Re-Engaging Youth in Out-of-School Spaces

By: Ashlee Sjogren

Highlights:

  • Engaging students in out-of-school spaces is critical to supporting the whole student. Peers, families, program content, and a fun environment all serve as sources of engagement that programs can optimize on.
  • However, both interpersonal tensions and repetition of content can be reasons that middle school students decide not to engage in afterschool programs.
  • In this blog, we provide recommendations for afterschool stakeholders as they consider how to encourage youth engagement.
Source: Youth-Nex

The role of afterschool and summer learning spaces is perhaps even more critical in our mid-/post-pandemic world than ever before. With the rise of online learning, social isolation, and student mental health issues,[i] afterschool spaces serve as a needed additional support to students’ achievement and development.[ii] However, as we re-embark on in-person learning environments, one question stands out: How do we re-engage students, particularly middle school students from historically marginalized communities[iii], in productive afterschool programs?

Sources

In a recent report of middle school students’ engagement in afterschool programs, students identified three key sources and two key barriers to engagement[iv]:

  1. Program Content – Variety in program content is initially appealing for students who are interested in trying new activities that are not traditionally offered in schools. While some students feel that their afterschool program “is fun because you have activities you would be interested in that you can do, like gym kind of things;” others focus on how afterschool programs expose them to new activities, skills, and classes that they wouldn’t ordinarily get to explore. In this way, afterschool programs can provide space for students to explore new interests, gain new skills, and continue to invest in their personal identity development.
  2. Friends & Family — Personal relationships with peers and family also serve as an additional source of engagement for many students. While many elementary-aged students engage in afterschool spaces because their parents sign them up, middle school students tend to “vote with their feet.” In this way, some may choose to engage based off of parental encouragement whereas others are highly influenced by their peers’ engagement decisions.
  3. Fun Environment – Finally, afterschool spaces are different from school. There are fewer rules, more opportunities for student choice, and ultimately often more fun than a traditional school-day environment. This is critical for many adolescents who are seeking autonomy in their decision-making and opportunities to spend time with peers. If we are seeking to promote afterschool engagement for our middle school students, we must be meeting them with fun environments comprised of various activity options, freedom to select their activities, and opportunities to learn new skills and meet new people.

Barriers

Even in the presence of a well-designed and thoughtful afterschool program, there is still the risk of creating unintentional barriers to adolescent engagement. For example, the following two barriers rose to the surface:

  1. Repetition of Content—Although program content is initially appealing to many middle school students, it can run the risk of developing into a barrier if not adequately differentiated. Students voice that afterschool programs are boring when “we just keep doing the same thing.” Thus, we must not only diversify our course offerings in afterschool spaces but also think critically about keeping the day-to-day content and activities fresh for students.
  2. Interpersonal Tensions – Lastly, given the prominence and importance of peers during early adolescence, it is important that educators are keenly aware of peer relationships. Although the afterschool space provides a unique opportunity for continued engagement amongst peers, it is not immune to the school-day tensions such as name-calling, nagging, and other forms of bullying.  These interpersonal tensions can unintentionally push students out of the afterschool space.

Further, it is important to note students’ experiences with these sources and barriers of engagement varied based on their reported level of engagement.

For example, students who reported lower levels of engagement more often reported interpersonal tensions as a barrier, highlighting how they may be the group most at risk for alienation in educational contexts.

Given this, educators should think critically about the impact of barriers on students who may appear to be on the margins of the program such as those with sporadic attendance.

Moving forward, afterschool educators, parents, and teens can adopt the following suggestions to promote youth engagement across formal and informal learning contexts.

  1. Ramp up family outreach/engagement efforts to ensure families are adequately informed of program offerings.
  2. Provide tangible spaces for student feedback to be voiced, considered, and implemented in day-to-day programming decisions.
  3. Develop leadership opportunities for students such as 1) serving as peer recruiters; 2) serving on a student leadership council; 3) mentoring younger students; and 4) serving as a Teaching Assistant in a course they have mastered.
  4. Adopt a culturally sustaining discipline approach that seeks to solve the root of interpersonal tensions (i.e., CRPBIS, Restorative Practices).
  5. Adopt leveled approaches to programming which allow youth to continually refine their skills over time.
  6. Provide various class opportunities (through community partnerships) and hold program providers accountable to fresh and engaging lesson plans.

Strategies of this sort address adolescents’ need for autonomy and belonging, and further foster their identity exploration. In doing so, they foster spaces that middle school students genuinely desire to engage and promote continued participation.


References

[i] CDC, 2020

[ii] Durlak et al., 2020

[iii] Afterschool Alliance, 2020

[iv] Sjogren et al., 2021


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Ashlee Sjogren, Ph.D. is a post-doctoral research associate at Youth-Nex: Center to Promote Effective Youth Development, University of Virginia. Her research is broadly focused on equitable education both in- and out-of-school. Most recently, Dr. Sjogren has investigated student access and engagement in out-of-school contexts. As an educational psychologist, Dr. Sjogren often brings both a social context and motivation lens to understanding questions of equity, access, and motivation.

