Family and Individual

Issue: Abuse and Neglect--sexual, substance, physical, emotional Implications Children who are exposed to family violence, including child abuse and neglect as well as witnessing domestic violence, are more likely to act out, expressing anger through violence, withdrawal, depression, or self mutilation. Children are fearful, distracted and unable to focus.

There may be sexual behavior and other inappropriate behavior. Child abuse and domestic violence are often repeated in the next generation.


Resources include school-based health and counseling services such as Adolescent Counseling Services, physicians, churches, hotlines, Child Protective Services, Rape Crisis Center, Planned Parenthood, Big Brother/Big Sister, peer support groups and cultural leaders and mentors.


In spite of increased awareness of child abuse, there is still a conspiracy of silence including denial, shame and blaming. Young people who need help don't always know how to get it.

Teachers often have too many students to create meaningful relationships. Parents often need education on normalizing behaviors.

Personal and Community Safety

Issue: Safe neighborhood and schools


When we look at our priorities and how we spend our money, it is clear that we don't value our youth enough to keep them safe. There is a global proliferation of U.S. gangs and arms sales. In the community, violence creates division, us against them, and results in policies that criminalize youth.

Others in the community become fearful, creating more fear, and more violence. Youth are seen as a problem or a threat.


There is a research/knowledge base on violence prevention, but we don't always use it. The voice and experience of young people is powerful, but we don't always listen. Family, church, and school are key resources for keeping our children safe.

Teen health centers are adolescent-focused, and the juvenile justice system is developing alternative approaches, including Restorative Justice and diversion programs. In addition, police services are increasingly accessible on campus and in the community.


The larger community generally has a negative attitude toward young people. Many teens have the perception that the system won't help and can't be trusted. Data shows that the juvenile justice system is failing some youth.

Gangs are intergenerational. Weapons, including guns, are too readily available. The images we send to youth are violent. We need better rehabilitation services for those who end up in the juvenile justice system and need to send a message that we'll help youth who make mistakes and get into bad situations. We also need to fund housing and other support. 

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