Amanda Gorman is a 22-year-old poet and activist from Los Angeles, California. She began writing poems at a young age and submitting them to local competitions. At age 16, she was named the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, and at 19 she became the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate. On January 20, 2021, Gorman became the youngest inauguration poet in U.S. history as she delivered her poem “The Hill We Climb” from the U.S. Capitol as part of President Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony. In an interview with the New York Times, Gorman said she wanted to “use my words to envision a way in which our country can still come together and can still heal.”
One of Gorman’s earlier poems focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the grief of such hard times can weigh us down. She wrote her poem, “The Miracle of Morning,” about the pandemic to acknowledge the promise of healing, like the light of morning, that springs from despair. She says, “Do not ignore the pain. Give it purpose. Use it.”
According to recent surveys, teens’ mental health may be the most impacted by the COVID-19 changes being experienced this year. Teens tend to need the highest dose of friend connections and consistency with parent connections — both of which may be harder to maintain this year. Depression and anxiety are particularly high as teens struggle to cope with being at home with few options to break up their day. The holiday break is typically a time when teens spend more time with their friends, so this year the sense of isolation may be increased.
If you are feeling anxious or isolated, reach out to a trusted friend or family member. Explore opportunities online to blog, socialize, or read about ways other teens are coping with their mental health. It may be helpful to reach out to your doctor, school social worker, or a therapist if you feel you need professional help. Finding online activities, volunteer opportunities, or mindfulness resources can also help you feel less isolated and strengthen your mental health.
New research shows that American teens’ use of tobacco cigarettes and smokeless tobacco has dropped to record lows, even as teen use of electronic cigarettes has increased. Researchers reported a 17 percent decline in smoking rates from 2012 to 2019. The overall daily smoking rate for 12th graders fell to about 2 percent in 2019. Results were similar for boys and girls in all grades, as well as for both Black and white teens.
While the increases in e-cigarette use by teens is concerning, the across-the-board decline in cigarette smoking is still something to highlight and celebrate. After concerns that increased e-cigarette use among teens could lead to a resurgence in the use of traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products, this report suggests that the general pattern is that teens just are not into smoking anymore.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, teens already had limited opportunities for adult-free socializing. Many of them had already found ways to connect online, but during the pandemic gaming and chat platforms gained popularity and are starting to show some positive things about digital gathering spaces. Platforms including Discord and Roblox transformed to respond to teen and young adult users’ needs during the lockdowns, and Discord has contributed to an increase in multiplayer use for online gaming such as Minecraft and Among Us.
Discord, a gaming chat platform that has 100 million monthly users, allows for teens to voice chat while playing online. Roblox, an online gaming and game design platform, has 150 million monthly active users and allows players to create their own games. Mojang Studios reported that Roblox had a 25 percent increase in new players and a 40 percent increase in multiplayer use during spring 2020. One thing many online games and platforms have in common is the ability to organize online spaces into digital rooms where in-real-life (IRL) and online friends can hang out. During the pandemic, researchers and adults have seen the legitimacy of these platforms in providing isolated teens a chance to socially connect with their peers.
According to a study in Preventive Medicine, teens—especially girls—who spend less than two hours of screen time after school and spend more time in extracurricular activities have better mental health. Teens with both of these factors had lower levels of anxiety and depression. While longer screen time was particularly harmful for girls, extracurricular activities were still related to higher levels of optimism and life satisfaction separate from screen time and for both genders.
Although the study was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, the findings are especially relevant for today’s teens who may be spending more time in front of screens. The pandemic has limited in-person social opportunities and left many extracurricular activities scarce. As teens cope with this crisis, multiple studies have shown broader trends of elevated depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Experts say finding safe ways for teens to continue to participate in extracurricular activities during current times may be a way to reduce screen time and promote mental health and well-being.
“We the People” are a diverse and varied bunch. The 2016 U.S. presidential election clearly showed that the country was pretty much evenly split between “the left” and “the right.” (The vote was split almost in half with Donald Trump winning the Electoral College, and Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote.) According to an American Psychological Association survey, 68 percent of participants said that the November 3, 2020, presidential election is a significant source of stress. An overwhelming amount of information, ads, and personal opinions in the news and on social media contributes to many teens and adults experiencing election anxiety. Political disagreements with friends and families can be upsetting, so it’s important to learn ways to cope with conflict.
There’s a lot to life besides politics. In fact, it’s that life besides politics that makes politics important. The issues we are passionate about—the things we’re arguing about—are the decisions about how to run and live in our world. Some conversation skills that can be helpful when you politically disagree with someone are to stay calm (even if the other person isn’t), ask questions to learn more about their point of view, be a good listener, and use “I” statements instead of allowing arguments to turn into personal attacks. Maintaining good relationships with friends and family doesn’t have to mean giving up politics. It just requires that we be truly civil.
Fourteen-year-old Anika Chebrolu from Texas has been named America’s Top Young Scientist in 2020 at the 3M Young Scientist Challenge. The competition is considered the premier middle school science competition. Chebrolu won for her discovery of a molecule that can selectively bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2. During her study, she screened millions of small molecules for drug-likeness properties and binding affinities against the spike protein using software tools. The one molecule with the best pharmacological and biological activity toward the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was chosen as the lead molecule that can be a potential drug for the effective treatment of COVID-19.
COVID-19 has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths around the world and was declared a worldwide pandemic earlier this year. Chebrolu’s discovery of this molecule contributes to the urgent need to find an effective anti-coronavirus drug. Chebrolu competed against nine other finalists in a virtual competition for this award. All of these young inventors—ranging in age from 12 to 14—won the top 10 spots in this year’s challenge through their innovative thinking and display of exceptional communication skills.
Cannabidiol—known as CBD—is one of hundreds of chemicals found in marijuana. It is different from THC which is the source of the famous marijuana “high.” CBD is present in marijuana, but it is more abundant in hemp. Hemp are cannabis plants that have little THC. CBD oil and products have become extremely popular in recent years, claiming to have wide-ranging benefits and to provide relief from chronic pain, anxiety, and insomnia.
According to a new study, about 40 percent of teens seen in an emergency department at a hospital reported having used CBD and 48 percent believed the chemical could treat “medical illnesses.” While there are still studies debating the overall health claims attributed to CBD, it’s unlikely the CBD doses in consumer products would cause harm. Doctors do recommend some caution before using any type of CBD product to treat a medical condition. You should always talk to your doctor or pharmacist first—including asking about how CBD could interact with any medications you are taking.
Three Nigerian-Irish teens are the champions of Technovation Girls—an international competition challenging young women to develop an app that can solve a problem in their community. The girls, who live in Drogheda, Ireland, were inspired by their mentor whose mother was experiencing dementia. They decided to create an app that could help with the disorder. Their work resulted in the app called Memory Haven, which beat out more than 1,500 submissions from 62 countries.
The app can be used by both patients and caregivers. It targets three problems faced by those with dementia—memory loss, difficulty with recognition, and difficulty with speech. One example of its six features is the reminder that alerts both the patient and caregiver that it’s time for medication. Another feature is the photo albums which allow users to flip through tagged photos that identify who is the image.