Suicide is Preventable: What You Can Do to Support our Youth in Crisis

By: Laura Handler

Highlights:

  • As Director of Prevention Services at Region Ten Community Services Board, I know suicide is preventable and there are steps adults can take to help youth in crisis.
  • It is important to recognize the warning signs that a young person may be experiencing thoughts of suicide.
  • Next understand how to ask questions and listen nonjudgmentally to the response in order to seek further help and support that is available 24/7.
Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week 2021 and is dedicated as a time to promote suicide prevention awareness and share resources. While it is not a topic most people prefer to discuss, suicide remains the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-19 according to the Centers for Disease Control.[i] We do not yet fully know the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on suicide rates, but there are indicators that emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts among adolescents ages 12-17, particularly girls, have significantly increased.[ii]

Know the Warning Signs

Suicide is preventable and everyone can play a part in helping a young person. One of the most important ways teachers, parents, mentors, and other caring adults can support our youth is to recognize the warning signs that a young person may be having thoughts of suicide. Some of these warning signs include:

  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Withdrawal from family or friends
  • Feeling no reason for living, no sense of purpose in life
  • Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
  • Changes in appearance
  • Giving away possessions
  • Reporting thoughts of suicide that are active (i.e. “I want to die”) or passive (i.e. “I wish I could just fall asleep and not wake up”
  • Seeking access to pills, weapons, and other means to kill themselves
  • Increased substance use

What To Do Next

If you do notice warning signs, start by telling them that you are concerned and what you have noticed. Next, listen nonjudgmentally and ask open-ended questions to hear more about what the youth is experiencing. Hear them at their own pace and manage your own feelings of worry or concern. The next critical step is to ask the question

“Are you thinking about killing yourself?” or “Are you thinking about suicide?” It is best to avoid using a vague question such as “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?” because they may not know what you mean, or respond with a vague answer.

Be calm, specific, and direct because you want a direct answer.

Youth who are having thoughts of suicide often report a feeling of relief that someone noticed their pain and was willing to ask and hear more about it. If they are not thinking about suicide, your question will not “plant the idea in their mind.” For more tips on having the conversation, check out this resource from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP): “If Someone Tells You They’re Thinking About Suicide: A #RealConvo Guide from AFSP

If a young person does report thoughts of suicide, it is important to connect them to professional help. There are many resources available locally and nationwide.

Specifically, I encourage everyone to put the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and the Crisis Text Line (741741) into your phone’s contact list right now so you have the contact if you ever need it.

Both of these national resources are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and have trained crisis counselors available to talk with you or the young person to help address these thoughts and develop a safety plan.

Ongoing additional support will also be important for a young person with current or recent thoughts of suicide. Reach out to their primary care doctor, a counselor, or other treatment professional who can more thoroughly assess what treatment or other supports might be most helpful.

While it can feel scary and anxiety-provoking to notice warning signs of suicide, it is important to ask the question, and get help. These steps can save a life. Showing the young person you care and are available for them when things are difficult is vital not only in moments of crisis, but every day.


References

[i] Deaths: Leading Causes for 2019. National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 70, No. 9. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr70/nvsr70-09-tables-508.pdf

[ii] Yard, E., Radhakrishnan, L., Ballesteros, M.F., Sheppard, M., Gates, A., Stein, Z.,…Stone, D.M. (2021). Emergency Department Visits for Suspected Suicide Attempts Among Persons Aged 12-25 Years Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic-United States, January 2019-May 2021. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 70, 888-894. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7024e1.htm


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Laura Handler, LPC is the Director of Prevention Services at Region Ten Community Services Board. She has worked at the CSB for more than 12 years serving adults, youth, and families in the Charlottesville area. The Prevention Team offers trainings and presentations to support suicide prevention, substance use prevention, and promotion of mental health and wellness. If you are interested in learning more, please email prevention@regionten.org

How White, Middle Class Teachers Can Apply Psychology to Teach Students Who are Different From Them

By: Sara E. Rimm-Kaufman & Krystal Thomas

Highlights:

  • Four out of 5 U.S. teachers are White, but more than half of their students are students of color. Almost all teachers have college degrees and the majority are middle class, but one-fifth of students live in poverty.
  • Just as teachers acquire skills to teach reading or math effectively, the skills to teach students who are different from them can be learned, too.
  • New advancements in psychology shed light on how to create more equitable learning environments, which we shared in a new APA research brief.
Source: Youth-Nex

How can we solve problems that stem from implicit bias? One important solution involves recruiting more diverse educators. Yet another solution is to prepare White, middle-class educators to teach students who are different from them. This brief focuses on the latter solution.

If teachers are concerned about own biases, that is a good thing. That means teachers care and want to do better for their students. The human mind is imperfect and all people – even educators – carry biases that can prevent their students from succeeding in school and beyond.

Learning how to reduce one’s own biases requires self-reflection. It is important that all educators hold themselves and each other accountable to do this necessary and important work. Without these efforts, educators underserve their students from traditionally marginalized groups and prevent them from reaching their potential.

Four Suggestions to Improve Teaching Practices

We have four suggestions that use psychology to support teachers to be more effective with students who are different from them. We mention these suggestions below and you can learn more about these ideas in the original 2-page research brief.

We recommend educators:

1. Become Self-Aware & Unlearn Prejudicial Habits by Detecting, Reflecting and Rejecting

Mostly, we are unaware of our biases. But, every once in a while, we become aware of our stereotypes. In those instances, instead of being embarrassed or pushing thoughts about biases away, use your awareness as an opportunity to detect the bias, reflect on your behavior, and reject the stereotype by replacing it with a new way of thinking.  

