Growing Up Today: Issues, challenges facing teens

What do teens want their parents to know? Students from three Washington high schools share their insight.

Students at Garfield High School weigh in on diversity and segregation at their school.

Between every generation, there is a gap of knowledge and experience. But in today's digital society, that disconnect seems wider than ever.

"Growing Up Today" aims to give parents a window into their children's everyday lives and the challenges they face.

Social Media and Bullying

"I think a lot of people hide behind social media."

Among the students we spoke with at Garfield High School, Everett High School and Lake Washington High School, Snapchat was the most popular way they communicate with friends. However, they were quick to dismiss the concern they might be sharing inappropriate content. Just goofy pictures, they assured us.

"It's not that serious. Most of the time, it's silly pictures or funny faces or something like that," Garfield senior Moët said.

Teens also appreciate the efficiency of texting and group messages through apps like GroupMe. And it might be somewhat surprising to learn a handful of teens still make phone calls. Yes, phone calls. Lindsay, a sophomore at Lake Washington, said she likes the human interaction but notes not all of her peers share the same sentiment.

"If you call someone, they might not answer. Then they'll text you, 'Oh what's up?' And you're like, 'I just called you,'" Lindsay said.

Kids from Everett, Garfield and Lake Washington high schools weigh in on the issue of bullying on social media.

When it comes to how teens treat each other on social media, most of the bullying they see is subtle and often among friends.

"I think a lot of people hide behind social media because they think, 'No one will get mad and I won't get caught.' But it's the same thing," Everett student Zoe said.

However, constant communication among friends can leave teens feeling left out.

"You could be at home alone, and you'll see all of your friends post a story on Snapchat, and they're going to the movies or they're hanging out or going to a party. And you're just like, ‘I'm at home by my lonesome,'" said Gabryelle, a junior at Lake Washington.

The students stressed the importance of standing up against bullying, but acknowledged it's not always a simple task.

"A lot of people try to play it off as a joke. If you're like, ‘Hey, that's not OK. You're actually hurting that person.' Then other people are like, 'No no, it's just a joke. Don't be such a downer.' I think it's the worst when it's among friends," Lindsay said.

"You have to stand up for yourself and for another person because nothing's going to happen if you're not going to go out of that comfort zone," Lake Washington junior Clara said.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Kastner helps parents address the issues teens may come across on social media, including bullying.

Communicating with Parents

"If they want us to really talk to them, they have to be really open with anything."

The overarching message we heard from teens is they want their parents to listen to their problems, not try to solve them.

"If I come to [my dad] with a problem, he doesn't see it the way I see it. He doesn't feel the way that I feel because he's been through something like that. But you know, I haven't. So, you telling me you've been through this doesn't help me out. To me, something might feel like the end of the world, but for him, he's been through it," Lake Washington senior Stossi said.

"Sometimes you just want to vent," Lindsay added.

Students at Lake Washington High School said it's important for parents to listen and remember their problems matter too.

And they dread hearing the phrase: "I'm not mad. I'm disappointed." Instead, Clara says it's more important for a parent to be a friend.

"A friend would say, ‘I'm going to help you out with this.' They're not going to send you to your room or punish you. They're going to help you out with it and discuss it with you, "Clara said. "Parents...they're the ones that created you. They should be the closest people to you."

Psychologist and author Dr. Laura Kastner shares tips for parents when it comes to communicating with their children.

Drugs and Alcohol

"If they really think about it, they'll make the right decisions on their own."

Most of the students we interviewed said they knew of peers who smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol and used marijuana.

While they said alcohol is common at parties, they told us most kids know better than to drink and drive. When pressed on where teens were getting the alcohol, since they're all underage, the room went silent. "No comment...next question," one student remarked.

When parents are extremely strict about alcohol, some students believe that can have an adverse reaction on teens.

"It's kind of like when you're a kid, and someone's like, you can't have ice cream for dinner, you can't have a dessert. Then you want it. But if they're like, OK you can have it whenever you want, then your desire for it goes down," Lake Washington sophomore Abby said.

