Teens take off for the summer– whether they like it or not…

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jun 22, 2011 @ 12:53 PM

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, teens are in trouble if they’re hoping to work this summer. Compared to the unemployment rate of 9.1% for adults (as of May, 2011), the unemployment rate for 16-19 year olds was 24.2%. African-American/Black youth face even higher hurdles, with their unemployment rate outpacing that of their peers by a rate of 2 to 1 (40.7%). 

Although our own YouthBeat numbers showed slight declines in summer employment for teens in 2009 and 2010, these numbers seem to haveTeen Job Market Research been propped up by stimulus funding focused on subsidizing jobs at non-profits and government organizations that were geared towards teens (in part). With that funding expiring, more teens are facing the heat this summer without the relief of a job to call their own.

With workers age 55 and over remaining in the workforce, coupled with a shortage of manufacturing jobs, service jobs have become more competitive contributing to a tough tow for teens who want to work.

And what does this mean? For the many youth in the U.S. who aren’t working only for weekend spending money, but who are expected to contribute to household expenses, teen unemployment is not to be taken lightly. Their inability to secure summer income can mean adding insult to injury for families who are already suffering from adult employment setbacks. For other youth, academic enrichment programs or camps will fill the time that would otherwise be spent at work, but even for these youth, foregoing a summer job might have long-lasting effects. It takes away youth’s opportunity to gain the kind of basic professional skills that they’ll need when they become full-time employees. It means, for many, taking out additional loans for college to cover those incidental expenses that summer funds might have previously taken care of. And for others, it means a long stretch of time without much planned productivity.     

One possible positive? Many youth claim to be returning to the non-profits where they were previously paid to simply volunteer. With volunteer numbers – especially for boys – starting to decline, this might remind youth that worthwhile experiences don’t always come at a cost. And sometimes paybacks come in forms other than funds.

Tags: research, Teens, jobs

Youth Summer Camp: Wilderness Escape or Technology to Take?

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jun 15, 2011 @ 11:21 AM

While school remains in session across most of the country, the days of lessening homework, field days, class trips and after-school dips in the pool have begun. Summer’s promise of freedom and the anticipation of new adventures can put a twinkle in the eye of even the most jaded kids, tweens and teens.

For today’s youth, much has changed about the months between the school year’s end and the next year’s beginning. Nearly 4% of students in the Youth Summer CampU.S. attend school year-round.  Three weeks on, one week off throughout the year means that the long summer stretch isn’t quite so unencumbered by classes and schedules. For households with two working parents (a majority of those that include children under 18 years old), summer vacation necessitates a scramble for back-up childcare, and sometimes, for creating a schedule that keep kids, tweens and teens occupied without eliminating all their control over those traditionally “self-governed” summer days. And for emerging athletes, summer is a time for training and preparing – for getting a leg-up on the competition – as much as it’s about taking time off.

But one tradition continues to define the summer months of many youth in the U.S. According to the American Camp Association, more than 12,000 day and resident camps exist in the U.S., accommodating the needs of more than 11 million children and adults. An additional 1.2 million adults relive their childhood memories as camp staff and counselors. The group estimates that the number of camps in this country has increased 90% across the past 20 years.

Camp has always represented a space where youth escape from their everyday lives, and feed their biophilia (their natural affinity for the outdoors). Growing up in a world where one is constantly connected, time to put down the mouse, allow the apps to take a break and turn off the 3D TV in your living room might seem like a prescription for happiness. But camps are also a place where kids, tweens and teens take charge. They’re not merely fed an alternative set of values (e.g., to take time out versus to plug in), but they engage in active negotiation of what a world of their own might be. According to Leslie Paris, author of Children’s Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp, the very first group of youth exposed to film pushed to bring their new favorite form of entertainment into the “wilderness.” We would hardly balk at the inclusion of movie night in a residential camp’s weekly agenda, but how about dedicated social networking time? What about cabins equipped with wireless? Can these new forms of technology co-exist with canoeing, hiking and cooking up a few s’mores?