2. Learn About Your Students & Their Perspectives

Learn more about your students so you can understand their perspectives. Take time to understand your classroom from their point of view, identify their strengths and interests, cultivate empathy for them, and appreciate their uniqueness. Use what you know about your students’ interests to create trusting relationships with them.

3. Individuate to Counteract Stereotypes

Counteract stereotypes by individuating. Individuating means noticing individual students’ behaviors and becoming aware of their strengths, challenges, and personal preferences. It means seeing a person as an individual, not only as a member of a social category.

4. Transform the School Climate & Culture

Amplify the voices of individuals from groups that tend to be left out of conversations and decision-making. Make sure that school mission statements, policies, and curricula reflect inclusion, respect, and equity for diverse groups. Include the perspective of diverse groups in school practices (e.g., lesson plans, school-wide activities, community events).

Read more from these suggestions, what the research says, key definitions and more in this research brief! You can view other research briefs for educators through APA online.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Dr. Sara Rimm-Kaufman conducts research on elementary and middle school classrooms with the goal of using evidence to improve the quality of schooling experiences for teachers and students. Over the past twenty years, Rimm-Kaufman has led a dynamic team of researchers, project managers, post-docs, students, and staff toward improved understanding of the systematic ways that classroom social and psychological experiences are productive (or not productive) environments for child and youth development. In doing so, her research considers the diversity present in schools, respects the challenges that teachers face every day, and recognizes the complexity of school improvement. In all of her work, she has a steadfast commitment to educational equity.

Author Bio: Dr. Krystal Thomas is an education researcher at SRI Education who brings a developmental psychology and equity lens to research, evaluation, and capacity building. Her projects span issues of teacher quality and practices, students’ academic and social identities, and patterns of contextual inequality in the classroom. Before joining SRI, Thomas was an IES Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia, a lead statistician at the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium, and a lab manager at the Cognitive Intervention Research, Culture and Learning Environments in Schools (CIRCLES) Lab. Thomas holds a PhD and master’s in developmental psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University. She also earned a bachelor’s in psychology from Virginia State University.

Vlog: Racial Disproportionality in School Discipline

By: Theresa Pfister

Highlights:

  • As a doctoral student in Educational Psychology-Applied Developmental Science, I wrote new APA Division 15 Policy Brief and am now sharing it as a video blog.
  • I argue that racial disproportionality in school discipline in the U.S. has contributed to gaps in outcomes—including lower academic achievement, risk of drop-out, and involvement in the juvenile justice system.
  • In this video, I provides recommendations for policy and practice, including providing professional development for all educators in race, bias, and equity.
Source: Youth-Nex Youtube

Education is a fundamental right. However, the public school system continues to fall short in delivering on its promise to provide an equal education to all students. One of the ways in which this happens is through racial disproportionality in school discipline.

While causes of the discipline gap are complex, researchers have found implicit bias, differential selection and processing, and negative racial stereotypes are greatly to blame:

  • Differential Selection and Processing: There is evidence that students of color are more likely to be “selected” for harsher discipline, despite similar behaviors exhibited by classmates.
  • Implicit Bias: Infractions that require subjective instead of objective interpretation (e.g., disrespect versus drug possession) account for a great deal of the discipline gap, as they allow implicit bias to drive decision-making.
  • Negative Racial Stereotypes: Researchers found that behaviors cited most commonly for Black girls’ discipline referrals aligned with racial stereotypes of behavior, such as being too loud or having a bad attitude.

Scholars argue that the goal of equitable education for all students cannot be realized while racial disparities in school discipline persist, including not only who gets chosen for discipline, but also the harshness of that discipline. Read more from this research brief online.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Theresa Pfister is a Ph.D. student in Educational Psychology – Applied Developmental Science from Friendship, Wisconsin, studying adolescence, the importance of relationships, and equity. An educator first and foremost, she believes deeply in the importance of working in partnership and utilizing research as a tool of empowerment. Before coming to the University of Virginia, Theresa was a teacher-trainer with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, a 4th grade teacher in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and a College Advisor at SEO Scholars in Manhattan.

On Being Brief: Skills and Supports for Translating Research to Practice via Brief Reports

By: Summer S. Braun, Daniel A. Camacho, Chelsea A.K. Duran, Lora J. Henderson, and Elise T. Pas*

This blog was originally posted on Inside IES Research: Notes from NCER & NCSER.


Have you ever found yourself at a gathering fumbling to find the words to describe your academic work to family and friends? Do you find it difficult to communicate your scholarship to, and build partnerships with, non-researcher audiences? Are you an early career or seasoned researcher interested in disseminating research to practitioners, policymakers, or community members but struggling to find the best way to do so? Or are you a senior researcher mentoring a trainee through this process?

If your answer to any of these questions is “YES!”, then read on! Writing research briefs is an instrumental part of professional development but, for many researchers, not a formal aspect of training. Drawing on our experience writing research briefs, here are some tips for the challenging, but rewarding, process of translating your research into a brief.

Why Write a Brief?

Research briefs deliver the essence of research findings in a relatable manner to a non-researcher audience. Briefs can

  • Broaden your research’s impact by disseminating findings to non-researcher audiences, including communities historically marginalized in research
  • Strengthen university-community partnerships and relationships by transparently communicating with partners
  • Facilitate future partnerships and employment through increased visibility

What Exactly IS a Research Brief?

A research brief is a concise, non-technical summary of the key takeaways from a research study. Briefs communicate research insights to the public, thereby translating research and evidence-based practices into real-world settings.  

