Guest editorial / Carrie Bernier
We should all be proud of our local teens. On March 10, a group of Darien High School students and adults came together in a "community conversation" to discuss the topic of "Finding the Balance: Stress and Anxiety Among our Teens." Nearly 120 community members flocked to Darien High School.
Participants included students, teachers, coaches, counselors, police officers, town officials and leaders of youth agencies, all of whom gathered to listen, talk and think about solutions to help reduce some of the stress and pressure felt by teenagers.
The Community Fund of Darien co-sponsored the event with the Youth Asset Team and the Thriving Youth Task Force. The Community Fund received a grant from the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund to host this town-wide conversation.
Led by YAT Chairmen Brian Alter, Brad Magnussen and Isabelle Perticone, the students took the lead on all aspects of the conversation and drove the agenda from the beginning.
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The message from the evening was simple: Stress is serious business.
The students opened the event by talking about the heavy weight of expectation upon them to succeed.
High-school students are reporting unusually high levels of anxiety and stress from many different sources in their lives -- academics, sports, extracurriculars, peer pressure and parents.
The problem is bigger than any one school or family alone can address. In some instances, students are finding unhealthy and even dangerous outlets to relieve stress, such as drinking, smoking, taking prescription stimulant drugs, cutting themselves, eating disorders, sleep deprivation and more.
The purpose of the conversation was to encourage dialogue and collaboration between adults and teens.
"I was impressed by the candor and quality of the discussion by teens and adults alike. Solid and practical tips for next steps resulted, and I think it was an important discussion for our town," said Laurie Orem, Community Fund board member and parent of Darien teens.
Participants broke into small groups and discussed the various roles of school, parents, community and peer groups to help alleviate stress and develop positive coping skills.
After lively exchanges in the small groups, the entire group returned to look at common themes and next steps.
Some follow-up recommendations were: an annual town-wide "Take a Break" day free from homework, sports and meetings; bringing more fun and school spirit into the school year; fostering greater support for the broad range of student interests, activities and alternative paths to success; giving higher visibility to role models who have a more balanced life, and teaching stress relieving techniques such as self-advocacy skills, breathing tips, yoga and exercise.
With these recommendations in mind, the Thriving Youth Task Force, YAT and Community Fund will host a follow-up meeting in May to bring action steps to the appropriate town groups.
For more information or to participate in the follow-up meeting, please contact Erika Morro at The Community Fund, 655-8775 or visit www.communityfunddarien.org.
Carrie Bernier is the executive director of The Community Fund of Darien.