Camps, in some ways, represent the ultimate testing ground between adult desires for youth and youth’s wants and needs for themselves. Perhaps the bigger question is should camp be a place where they are exposed to things we value, or a place to define what matters in a world ruled by them (the ultimate fantasy for not only kids, but also tweens and teens)? Camps often expose youth to experiences that they never knew they craved. Urban kids continue to represent a significant sub-set of residential and day campers in the U.S. According to a 2007 survey of camp directors, many feel that the need for a connection with nature has increased in the past 20 years due, in part, to decreased access to natural environments for most children in the U.S. but can we teach youth how to use technology responsibly, in moderation, and in ways that enhance their lives – not compete with its non-digital joys? Or are we, as adults, forcing youth to choose (technology or nature) when we should be encouraging them to integrate nature into their connected lives? Perhaps wrestling with these questions will help camps continue to remain relevant but will leave kids, tweens and teens something they can take back to the real world with them when the summer starts to fade.

Tags: Education, Youth, free time, school

Will MyPlate matter to kids, tweens and teens?

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jun 08, 2011 @ 10:21 AM
Last week, the USDA announced that the food pyramid, which many of us grew up with in the form of classroom posters, text book illustrations and as a heuristic for what it means to eat a healthy diet, would be no more. In its place: MyPlate, a new visual that reflects a revised philosophy on the American diet (or at least catches up with the one professed by today's nutritionists). In an effort to make the visual more actionable than esoteric, it's now taken the shape of a plate (as the name suggests), and clearly shows that vegetables and fruit take up half the real estate of a healthy saucer.  Dairy is shown as a side, with a small circle just large enough to fit a glass of low-fat or fat-free milk. And the color coded "slices" on the plate (which call to mind, unfortunately, pie slices!) allude to appropriate portion sizes for all categories. MyPlate

But will this change matter to the eating habits of kids, tweens and teens? First, it's important to note that no one on any side of the debate as (at least so far) suggested that graphics are the solution to childhood obesity. Michelle Obama's efforts related to health, which may have catalyzed the long-time intentions of nutritionists and the USDA to change the ailing pyramid into action, include an active lifestyle along with smart eating. Most nutritionists agree that education is a critical pillar in promoting healthy eating, but this exists alongside efforts to make healthy food less expensive and more accessible to people everywhere. And, of course, no one associated with this effort is naive enough to believe that just telling people how to eat healthy will change deep-seeded behaviors and relationships related to eating. It might seem easy enough to change the food we put into our mouths, but eating seems to relate to our heads and hearts as much as our stomachs.

More importantly, will this dinner plate change the minds of youth or their parent when it comes to eating? Will it make mealtime decisions easier or just as frustrating as before? It may be too soon to tell. On one hand, any visual that bring theory down to practice seem to be moving in the right direction. But according to the USDA website, MyPlate will include special considerations for key groups (women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people engaged in a medically supervised weight loss program, and kids and preschoolers). The kids section and visual has not yet been updated. The massive PR campaign promised to promote the changes in the recommended diet has not yet launched, but the new visual has gotten some buzz. And parents or curious kids who have heard about it might be disappointed to find that their food fate has not yet been determined, even though they have been invoked as the primary reason for re-thinking how we talk about healthy eating.

Assuming that the visual might be pretty close to MyPlate's shape and form, we see a few outages...First, most parents know that they need to get more fruit and veggies on their kids' plates. We have yet to meet a parent who tells us a really "wrong" answer when it comes to the importance of these foundational ingredients to their children's eating repertoire. It's not a problem with the theory, it's the execution that presents a challenge. Second, the dinner plate is hardly the source of greatest contention when it comes to kids' eating. It's the lunch bag/box, the after school snack and the on-the-go options that make sticking to their principles harder than it would seem. And finally, it's not about the big picture - as useful as that big picture might be - as much as it's about the details. Do fruit juices with veggies included work? is a PB and J sandwich still a good lunch box staple?  Is there such a thing as a better-for-you fruit snack? And how about the perennial debate: does chocolate milk work if white milk doesn't fly in the home? And what about a visual that shows how mom can stock her backseat with healthy snacks - and an indication of how to count those snacks in the daily diet of their kids? Anyone? Parents might want to make these decisions in their own home, and might resent prescriptives that feel too black and white. But they also might welcome some sound advice that takes into consideration their real-life knowledge gaps and their kid cooking challenges.

To end on a positive note, the introduction of a new tool will certainly raise some debate. It will put children's health and nutrition back at the center of public dialogue. And in schools, teachers will be able to point to a more relevant and accurate, if not perfect, tool to tell children about the basics of nutrition. And companies and organizations will, hopefully, be inspired to innovate (although many have already been working on ways to make getting your veggies and fruits more conveniently and consistently).

Tags: food, parents, Youth, kids tweens teens