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young adults

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"It may be the most important thing we do in life; learn how to love and be loved."

At least, that's according to Harvard psychologist and researcher Rick Weissbourd.

He's been collecting data on the sex and love habits of young people for years through surveys, interviews, and even informal conversation — with teens and the important people in their lives.

Through it all, one thing has been abundantly clear:

"We spend enormous amount of attention helping parents prepare their kids for work and school," Weissbourd says. "We do almost nothing to prepare them for the tender, tough, subtle, generous, focused work of developing mature healthy relationships. I'm troubled by that."


Now he and his team have finally compiled five years of intense research that asks the question, "What do young people really think about sex and love?"

And maybe just as important: "How should we be preparing them?"

Here are three major takeaways from the groundbreaking new report:

1. Hookup culture might just be a big ol' myth.

Everybody's hooking up with everybody these days, right? Not so fast.

The Harvard report presents a startling statistic from a related study in 2008. A group of college students in the U.S. were asked what percentage of guys on campus they thought had sex on any given weekend. They guessed about 80%. The reality? As low as 5%.

Weissbourd notes that because hookups are so culturally visible (especially in college) and gossiped about, it creates a perception that they're a lot more common than they actually are.

The Harvard study itself found, in fact, that most young people are a lot more interested in sex within a committed relationship or, shockingly(!), things that don't involve sex at all.

What it means for parents: We as adults, unfortunately, play a big role in this pervasive and harmful myth. "In every era there've been complaints about how sexually out of control kids are," Weissbourd says. "It's a story adults really love to tell."

When we play up this stereotype, the study finds it can actually make young people less likely to seek advice or to talk about sex and relationships because they may feel inadequate or embarrassed about their lack of experience.

silver tabby cat lying on white textilePhoto by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

2. Sexual harassment and assault, however, remain huge, unaddressed problems.

"There are a significant number of young men out there who think that all they can't do is rape someone," Weissbourd says. "They can't drag someone in an alley to rape them."

What many of them have very little concept of, he says, is how harmful and dangerous behaviors like catcalling, pressuring, and coercion can be.

The study cites endless instances of girls being harassed at school, complaining to administration, staging walkouts; anything to get the problem addressed. But the "boys will be boys" attitude persists, and problems are often swept under the rug rather than tackled head-on.

A culture of sexual violence is harmful for obvious reasons, but the report also found these kinds of attitudes can bleed over into relationships that can "disproportionately involve females servicing males."

What it means for parents: Talk. to. your. kids. about. consent.

"I was really surprised how many parents had not had basic conversations with their kids about things like consent, or how to avoid sexually harassing a person," Weissbourd says.

We have to make it crystal clear to young people what kinds of behavior are and aren't acceptable, and follow up those lines with real consequences. It's the only way things are ever going to change.

3. Teens and young adults want more guidance than we're giving them.

Most parents aren't thrilled about having "the talk," and admittedly, bringing up the topic of sex with a teen is no easy task.

But with all this dread and hand-wringing over how to talk about the birds and the bees, the Harvard report notes that many parents are overlooking a much bigger topic: love and relationships.

Roughly 70% of surveyed young adults reported wishing they had received more or better guidance on the emotional aspects of relationships, both from parents or from health class. But it's not just a hindsight thing.

Many parents are overlooking a much bigger topic: love and relationships.

"The percentage of young people who want guidance on romantic relationships was encouraging," Weissbourd says. "Kids light up when they are talking about love and what love is and what does it mean. That was surprising and really encouraging."

What it means for parents: When you're done teaching your teenager how to put a condom on a banana, make sure to spend some time talking about the day-to-day work that goes into building a healthy relationship.

That means going beyond platitudes. The Harvard team suggests diving into more complex questions like, What's the difference between attraction, infatuation, and love? How can we be more attracted to people the less interested they are in us? Why can we be attracted to people who are unhealthy for us?

Those are questions some of us might not even have the answer to, but having the honest conversation with our kids is a major step in helping them learn how to love and be loved.

As Weissbourd says, it's one of the most important things we'll ever do.

The full report tackles even more and is jam-packed with must-know findings and statistics. It's definitely worth a read.


This article originally appeared on 05.18.17

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A South L.A. school is paving the way for more green spaces in underserved communities.

This L.A. school garden isn't just growing fresh fruits and veggies — they're also growing the leaders of tomorrow.

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Dignity Health 2017

In South Los Angeles, there is a 1.5-acre lot filled with bountiful garden beds growing everything from collard greens to kumquats.