The focus of a brief varies depending on the intended audience. Provide explicit recommendations for practice if you want to reach a practitioner audience. Explore policy and infrastructure needs when writing for a policymaker audience.

Plan to share briefs in diverse settings. Share briefs with research partners (participating districts, schools, teachers), professional networks (at conference presentations), and broader audiences (on personal websites).

Lead researchers on our research team are part of a statewide partnership to support the dissemination of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports framework. This partnership involves researchers and representatives from the Maryland Department of Education, a large behavioral health organization, and all school districts within the state. Researchers regularly write and share briefs with the statewide group, taking into account evolving needs and interests. Check out some of the briefs here.

Briefs Should Be…

  • Brief. Condensing a full-length manuscript into a two-page document is challenging. But doing so helps distill the study’s real-world implications and identify steps for future work. Two pages is optimal as it can be easily shared as a one-pager when printed.
  • Accessible. Graduate-level coursework in statistics should not be required to understand a brief. The usual audience for briefs will not have the time or energy to absorb methodological details or nuanced theory. Write as if you were presenting to a family member or your favorite high school teacher.
  • Visually appealing. A visual representation of an idea will capture attention better than text and help with brevity. Your paper likely already has some type of visual (for example, a logic model) that you can tweak. If not, pull from your visual-making skills you have already honed when creating posters and conference presentations! This process may have you re-thinking how you visually present your research, even in peer-reviewed publications.
  • A team effort. Individuals bring diverse skills and strengths to the research team. The study’s lead author may be able to articulate results, but a co-author may have the vision to creatively illustrate these findings in a figure. Make use of each member’s skills by making brief-writing an iterative, team effort.
  • Tailored to your audience. If you are developing a brief for a specific audience, ensure that key takeaways and recommendations are relevant and actionable. In some cases, you may have a more technical audience to whom you may present the data more formally. In our own experience, district partners have sometimes asked for more numbers and statistics.

Building Expertise with Brief Writing

Training in doctoral programs, which often encourages lengthy, detail-oriented writing, runs counter to the skills inherent in writing research briefs. While certain programs offer training for writing for non-academic audiences, we advocate for a greater focus on this skill during graduate training. All of the post-doctoral authors of this blog got their first exposure to writing research briefs on this research team. Inspired by our own on-the-job training, we provide the following recommendations for mentors:  

  • Frame writing the brief as an opportunity. Briefs may feel tangential to the graduate student research mission and challenging to existing skillsets. Thus, the process should be framed as an opportunity to develop an integral set of skills to advance professional development. This will help with motivation as well as execution.
  • Provide a template for the brief that can be easily tweaked and tailored, so that graduate students have a model for the finished product, minimizing formatting issues. Publisher and Word have visually appealing templates for flyers that can be easily populated and organizations that publish briefs may provide templates and layouts. 
  • Know your audience and their interest in the work. The audience should be well-defined (for practitioners, policy makers, or other researchers) and their perspective and interests well-understood. Although knowledge of the audience could come from prior work experience, direct communication with the audience is desirable to gain a firm grasp on their lived experience. If direct interaction is not feasible, mentors should “think aloud” to mentees about which details, words, and images would be most effective and appealing for this audience.  
  • Early scaffolding should be followed by continued support. After being a co-author on a brief, a graduate student can transition to writing their own brief. They may still need support to complete this task autonomously, with continued feedback from mentors and co-authors.
  • Provide graduate students with targeted experiences and formal training opportunities to facilitate proficiency and efficacy in brief-writing. This might include:
    • University-based or paid workshops for students and early career faculty focused on writing for non-academic audiences
    • Opportunities to interface directly with practitioners

Concluding Thoughts

Writing research briefs is a key translational activity for educational researchers, but for many, requires skills not cultivated in formal training. Our research team has embarked on the journey of developing and sharing research briefs regularly over the past few years. This is an evolving and rewarding process for all of us. We hope this post has provided some helpful information as you continue your journey to be brief!

*Note: Authors are listed alphabetically and contributed equally to the preparation of this post.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bios:

Summer S. Braun is a postdoctoral research associate at Youth-Nex at the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development. She will be joining the Psychology Department at the University of Alabama as an Assistant Professor.

Daniel A. Camacho is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and a postdoctoral research associate at Youth-Nex at the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development.

Chelsea A.K. Duran is a postdoctoral research associate at Youth-Nex at the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development. She will be starting a position with the University of Minnesota in the summer of 2021.

Lora J. Henderson is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and postdoctoral research associate at Youth-Nex at the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development. She will soon be starting as an assistant professor in the Department of Graduate Psychology at James Madison University.

Elise T. Pas is an Associate Scientist (research faculty) at the Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Understanding the Well-Being of LGBTQI+ Populations

By: Charlotte Patterson

Highlights:

  • Over the past decade, there have been remarkable changes in the social, political, and legal status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, especially in the United States.
  • There are over 11 million LGBT individuals in the U.S., but many data collection efforts lack measures that capture the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • To address these and other issues, I co-edited a new report that identifies the need for heightened attention to the social and structural inequities that exist for LGBTQI+ people and argues for new research on the full range of sexual and gender diversity.

In the fall of 2020, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a landmark report on the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, queer, intersex (e.g., persons with differences of sexual development), and other sexual and gender diverse people (LGBTQI+). The study updates and considerably expands a 2011 National Academies’ report on the health of LGBT people by also examining life experiences in multiple domains, such as law, education, public policy, and employment.

