The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), organisers of Teen Panel 2019, underscored this year’s Child Month theme of ”Be Strong! Be Bold! Be You! by asking the forum to discuss how to cope with stress while commenting on its root causes.
Held at George Town, Town Hall, the event was an opportunity for high school students to air their views, openly and honestly, while giving personal insight and advice on “Navigating Stress and Anxiety during Adolescence.” The event was marked as one where youth voices were paramount and only their opinions sought.
The eight panellists were Hope Russell (CI Further Education Centre), Kristin Jackson (Clifton Hunter), Cristin Jackson (Cayman International School), Alia Smith (Cayman International School), Alexander Heaver-Wren (Cayman Prep & High), Naja Beach (John Gray High School), Haylie Tibbitts (Layman E. Scott) and Lizhaiderine Smith (Wesleyan Christian Academy).
Listened to by around 80 parents, teachers, students, school counselors and child welfare providers, Moderator Zoe Conolly Basdeo (Alex Panton Foundation), asked a series of questions, designed to elicit genuine responses and offer up real-life solutions.
A key stressor identified in students’ lives, irrespective of school, was exams stress. The majority of panellists said that the amount of subjects taught, the expectation of keeping up with extracurricular commitments, the sheer number of tests and the expectation of their parents, teachers, colleges and ultimately themselves was sometimes worryingly high.
Panellists then suggested coping mechanisms for exams stress, which worked for them. These included taking part in an activity you enjoy, pacing yourself to ensure you are adequately prepared and talking to your school counsellor or parents.
Audience and panelists took part in a stress relief breathing exercise demonstrated by DCFS staff.
The moderator’s follow-up questions included whether stigma plays a role in how teens deal with anxiety and/or stress, why stress and anxiety are prevalent in the youth population and the impact they have on mood/physical health.
Ms Conolly Basdeo’s final question was ‘what can the community and professionals do to help teenagers with stress and anxiety?’ In varying ways, panellists said that they were living in very different times from those their parents had experienced growing up. Parents and even the teens’ peers were asked not to be too quick to judge. Several panellists agreed when one said that social media use locally was less about what you wanted to share with your friends than about peers looking for you to say something or look a certain way so that they could criticise you.
“Cayman is too judgey-judgey,” commented one panellist. Another pointed out that the size of Cayman Brac meant that it was impossible to keep a sense of emotional privacy.
The event’s lead organiser, DCFS Social Worker Sherine Barnes, said: “Youth-related services and child welfare agencies are well aware that self-harm and emotional wellbeing issues have never been more prevalent among youth. Teen Panel is a tangible way that teens themselves can address those issues and perhaps offer insights which adults may not grasp.”
Impressed by the panellists’ responses and insights, the Ministry of Community Affairs’ Chief Officer Teresa Echenique commended the teenagers’ willingness to speak up. “Our teen panellists were amazing,” she said after the audience’s standing ovation.
“I strongly doubt if many of us adults here tonight can remember being quite that articulate and that poised at their age.”
Each panellist was given a participating certificate and enjoyed a few words of encouragement and congratulation from the Chief Officer; the Ministry’s Deputy Chief Officer André Ebanks; DCFS’ Director Paulinda Mendoza-Williams and DCFS’ Deputy Director Rayle Roberts.
Teen Panel 2019, filmed for CIGTV news, will soon be available on the CIGTV YouTube channel.
Children and teenagers suffering from overwhelming stress and anxiety can reach out to parents, and other trusted adults (e.g. school counsellors). Alternatively, they should contact the Kids Helpline (649-KIDS (5437) for free and confidential advice or the Department of Children and Family Services on 949-0902.