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According to a survey of 7th, 9th, and 11th graders in Teton Valley, kids here are vulnerable in the areas of commitment to learning, positive self-identity, and constructive uses of time.

Teton Valley Youth Alliance steps up with survey findings

The members of the Teton Valley Youth Alliance see a silver lining to social isolation: it’s a good time to think about helping young people build and maintain the assets in their lives that keep them free from substance abuse.

Through the Office of Drug Policy’s Substance Abuse Prevention Block Grant, last year juvenile probation officer Renee Leidorf and youth counselor Sara McKeown White surveyed 289 students in 7th, 9th, and 11th grade with the Search Institute’s Developmental Assets profile.

According to research by the Search Institute, a national nonprofit, there are 40 developmental assets present in a kid’s life that can be protective factors against substance abuse. Half of the assets are internal, like honesty, values, and self-esteem, while the other half are external, like safety, positive adult relationships, and creative outlets. Those external assets are the ones the Teton Valley Youth Alliance wants to focus on.

The survey results indicate that local kids are vulnerable in three areas: sense of self worth, constructive use of time, and commitment to learning. They feel supported by their peers and very supported by their families but don’t feel the same level of support from the community or from within themselves.

White said that with the survey results, she has a better idea of what to focus on and how to help. She has come to realize that while this community tries to offer a lot of programming for young adults, the question is how to get them engaged in those offerings.

“If kids don’t feel good about themselves, they won’t show up and take part in new experiences,” she said. “That’s been one of my takeaways and has challenged me to think in different ways.”

The valley’s new reality of school closures and social isolation presents both challenges and opportunities, White said. She encourages adults to empower teenagers to have some additional responsibilities and give them a sense of purpose, but also to let them vent about some of their frustrations and feelings about isolation.

“We have to acknowledge that this is really hard for them,” White said. “The lack of social engagement is huge at this age. And the Class of 2020 is losing milestone experiences — can we help provide those in a creative, meaningful way? It takes a village, and just because we’re not face to face doesn’t mean we can’t have a village.”

In the last month, TVYA has made the rounds with local governments and organizations, introducing community leaders to its grant-funded work.

At city council meetings around the valley, White, Leidorf, and program evaluator and consultant Jill Naylor-Yarger emphasized that positive non-family adult relationships are one of the best protective factors against youth substance abuse.

“This doesn’t have to be a big thing — it can be just knowing the names of the kids that live next door to you and speaking to them like human beings,” White told Tetonia officials at the beginning of March. “The more you connect, the better they feel and the more connected they feel.”

TVYA is offering itself as a resource for youth-focused programming and will feature different assets through videos, blogs, and articles on its website, tetonvalleyyouth.org.

"We have kind of a captive audience right now," White noted. 

She added that TVYA hopes to earn the grant again and in two years survey the same kids to see if they’ve made positive progress.

“That’s the ultimate question, where will the kids in the middle be? Will they be more challenged or more thriving in two years? We have the potential to make a huge impact on them right now,” she said.

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