Kids from Everett, Garfield and Lake Washington high schools discuss the reality of drugs and alcohol use among teens.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Kastner said it's important to keep the conversation going about drugs and alcohol.

"Once you say, 'Don't do that' or 'I only want abstinence'...that's a one set kind of approach to it. You want to have comprehensive education. You want to talk about harm reduction, moderation, designated driver, don't drink and drive," Dr. Kastner said. 

Dr. Kastner added: "There's research that shows that when children believe their parents do not approve of drug use and alcohol use, they're much less likely to use it."

Psychologist Dr. Laura Kastner talks about how to address the issue of drugs and alcohol with teens.

Diversity at Garfield

"You feel that segregated community."

Many people associate Garfield High School with having a diverse student body. But when asked whether their school was integrated or segregated, the overwhelming response was segregated.

"We talk a lot about diversity and it's really great that we have it here. But a lot of times, we just have it and we don't really act upon it," Maddy, a senior at Garfield, said.

Senior Charmaine said students don't often hang out with people who are different from them. Instead, most students hang out with people who are in their classes.

"When you walk in classes at Garfield, you either see a class of non-black kids or you see a class full of African American kids," Charmaine said. "They're hanging out with people who are in their classes, that's who they feel comfortable with. And that's the problem at Garfield. We need to figure out how to find that balance to where everybody feels comfortable around everybody."

The students said they see segregation between regular classes and Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

"In most of my classes, I'm one of the only black student in that class," junior Felecia said. "It's really hard for me because sometimes I would want to speak up but I'd be afraid people would judge me and be like, she doesn't know the answer or why is she raising her hand? I feel like the segregation in the classes based off of AP level is really terrible."

Moët also says she's one of very few black students in her AP classes.

"When I first came to Garfield, they had me in all regular classes, and they didn't really prepare us much. I didn't know what AP classes were. I didn't know any of that until I talked to one of my teachers, and she had advised me to move up because my grade compared to the other students...it was too easy for me. So, that's how I got into taking AP and honors classes the second semester of my freshman year. But they kind of expect you to be at that level based off of demographics, where you come from, what middle school, all that type of stuff," Moët said.

Felecia and Moët are both part of Y-Scholars, a program that helps African American students prepare for AP classes.

"If it wasn't for programs like Y-Scholars, most black kids wouldn't be in AP classes," Felecia said.

Safety at School

"It's made us...realize life can be short."

More than a year after the deadly shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, students at nearby Everett High School still feel a heightened sense of awareness about their safety at school.

"[One of my teachers] told us she was there for us. She wasn't going to go down without a fight, and she was willing to risk her own life for us. It gives teachers this new idea of how to protect us," Everett student Aymee said.

"The other day, I was walking around in the main building...and someone stepped on a balloon. It made a noise. Everyone froze. I was with a few senior girls and we all clumped together behind a pole. It was frightening," Zoe said.

The students said they all thought it was gunfire. 

The students at Everett High School said they're very aware of the threat of violence at school.

The recent tragedy at Marysville-Pilchuck has also made the teens more aware of how they treat one another.

"You don't know...how [students] feel about school, how they feel about other students," Abby said. "They could easily bring a gun to school."

Garry said the situation has brought them closer together.

"It's made us more mature and realize life can be short," Gary said. "There's a different meaning when I go to school. I feel this connection with everyone here that, ‘Hey, we've all experienced having to go through this together.'"

Thank you to the students and staff at Everett High School, Garfield High School and Lake Washington High School for their openness and cooperation with this series. 

Joyce Taylor, Mark Wright, Jon Brady, Michelle Flandreau, Kristin Kay and Jim Scott contributed to this report. 

 

Watch the complete conversation between Joyce Taylor and a group of Everett High School students.

Watch the complete conversation between Joyce Taylor and a group of Garfield High School students.

Watch the complete conversation between Joyce Taylor and a group of Lake Washington High School students.

 

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