by Jim Clark, President & CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America
It is an interesting time to gauge how kids are doing, as millions of students head back to school just over two years into a global pandemic. Usually, a new school year brings excitement for new beginnings, if not some sore shoulders from overstuffed backpacks.
But in 2022, parents, caregivers, educators and youth development professionals have worries they didn’t have just a few years ago:
How will the ongoing COVID pandemic affect the year ahead? Will students be able to catch up on what they’ve missed? How are kids feeling about their safety? Mental health needs are growing like never before – what do young people need right now? And in a rapidly shifting workforce, how can we equip teens with skills and experiences to be successful?
As the leader of Boys & Girls Clubs of America and as a father, it’s been one of the most challenging times in my career to comprehend what today’s kids are going through and the ramifications yet to come. While the past few years have been hard on all of us, I think it’s a uniquely challenging time to grow up.
Yes, it’s been astounding to see how resilient kids and teens have been and continue to be – navigating virtual learning and school closures, masks and safety policies, social unrest and increased violence in communities. I’m moved by the stories of Boys & Girls Club kids and teens who have pitched in to help their communities, spoken up for causes they’ve cared about, and found consistency at their Club when the only constant was change. But we cannot overestimate the impact the last few years have had on kids, from trauma to disrupted learning.
While it may be some time until our nation can measure the effects of the past few years, today Boys & Girls Clubs of America is proud to share Youth Right Now – our pulse on America’s kids and teens.
Youth Right Now provides insights from more than 100,000 kids and teens on pressing matters like mental health, their readiness for life after high school, and their safety and success.* This data set, owned and managed by Boys & Girls Clubs of America since its origins in 2011 is, to our knowledge, the world’s largest private data set on kids and teens.
While I encourage you to dig into the insights, here are the takeaways I find most valuable:
It’s more important than ever that young people have safe, nonjudgmental adults they feel comfortable approaching about tough topics.
Data shows that kids are struggling with their abilities in coping with challenges, which we know they’ve seen plenty of in the past years. And when they’re stressed about something, they often try to keep it secret. Having a caring adult in their lives who they trust and can go to when times get tough is more critical than ever.
After years of social disruption and as youth grow up in a 24/7 online world, kids and teens need to build essential soft skills.
It’s heartening to see a generation confident in much-needed abilities such as leadership and setting goals, but data shows roughly half of kids and teens’ conflict resolution skills needs improvement, and about a third could improve their teamwork.
Soft skills are in steep demand from employers; to meet this need, Boys & Girls Clubs embed essential skill-building from ages 6 to 18 through programming and career exploration, as well as job readiness training for older youth.
Just as social skills have been impacted by an increasingly digital world, so has youth safety as kids spend more and more time online.
While online platforms offer exciting ways for youth to interact, learn, and express their interests, they also bring risks to child safety – including cyberbullying, lowered self-esteem and exposure to inappropriate or harmful content and people.
With kids spending so much time online, it reaffirms the need for consistent, trusting relationships with a caring adult and the development of online safety skills from an early age – especially as our data shows that kids and teens are 16% less likely to report cyberbullying than in-person bullying, preferring to keep their online interactions private from the adults in their life.
You can read more about these insights and access resources for parents and caregivers here:
The past few years have taken a steep toll on today’s kids and teens – but the data also depicts a resilient and empathetic generation. In fact, when making a decision, 86% of youth say they try to think about how other people will be affected. And 92% want to help when they see someone having a problem.
As the nation’s largest youth-serving organization, Boys & Girls Clubs of America is working alongside Clubs and communities nationwide to ensure what is top of mind for today’s youth is top of mind for all.
After all, great futures for America’s kids depend on all of us today.
President and CEO
Boys & Girls Clubs of America