Youth today face many more issues than most adults faced growing up, especially with the massive amount of technology they are constantly surrounded by. We see some youth struggling with addiction, bullying, and mental illness, problems in school at home and with peers. However, do we REALLY know what most youth are struggling with? For most adults the answer is NO. So we decided to ask adults in our schools and communities what they think the problems are that youth face today? Here are some of the responses we received: drugs (especially heroin), prescription pills, vaping, too involved in technology, underage drinking, they are lazy, and finally, they don’t do anything in school/not challenged. Then we asked students from various Geauga County schools the same question. Here are their responses: mental illness, mostly anxiety and depression; social media’s impact on negative self- image (because of the “picture perfect lives” others are portraying); social isolation; negativity on social media; and pressure…. not peer pressure, but pressure to be perfect and very high achieving, mostly coming from parents and schools.
So what does this mean? Youth are the experts, and are smarter than adults when it comes to what they face and experience every day. So the big question is why don’t we listen to what they have to say? The usual adult approach is…. “This is the problem you are facing and this is how we will fix it”. The new movement is here to let you know that this thinking is going to be a thing of the past. Starting in 2015, ESC introduced our schools to a new evidence based practice called Youth Led Prevention (YLP).
It is exactly as it sounds: youth telling adults what issues they face, and advocating for their ideas on how to fix them. The adult leader or allies’ role is to help guide the process of identifying the problem, determining capacity to change the problem, developing solutions, implementing ideas, and even evaluating the impact of their solutions. We are allowing our youth to be smarter than adults, we are listening to what they have to say, and teaching them how to act on their ideas. This process is called the Strategic Planning Framework. Youth Led Prevention has allowed so many students in Geauga County to speak out that we now have YLP groups in seven school buildings, and have 14 representatives on our Youth Advisory Council (YAC). We are proud of the youth- led activities these students have undertaken in such a short amount of time. Youth Advisory Council (YAC) members are leaders of the leadership groups in each district. They meet as a team to address common issues, help design each other's projects, and participate in a county-wide strategic planning process for youth leadership. YAC's mission is: Youth empowering youth throughout Geauga county communities to create a healthy lifestyle for themselves and future generations through demonstration of prevention and leadership skills. YAC members have designed, planned and facilitated Camp Burton Leadership Camp and Youth Summit high school leader training in both the 2015 and 2016-17 school years, serving over 500 Geauga and Lake County students. Students interested can request an application by contacting the YLP Coordinator.
In the fall six school and community leaders participated in Adult Leader Training in Columbus, in part teaching community and school partners how to play a role in community prevention. Two representatives from Geauga ESC and Lake Geauga Recovery Center also attended three training academy workshops to create a plan for Youth Led Prevention programs in the county.
Who hears what youth have to say better than other youth? Who has the greatest impact to lead youth by example? Who can effectively impact the largest number of youth with prevention messages in the fastest amount of time? The answer is obvious……YOUTH. The goal of Youth Led Prevention is simple….preparing youth to be leaders among their peers in the process of prevention.
In 1983, a group of prevention specialists held the first program for high school students in Lake and Geauga counties that stressed the importance of leading a drug free lifestyle. This program came to be known as the Camp Burton Teen Institute Camp.
Over the years, the program evolved into a leadership program focused on non-using students who were becoming both role models and leaders in drug prevention. The camp programming evolved to incorporate leadership activities in students’ schools and communities, while broadening the focus to include the many issues that teens face today. Bullying, Suicide, Dating Violence, and Teen Pregnancy are just some of the other issues teens speak out on.
Training for Success
To address these very important issues, the Advisory Council and in-school advisors help develop youth leaders to carry out this difficult role. The necessary components of any successful YLP training include providing the knowledge of the issues at hand, developing leadership skills to move youth into leadership roles, and teaching Presentation/Facilitation skills so they can become the confident voice of the prevention message. The Council and advisors provide resources for student groups, and support and help coordinate student ideas for the promotion a healthy school environment in their district.
The Camp Burton program is now the ‘jumping off point’ for Youth Led Prevention. Now a middle school program, 7th and 8th graders are exposed to prevention messages, factual information, and leadership skills in a fun 3-day camp experience. The goal is for these students to transition into high school leadership roles. High school leadership opportunities provided by the Advisory Council include training to be a Camp Burton camp counselor, two facilitator trainings per year, participation in the annual Lake-Geauga Youth Summit, connection to state-wide conferences, and information about new activities that can be done their district. The Advisory Council also provides training for in-school advisors in charge of YLP and other leadership groups.