In a recent opinion piece for JAMA Pediatrics, my colleague and I shared the report’s review of the current state of knowledge on children and youths in several areas and offer some considerations on these subjects for pediatricians and other healthcare providers who work with children and youth. I highlight here a few areas of focus that may be of interest to educators, developmental psychologists, and other researchers.

Demography

Demographic data on sexual orientation and gender identity for people younger than 18 years remain sparse, since many data collection instruments still fail to assess these in pediatric populations. However, surveys that do collect this information show a consistent pattern of increasing disclosure of sexual orientation and gender identity (coming out) by adolescents over time. For example, findings from 10 US states using the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System show significant increases in adolescents (ages 14-18 years) identifying as nonheterosexual (lesbian, gay, bisexual, other, or questioning) over time (ie, 7.3% in 2009 and 14.3%in 2017). This change reflects greater affirmation of minority sexual and gender identities by younger people. This is happening in a context of growing societal acceptance of sexual and gender diverse individuals that has been characterized by increased visibility of sexual and gender diverse populations, more positive media coverage, improved legal protections, and more supportive school policies.

Education

By reinforcing societal expectations of sexual and gender normativity in behavior and appearance, schools play vital roles in the cognitive, social, and emotional development of children and youths. Educational environments that are not inclusive, supportive, and protective of sexual and gender diverse students expose them to stigma, violence, abuse and other mistreatment that may promote negative academic outcomes, such as delinquency, lower academic achievement, and lower high school graduation rates. For example, a study matching 900 LGBTQ students with a comparison group of heterosexual youths found a higher rate of school suspensions among LGBTQ students that were not explained by punishable behavior at school. In contrast, schools that offer supportive policies and practices, training for teachers and other school personnel, and support for gender-sexuality alliances (sometimes called gay-straight alliances, or simply GSAs) have been shown to have less bullying. In these schools, LGBTQ students report feeling safer and having higher self-esteem, fewer mental health problems, less substance use, and less suicidal ideation.

Health

Consistent with earlier studies, recent research on the physical health of LGBTQI children and youth reveals their earlier initiation and higher prevalence rates of cigarette smoking, use of alcohol and other substances, as well as higher risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. There has been a significant increase in research and knowledge of mental health over recent years. These data extend earlier findings of significant disparities in depression and suicidality, demonstrating higher rates of anxiety disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and suicide attempts compared with heterosexual youths. In addition, there is now evidence that mental health disparities in adolescence can persist into adulthood, increasing the risk of LGBTQI adults for mood, anxiety, and eating disorders.

Final Thoughts

The current report underscores the urgent need to integrate measures of sexual and gender diversity into major public and private survey instruments. The report also emphasizes that while acronyms such as LGBTQI are used to describe this population, LGBTQI people actually have many other identities as well, and they are more diverse than this acronym suggests. I hope that our report will deepen understanding of the experiences of these youth and help to support constructive discussions among LGBTQI youngsters and their family members.

To read the full opinion piece, please see the JAMA Pediatrics Viewpoint entitled “LGBTQI Youths Today—New Knowledge, Better Understanding.” The views represented here are those of the authors.

To read the full report and highlights from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, please see Understanding the Well-Being of LGBTQI+ Populations. Note that the report can be downloaded free of charge from the National Academies Press website.


References

Patterson CJ, Sepúlveda M-J, White J, eds; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Understanding the Well-Being of LGBTQI+ Populations. The National Academies Press; 2020. doi:10.17226/25877

Sepúlveda M, Patterson CJ. LGBTQI Youths Today—New Knowledge, Better Understanding. JAMA Pediatrics. Published online May 24, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.0893


Youth-Nex also hosted a virtual panel discussion on this topic on September 17th, 2021. The video from this panel is now available online. You can also download a copy of the slide deck (PDF).

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Charlotte J. Patterson is a Professor in the UVA Department of Psychology. Her research focuses on the psychology of sexual orientation, with an emphasis on sexual orientation, human development, and family lives. In the context of her research, Patterson has worked with children, adolescents, couples, and families; she is best known for her studies of child development in the context of lesbian- and gay-parented families.

Young Adolescents’ Reactions to the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville

Highlights:

  • Recent 2021 opinions from the Virginia Supreme Court have allowed the City of Charlottesville to consider acting on Confederate monument removal.
  • These statues have been a topic of petitions and rallies since 2016, including the deadly Unite the Right Rally in August of 2017.
  • New research sheds light on how adolescents were making sense of the rally and events that unfolded within their community in 2017.
Source: Journal of Research on Adolescence and the UVA School of Education & Human Development

In the spring of 2016, Zyahna Bryant, a 15-year old high school student at the time, wrote a petition to City Council calling for the removal of the Confederate statue of Robert E. Lee and the renaming of Market Street Park (then still named Lee Park) in downtown Charlottesville. Although the park has changed name twice (first to Emancipation Park, and then to its current name, Market Street Park), the statue remains in place despite calls for and multiple attempts at its removal.

In addition to being home to the statue, Market Street Park was the main site of the 2017 Unite the Right rally where members of white supremacist and affiliated groups gathered to protest the statue’s removal. At the time, this was one of the largest and most violent U.S. gatherings in decades.

In April 2021, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued an opinion to reverse previous circuit court rulings that had prevented the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue. As the City of Charlottesville starts a process to act on the monument removal, Youth-Nex is revisiting new research findings about adolescents’ perceptions of the Unite the Right rally that occurred in their own town, during the summer of their middle school years.

