NH Teens Tackle Critical Issues During Youth Summit

Student panelists from the Youth Summit

While the Youth Summit is a great opportunity, the next step is more discussions in all schools.

Goffstown High School sophmore Aron Sylvestre

Nearly 350 high school students from across New Hampshire wrestled with pressing challenges teenagers face today during Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health’s Youth Summit 2019 in Concord on April 5-6. The summit was inspired by Dartmouth-Hitchcock's Senior Director of Public Affairs John Broderick's conversations with students across the state about mental illness and their desire to talk about difficult topics they are facing.

On the first day of the event, students discussed self-selected topics, including mental health, diversity and respect. The theme for the second day was, “They Are Talking, Are We Listening?’”

“It takes courage to have your voices lead the discussion on these important topics. You have been clear that your voices need to be heard,” said Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health and Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO and President Joanne M. Conroy, MD. “We adults are here to listen.”

The teen leaders highlighted the need for resources and programs to address their most pressing issues.

“I saw kids opening up and being truthful with each other, you don’t always see that in a school setting,” said Aron Sylvestre, 17, a sophomore at Goffstown High School who facilitated two groups. “Having a student voice is important,” Sylvestre said. "While the Youth Summit is a great opportunity, the next step is more discussions in all schools.”

Emily Galeva, 15, a sophomore at Lebanon High School, said the event was a great opportunity for kids to be able to talk in a safe, open and inclusive environment. “Kids here were able to know that they are not alone,” she said.

Students emphasized that schools and educators need to connect with them on a more personal level. They asked for more trained counselors and teachers who can be sensitive to student needs beyond just the subject matter. “We need to have adults get off their pedestal and be able to talk to us,” one youth leader said.

They also advocated for more peer training, helping students to help other students. Moira O’Neill, director of the New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate, agreed, noting that national data shows that “kids do much better when they help each other.”

Another common theme was that students, teachers and parents “need to talk more about uncomfortable subjects,” such as race and ethnicity, gender/sexual identity and mental health issues. Some concerns, such as substance use, bullying, eating disorders and school violence are evidence of underlying issues.

“We are more connected than ever before,” said Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, pediatrician and author of the Seattle Mama Doc blog at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “We can use these social media tools to be more connected…because we are all seeking a sense of belonging, to feel known.” She noted that 70 percent of teens are using social media every day—most finding it positive experience—and 80 percent are looking on line for health information.”

Governor Chris Sununu urged participants to “help us a design a system that will make things better in the next five, 10 and 20 years.” Sununu urged the teenagers to continue the summit beyond the two days. “This is a 365-day-a-year event. Ask yourselves: What is the next step? Keep it alive.”

To continue this conversation, a Youth Summit toolkit is being developed for the students and advisors who attended. This toolkit will help them to recreate the Youth Summit model to begin to build solutions in their own schools and communities.

View a video recap of the Youth summit here.