Transgender students in northern Virginia got some good news when the Fairfax County School Board voted to revise the nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity.

The school board adopted the revised policy on the evening of Thursday, May 7, 2015. Until then, the district's policy banned discrimination on the basis of age, race, national origin, disability, religion, and sexual orientation, but not gender identity.

Tamara Derenak Kaufax of the Fairfax County School Board gave a brief rundown of why they decided to include gender identity in the existing policy.


"The decision by the school board to add 'gender identity to our nondiscrimination policy is to provide an environment which promotes equality where every student and employee is treated with dignity and respect. This tells our students and staff that school and the FCPS workplace are places where they can be safe from harassment and discrimination." — School Board Chair, Tamara Derenak Kaufax

So often, the conversation surrounding whether to protect trans students revolves around talk of bathrooms or locker rooms. The reality is, what bathroom a trans student uses is just one of several major challenges they face in school.

Trans kids are harassed, physically and sexually assaulted, and even expelled as a result of their gender.

According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, more than 3 out of 4 trans students report being harassed because of their gender.

Worse yet, the harassment isn't solely the product of students. Nearly 1 in 3 trans students reports being harassed by a teacher or school staff member.

National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 2011

The numbers can be startling, but sometimes we need to hear from those most affected by these types of policies — the trans students themselves.

Here's an example of Ashton Lee detailing some of the challenges he faced as a trans student.

When California was considering a statewide policy that would add trans nondiscrimination policies to all schools, one of the most vocal students was then-16-year-old Ashton Lee.
(Full disclosure, in my past job as a freelance writer, I interviewed Ashton for Rolling Stone.)

He discussed how subtle forms of discrimination, both overt and accidental, made school an unnecessarily challenging experience.

Being forced to go by the name he was given at birth, separated from the other boys, and lumped in with the girls in his class, Ashton began to struggle.

He talks about how great it was to finally come to terms with himself for who he really is, but how much it hurts to have his existence erased by classmates, teachers, and parents.

Ashton's public testimony helped put a face to the issue for California lawmakers.

When I spoke to Ashton for Rolling Stone, shortly after the bill passed, here's what he told me about what it meant to him to be able to be treated as himself in school and be treated like any other boy:

"As soon as the governor signed the bill, my school allowed me to use the proper restrooms. If the bill is overturned, it would be a huge blow to me, and I fear that I would have to return to pretending to be someone I'm not at school." — Ashton Lee

It can be hard to take in just how much of a challenge kids like Ashton face. Being a teenager is hard. Why make it any harder?


Hopefully, the actions of the Fairfax County School Board will have the same effect on trans students in northern Virginia as the law had in California.

Kids shouldn't have to worry about being bullied for who they are. And for the naysayers claiming that the school board's decision will lead to boys pretending to be girls in order to use the locker rooms or other nonsense, here's a fact: California's law has been in effect now for more than a year. There have been no issues. The only effect it's had has been an improved environment for trans kids.

Check out Ashton Lee's 2013 testimony in the video below.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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