Dr. Joanna Williams, a Youth-Nex faculty affiliate, was interviewed by Kalee De France and the Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) to explain this unique and important research of how young adolescents were making sense of the events that unfolded within their community.


Question: What, in your opinion, is the main takeaway of the article?

Williams: I’ll start by saying there’s like a lot of context to this paper. All of the authors were living in Charlottesville in 2017 when the Unite the Right rally happened. We were about to start year two of a mixed-methods project that was focused on investigating diversity and social relationships in early adolescence. The Unite the Right rally happened in August of 2017, about two weeks before the school year started and, because of the focus of our project, we decided to ask students about their understanding of what had happened.

One of the key takeaways is that we should expect heterogeneity in how youth process events like this. There was a lot of heterogeneity in how kids interpreted and were responding to the Rally. One group of students said things along the lines of “Yeah, I know what happened, but it’s not really on my radar.” A second group knew a lot of the details of what happened but didn’t feel personally impacted – they sounded like news reporters in their accounts.

Another group of students had spent a lot of time processing and talking about what happened. And for some of them, their processing led to disillusionment, like “I can’t believe that stuff like this still happens” or “I thought we were beyond racism”.

There was a fourth group who were feeling, either at the time or a few months later, a sense of fear and vigilance. They said things along the lines of “We know why the KKK was here, and I’m Black. And I know that they were here because of people like me”. These students shared feelings of anger, fear, or just general concern. And, finally, there was a smaller subset of students who were sort of dismissive—they felt like people were overreacting to the situation. They said things like “I’m embarrassed to live in Charlottesville because we’re getting so much attention because of things like this”

The second type of heterogeneity that we saw was in relation to who belonged to these groups. On one hand, the group of students who expressed fear and vigilance were all students of color and most identified as Black. On the other hand, there were also many Black and other students of color who did not express any personal stress or concern, but there were White students in this group as well. White students made up the bulk of students who sounded like reporters or who expressed disillusionment or sympathy. The small group of dismissive students all identified as White.

It’s important to make sense of this heterogeneity in the context of what we know about young adolescents: they’re making meaning of important and abstract concepts, like racism and white supremacy while also trying to make sense of their own identities.


For more from this Q&A including the experiences of Dr. Williams’ team when asking these tough questions and what she is looking forward to seeing in upcoming research, please see the SRA blog. For more on these research findings, please see the Journal for Research on Adolescence article entitled “From Apathy to Vigilance: Young Adolescents’ Reactions to the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Media & Black Adolescents Series: Black Femininities & Masculinities and a Critical Lens on Class in Grown-ish

By Kimberley Castano & Claire Netemeyer, University of Virginia students

This blog post is the fifth and final in a Media & Black Adolescents Series by youth analyzing movies and TV series that reflect the experiences and identity development of Black adolescents. For more posts, please visit our blog. Special thanks to Dr. Valerie Adams-Bass for her support of this series and the youth in her classes. 

Highlights:

  • Undergraduate students taking a “Media Socialization, Racial Stereotypes and Black Adolescent Identity” college course were asked to critique movies and television series, analyzing the media content and applying theory or research.
  • This Media & Black Adolescents Series reflects on a spectrum of experiences for Black adolescents that are grounded in racial and media socialization reflected in the movies. These blogs address racial stereotypes as they relate to contemporary social issues and the identity development experiences of Black youth.
  • For this final of five posts in the series, the two youth writers review “Grown-ish,” a spin-off of the hit show Black-ish that follows young Black woman Zoey on her journey at college with a group of friends.

For parents or educators who may choose to use this TV series as a teaching/learning tool, here are some possible discussion questions:

  • Based on the summary of the episode, do you think that these characters in Grown-ish falls into historic Black stereotypes or not?
  • What effect does watching a show featuring mostly Black characters have on potential adolescent and teenage viewers? On both Black and White audiences?
  • Do shows/movies that have a majority Black audience have the obligation to inform their Black audience of real world issues and realities they may face later down the road?
  • Why is it consistently the audience who has to call our directors and creators when creating media. Are there ways to change the narrative of these shows and will we ever see big changes?

Source: Freeform

The TV series Grown-ish is a spin-off of Black-ish, following the life of the eldest daughter. Yara Shahidi plays Zoey Johnson, and viewers see her experiences as she maneuvers life at Cal-U, a fictional university in Los Angeles. When I was in high school, I began watching this show, and it made me fantasize about college and all the people I would meet. However, now that I am in my second year at the University of Virginia, I recognize that the image of college portrayed in this film is far from the truth. I chose to analyze the episode titled Can’t Knock the Hustle in which Zoey is cut off from her father because she cheated and was almost expelled from school. 

Children learn many behaviors from television, and the exposure to certain shows is what they will take away as the program’s overall meaning. According to Brooke and O’Connor (2000), racial socialization is the process in which Black parents equip their children with the skills and strategies necessary to cope with the knowledge of being Black in society (pg. 512). However, the media also plays a major role in the socialization of Black children. When shows like Grown-ish alter the reality of real-world experiences, children can be deceived and disappointed when they are put into those positions. In this case, Zoey is cut off financially by her parents, but she is still wearing high-end designer brands like YSL and other expensive clothing from Barneys and Saks Fifth. Her situation is far from the struggle that the episode depicts.

