NH Teens Tackling Critical Issues at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health Youth Summit

youth summit circles

Nearly 350 high school students from across New Hampshire shared their thoughts about some of the most pressing challenges teenagers face in the early 21st century during the Youth Summit 2019 at the Grappone Center in Concord.

Day one of the two-day event, hosted by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, featured student voices delving into student-selected topics including mental health, diversity and respect and school violence.

“It takes courage to have your voices lead the discussion on these important topics,” Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health CEO and President Joanne M. Conroy, MD, said in welcoming remarks. “You have been clear that your voices need to be heard. We know we will learn from you and we hope you will learn a lot about each other.”

Student leaders guided the content and facilitated the discussions with their peers and experts in the first day of the program, “Knowledge, Empowerment, Understanding.” The morning covered nine different discussion groups, including mental health, substance use, eating disorders, self-harm, depression, and suicide; diversity and respect, including gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, and bullying; and school violence, pressure for success, and a “road trip” presentation on distracted driving presented by Ford Motor Co. Fund.

“I saw kids opening up and being truthful with each other that you don’t always see in a school setting,” said Aron Sylvestre, 17, a sophomore at Goffstown High School. He facilitated two group discussions on race/ethnicity and eating disorders.

“Having a student voice is important,” Sylvestre said. “Peer-to-peer is a better learning experience than having adults tell us what to do.”

Perceptions about both body image and racial identity are driven by social media, Sylvestre observed. “Social media isn’t going to go away,” he said. Choosing positive rather than negative influences is one way to deal with the pressures of social media.

“I was happy to see kids opening up themselves and being able to ask awkward questions,” he added.

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

Emily Galeva, 15, a sophomore at Lebanon High School, said the Youth Summit 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. “All of these things are happening in other schools,” such as bullying, fighting, stereotyping and dealing with stigma. She also spoke of the impact of social media, noting that it influences self-image and how students deal with the pressures they face in school.

“Help us a design a system that will make things better in the next five, 10 and 20 years,” Governor Chris Sununu said. “It’s tough to have these conversations. It makes all the difference to have you here talking about these things. Your voice means a lot.”

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.”

The Youth Summit continues on Saturday with a half-day session that will mirror today’s topics for parents, educators, legislators and adult leaders, facilitated by student ambassadors and experts.