Danville Express

Newsfront - May 4, 2007

Only 37 percent of students communicate well with their families

Youth survey shows struggle to connect with adults

by Jordan M. Doronila

Many youths struggle in connecting with family and adults in the Danville area, according to a survey sponsored by the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.

The Search Institute, an independent nonprofit group dedicated to promoting healthy youth development, conducted the survey of students in grades seven, nine and 11 in October. It gathered perceptions regarding the youths' families, neighborhood, learning environment, values and other related issues.

"The purpose is to collect data about student perspectives," said district spokesman Terry Koehne. "We take them very seriously."

Approximately 4,500 youths took the survey, half girls and half boys. The schools participating in the survey included Stone Valley, Charlotte Wood, Diablo Vista and Los Cerros middle schools, as well as Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley high schools in Danville and Alamo, plus middle and high schools in San Ramon.

The survey said 37 percent of the students felt they had positive communication with their families and 49 percent maintained healthy adult relationships. Additionally, it found 42 percent believed they lived in a caring neighborhood; 32 percent perceived their school climate as nurturing; and 34 percent felt they had adult role models.

One of 10 children has some type of mental illness, according to the American Psychological Association, said Danville's Discovery Counseling Center Executive Director Thom Martin. There are kids who feel depressed, he said.

"The children's feelings have been consistent for the last eight to 10 years," Martin said. "One of the things that is discouraging that Discovery sees in dealing with kids with mental issues is that there are (some) in despair."

Several conflicts youths face include pressures for achieving goals set by their parents that may be unrealistic, divorced families, and drug use.

"The stress on kids today in our community is very real," Martin said, adding it may be hidden. "Keeping up appearances is an important factor in our community.

"These issues are prevalent in the majority of communities, whether it be an urban community or a bedroom community like ours."

In addition, the survey said 24 percent of the youths felt their communities valued them; 49 percent said they felt personally empowered; and 51 percent said they felt had "cultural competence."

Moreover, 29 percent reported they have been victims of physical violence where someone caused them physical pain and injury in the last two years.

But despite the low number of youths feeling connection with adults and the environment, many of them expressed optimism.

Approximately 77 percent said they felt they were motivated by achievements; 65 percent said they were engaged in school; and 83 percent said they were committed to homework.

Also, 76 percent had a positive view of their personal future.

Staff from the Search Institute cited several reasons why young people feel a strong disconnect in the San Ramon Valley. Some factors include high levels of parental absence in the lives of children and adult silence about boundaries and values.

Age separation and the general public's disengagement from creating meaningful connections with youth, over-exposure to mass media, and fear of involvement by adults and a sense that youths are the responsibility of "someone else" are some others reasons for their disconnect, according to the survey.

"The world is moving so fast," Martin said. "They are exposed to this amazing pace of life at an earlier age."

The Institute suggested informing the public about the resources that are available to young people. Strengthening the bonds between adults and children is also important.

The district has already begun an advertising campaign to inform adults about listening and getting involved in their children's lives, Koehne said.

The San Ramon Valley Coalition for Youth Safety and Development, which comprises district administrators, town officials and parents, spearheaded the survey, he said.

"These are perceptions of young people," said Koehne.

He noted there is a wealth of resources in the San Ramon Valley.

Martin suggested that kids should not be afraid of seeking assistance.

"It's OK to reach out to professional help," he said. "Our kids are good kids. We've got to put our arms around them and tell them that."

"It's a caring community," Martin added. "It really is. It's not just lip service. It's important to know that there are resources available for kids. Are we perfect? No. Can we continue to work hard? Yeah."


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