Read more from this critique by

Source: TV Promos

A spin-off of the hit shows Black-ish and Mixed-ish, Grown-ish follows young Black woman Zoey on her journey to college and details not only her own life but also that of her friends. Featuring both Black and non-Black characters, the show must negotiate the historic stereotypes of Black individuals that seem to both highlight and combat them.

I watched season one, episode ten of Grown-ish where main character Zoey’s friends are hanging out in a bar, and twins Jazz and Sky start talking about how Black men at their college are only interested in dating White women. They share their struggles to find partners as Black women to their friends, and mention “the list” of most dateable women in which White women are most preferable and Black women are the least. They also observe their friends and others flirting at the bar. The conversation and character actions over the next day reveals critical themes and ideas about Black femininities, masculinities, and their accompanying stereotypes (the brute and the sapphire).

Read more from this critique by

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Kimberley Castano is a second-year at the University of Virginia originally from Queens, New York. She is majoring in Global Development studies with a minor in African American and African studies. She is interested in studying the ongoing effects of colonization, globalization, and imperialism on different communities in the African-diaspora, specifically in the Caribbean. In her free time she likes to try new foods, create art with friends, and watch movies.

Author Bio: Claire Netemeyer is a fourth year student at the University of Virginia and is studying Media Studies and Spanish. She will be attending Teachers College at Columbia University next year to study higher education and hopes to use her communications background in a career in college admissions with a focus on inclusivity and diversity. In her free time she enjoys musical theater, baking, and spending time outdoors.

Media & Black Adolescents Series: Moonlight Disrupts our Expectations in Ways That are Both Captivating and Breathtaking

By Ariana Gueranmayeh & Annabell Lee, University of Virginia students

This blog post is the fourth in a Media & Black Adolescents Series by youth analyzing movies that reflect the experiences and identity development of Black adolescents. For more posts, please visit our blog. Special thanks to Dr. Valerie Adams-Bass for her support of this series and the youth in her classes. 

Highlights:

  • Undergraduate students taking a “Media Socialization, Racial Stereotypes and Black Adolescent Identity” college course were asked to critique movies and television series, analyzing the media content and applying theory or research.
  • This Media & Black Adolescents Series reflects on a spectrum of experiences for Black adolescents that are grounded in racial and media socialization reflected in the movies. These blogs address racial stereotypes as they relate to contemporary social issues and the identity development experiences of Black youth.
  • For this fourth of five posts in the series, the two youth writers review “Moonlight,” a coming-of-age film that follows the life of Chiron who is navigating his complicated identity as both a Black and gay man from growing up in Miami into adulthood.

For parents or educators who may choose to use this movie as a teaching/learning tool, here are some possible discussion questions:

  • What impact, if any, does the setting of the film (mainly in Miami and briefly in Atlanta) have on the storyline? In other words, if this were set elsewhere, like a small town for example, in what ways would the movie differ?
  • Would Moonlight have received the same praise and recognition for its new and daring storyline if it were released a decade or two earlier? What impact does the political climate in the United States have on conversations about this film?
  • What are some of the ways in which this movie combats stereotypes?
  • Are there any characters, scenes, or themes that you believe play into stereotypes? What role/purpose do you think these stereotypes play in this movie if any?

Source: Moonlight

The movie Moonlight is a 2016 coming-of-age film that follows the life of a young Black man named Chiron who grew up in Miami, Florida. The film follows three chapters of Chiron’s life (Little, Chiron, and Black) that chronicles his childhood, teenage years, and adulthood. Moonlight offers a contemporary and emotional take on many realities that represent Black American life. Specifically, it shows society’s stereotypical expectations of Black men and the subsequent damage that has been done to them. Chiron’s story is told through breathtaking cinematography and emotionally rich score, capturing scenes that are both moody and dark, yet lit with fluorescent pastels that reflect Miami perfectly (Aguirre, 2016).

Each of the three chapters in the film brilliantly captures Chiron’s daily life and its complexities. Moonlight “undoes our expectations as viewers” as it centers around Chiron who we meet as a quiet young boy and just beginning to explore his gay Black masculinity (Als, 2016). He yearns to escape his home life where his mother has fallen to a drug addiction, leaving a void in his life that of Juan, a dope dealer, and his soft-spoken partner Teressa fill. Chiron finds solace when he shares an intimate moment with his friend Kevin, taking a step into unexplored waters. This moment is pivotal and leaves a mark on him in the decade that follows until he reconnects with Kevin in his adult life. Moonlight breaks the stereotypical boundaries media has created for Black characters, especially that of a young Black man, and reintroduces humanity. Chiron is an exemplary character who demonstrates several boundary-breaking characteristics and is an outstanding character to focus this discussion around. The themes of sexual identity, masculinity, and identity development will be explored through the lens of Chiron’s character.

Read more from this critique by downloading this PDF.

-Ariana Gueranmayeh, a 3rd year student at the University of Virginia originally from Richmond, VA.


Source: Moonlight

One question I found myself asking was “Why does this movie feel different?” I believe that it was different on many levels. On an individual level it made me realize my own expectations of “Blackness,” and how this movie disrupted that. I recognize the idea of “Blackness” as a superficial representation that has been perpetuated by the media. According to Adams (2011): Blackness is defined as a superficial symbolic representations of cultural preferences, norms, expression, dress, language, mannerism and communication styles that are treated as representations of African American cultural and ethnic identities that have been defined by mainstream society and media.

