The CDC recently released the first nationally representative data on adolescent well-being during the pandemic (the Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey (ABES)). The survey expanded on the bi-annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) with new questions probing perceived racism in school; the impacts of COVID-19 on mental health, family or self job loss, hunger, schoolwork, abuse in the home, substance use, and social interaction; and school connectedness. This research may be of interest to SRCD community members, especially to inform policy and practice in school settings.
The ABES survey was conducted with knowledge of the incredible disruptions the COVID-19 pandemic had on young people's lives. The findings indicate that youth experienced myriad difficulties, including poor mental health, perceived racism, family financial impacts, abuse at home, and hunger. Underrepresented youth experienced disproportionate risks and challenges during the pandemic. According to the CDC, "Lesbian, gay, and bisexual students were far more likely to report physical abuse, with 20% reporting that they had been physically abused by a parent or other adult in their home, compared to 10% of heterosexual students." In addition, 36% of students reported that they experienced racism, and "...the highest levels were reported among Asian students (64%) and Black students and students of multiple races (both 55%)...experiences of racism among youth have been linked to poor mental health, academic performance, and lifelong health risk behaviors."
The findings also highlight that school connectedness – feeling supported, cared for, and a sense of belonging at school – was a protective factor for youth. Youth who felt connected to their school community were less likely to report persistent hopelessness or sadness and seriously considering or attempting suicide. Previous research has shown that adolescent school connectedness has positive short- and long-term effects. However, this protective factor did not hold for all youth - "young people who experienced racism were less likely to benefit from this protection." The CDC shared that "More must be done to ensure that schools provide a safe and supportive where all students feel connected to people who care, so that all students can fully benefit from the protections connectedness provides."
This research is especially timely in light of recently proposed and passed state-level legislation that discriminates against transgender and gender diverse youth and prohibit anti-racist education and policies that contribute to supportive, nurturing environments for all. Previous research shows that all youth (including heterosexual students) in schools with LGBTQ+ supportive policies experience benefits, including lower suicidality.
To learn more, read the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports. ABES data and documentation are available here.
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