This movie also feels different on a normative level, as movies typically don’t go against cultural stereotypes, rather, they perpetuate them. From a young age we are repeatedly shown images from the media that create this superficial image of what it is to be Black.

As Tynes and Ward say in their 2009 paper, “The Role of Media Use in African Americans’ Psychosocial Development,” the gradual exposure to stereotypes portrayed in the media causes us to take these representations and see them as reality. This is known as cultivation theory (Tynes and Ward, 2009). The implications of this for African Americans is especially dangerous as the media has chosen to portray them as one-dimensional characters reduced to either comic relief or the tough gangster, cops or robbers. This covert racism against Black people has primed viewers to have these expectations about the characterizations of Black characters. 

Read more from this critique by downloading this PDF

-Annabell Lee, a 4th year student at the University of Virginia originally from McLean, VA.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Ariana Gueranmayeh is currently a third-year student at the University of Virginia originally from Richmond, Virginia. At UVA, she is studying Youth and Social Innovation with a minor in Public Policy and Leadership. Ariana is aspiring to use her academic pathway at UVA to lay the foundation for the work she hopes to do in our nation’s public schools. It is her hope that she can spearhead meaningful and lasting education reform that will positively impact our students. In her free time, Ariana enjoys hiking, cycling, and photography.

Author Bio: Annabell Lee is a fourth-year student at the University of Virginia majoring in Media Studies and Psychology, originally from McLean Virginia. She is interested in the effect of media on psychology and vice versa. In her free time she enjoys reading, writing, and roller skating.

Exposing Students to a Range of Political Opinions

By Anoushna, a high school junior & WIT Teen, in New York City.

Highlights:

  • Youth today are living in a more polarized society than ever, with an increasing perception gap in politics and the media.
  • This is creating a social issue for students, but schools can get involved to continue to be places of progressive thinking.
  • Even if we have different views, schools need to take action to expose students to a breadth of political views and open their understanding of current events.

The recent political crisis in the U.S. has highlighted how polarized our society has become – whether it’s politicians, the media, or the general public. While social media adds to the isolation of political views, there is a deeper problem of differences across the political spectrum. People are frequently even unwilling to consider dialogue with those who have different views. Emotionally charged debates have left families and friends choosing to avoid the subject to keep the peace, or venting and turning away from each other. It is time for schools to acknowledge this as a serious social issue. Schools need to get involved and find a way to assist our society’s new and future leaders.

The Perception Gap

The vast and growing gap between Democrats and Republicans has caused a stark division between Americans. Each year, supporters of the opposing parties increasingly widen a divide between themselves over their different beliefs and perspectives. A recent study shows, however, that the perceived differences between the two parties are actually a result of misunderstanding and generalized preconceptions. The study called “The Perception Gap” highlighted how Democrats have exaggerated, negative perceptions of Republican views and vice versa. The study suggests the growing disconnect in the understanding of the opposing political party is responsible for the stark division.

Political affiliation is one example of this polarization. In general, there is a deep suspicion between people with conservative leanings and those with more progressive leanings. The suspicion and lack of appreciation of why alternative views are held are unfortunately used by news stations to appeal to their particular audience. News stations with different political views often portray a narrowly focused or distorted view of the same event. As people tend to trust news sources that reaffirm their own beliefs – leading to confirmation bias – people are usually not exposed to the larger picture, but rather kept in a bubble.

What Schools Can Do

Schools and colleges are typically places of progressive thinking, where society nurtures its future thought leaders. Looking back over the history of Western education in the 20th and 21st centuries, most new political movements were either created or at the very least strongly supported by the youth. Naturally, schools continue to be the place of progressive thought.

However, political polarization creates a significant problem. People do not want to discuss middle grounds and instead spend more time in the bubbles of their own opinions. These bubbles also vilify the other side, making it even less appealing to discuss.

Schools need to teach young people the art of listening to others even without the intention of changing their minds. It is important to be able to accept differences of opinion, even if the different opinion is itself not acceptable.

The ability to understand why someone reasonable can have an opposing opinion to you and interact with them is a skill that has diminished in recent times. Schools need to step in to help foster students who can learn to forge a middle ground. Recently, schools and the education system seem to have forgotten that the word liberal means to be open to different views.

The Art of Dialogue

Introducing students and the youth to a breadth of opinions on current events will help foster their critical thinking skills and open their minds to forge their own opinions that are not swayed by preconceptions. It will also allow them to be able to defend their views under critical review, which will sharpen their understanding of their own beliefs. Finally, the discussion will allow those under the sway of significant misinformation a chance to be exposed to more factual information, without feeling threatened.   

This approach actually does exist today, when people discuss varied cultural backgrounds. People allow for differences in attitudes, traditions, foods, clothing, and practices, without trying to force their own views. It has been hard to allow for such debates in the political sphere since the discussion there seems to want to define the “uniquely best American way”. It’s time that the schools taught us again that we are all Americans, even if we have different views.


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Youth-Nex is excited to feature teen entrepreneurs from the non-profit WIT – Whatever It Takes. The posts in the Youth Nex + WIT series are submitted by teen entrepreneurs who are interested in exploring and discussing topics ranging from education inequity, mental health, political issues, and more. The teens choose the topic and the views expressed in their posts are theirs and not connected to WIT or Youth-Nex. 

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Anoushna Bardhan is a high school junior from New York City. She is interested in environmental, sustainable design, entrepreneurship, and journalism.