On a crisp day in sunny L.A., students from all walks of life are tending to the fresh fruits and colorful veggies. Some are watering newly planted seedlings, while others are gathering jalapeños and kale for the freshest taco ever.

All images via GAP, used with permission.


This lot, called the Fremont Wellness Center and Community Garden, is located at the John C. Fremont High School campus, and it also has a small park, a community health clinic, and a soon-to-be-finished 1,500-square-foot greenhouse.

"It’s a big thriving community" says Megan Laird, the garden and youth program manager. And with so many opportunities all in one space, it's easy to see why.

One reason this green space is flourishing is because of the Gardening Apprenticeship Program, or GAP for short.

"It’s a program where high school youth from the John C. Fremont High School campus can come and participate in a course that trains [them] to become leaders in health, urban agriculture, and civic engagement," says Laird.

Through a 10-week program in the spring and the fall, the students learn about local and industrial food systems, how food justice affects communities, and how they can turn this knowledge into action within the larger community. And, of course, they learn basic gardening skills and environmental science.

"By the end of the 10 weeks, we feel confident that the youth are familiar with not just how the fruits and vegetables are grown on the site, but what they can do with them moving forward," adds Laird.

The project was started by the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT), a nonprofit with a mission to promote safer and stronger communities by creating more urban parks and community gardens — something severely lacking in L.A.'s underserved neighborhoods.

The best part? The students are applying the lessons in their own lives.

"The biggest lesson that I have learned during my time in this program has been becoming a leader," writes Elizabeth Castro, a GAP student staff leader, in an email. "I am not as shy as I was before and it has helped me prioritize my education and future."

Other students say that being in the garden has helped them get through tough times in their lives, allowing them to open up about their battles with stress and depression. Some have also spearheaded efforts to partner with the environmental club on campus to collect food scraps for composting and waste reduction. No matter the hurdle, they overcome it as a unit.

"What I love most about working in the garden is that I can work with friends and know that the work we do can be shared with the community," writes Kevin Nagrete, a GAP apprentice leader, in an email.

More than just having loads of fun, the students are also helping expand the program.

GAP regularly invites professional chefs to demo how to use the produce in the garden to make healthy delicious dishes at home. In fact, GAP has seen so much success with their nutrition programs that they're now also partnering with the UC Cooperative Extension to create a new culinary after-school course.

These developments are particularly important given that it can be difficult to access fresh foods in certain areas of L.A. In South L.A., 72% of the restaurants are fast-food establishments. Plus, 90% of the food retailers are small stores that often don't provide healthy alternatives. And if they do, they usually lack the quality and freshness that you'd find in more affluent neighborhoods.

Thankfully, GAP's seed of change is well on its way to growing more green spaces (and even more leaders).

A 2006 UCLA study found that Los Angeles was well behind other major west coast cities in terms of park space. Even worse, a 2016 report done by the LANLT found that less than 30% of the total L.A. population — the majority of which are from low-income communities — have access to parks in their area.

That's why a group of GAP leaders are branching out and becoming involved in a separate program by the LANLT — the Park Equity Leadership Academy. Through this program, the students join other L.A. communities in advocating for more green spaces all around the city.

It's the next big step in their growth as leaders and one that'll pave the way for a brighter and greener future.

If you want to help out their cause, you can do so right here and follow all their progress on Instagram.

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Dignity Health 2017

Carl Lakari's teen years were consumed by drugs and alcohol.

Stuck in a rut and unable to engage with the world around him, Lakari had no creative outlets, no guidance, and no idea what to do. "What I didn’t get in high school was the support of caring adults and peers to help me find what my passion and gift is in the world," he remembers. He felt helpless and alone, so he turned to drugs and alcohol in search of solace.

Many young people all across the United States battle these same feelings and problems, so Lakari — now in long-term recovery — decided to help them.


He started Project Aware, a youth empowerment program that allows young people to express the tough issues they're dealing with through filmmaking.

Lakari (left) coordinates a production meeting with 2016 Summer Film Institute students. All images via Project Aware, used with permission.

The Maine-based program started in 2003 with cofounder Katey Branch. "We really wanted youth to have a choice or opportunity that I felt like I didn’t at that age," says Lakari.

The students cover a wide spectrum of themes in the films they work on — from bullying to self-harm to underage drinking to suicide. The projects are collaborative, and each student takes on the role they're drawn to the most. Some want to act, some want to direct, and some just want to be extras. But no matter what role they choose, they're all able to tackle important issues they care about in a creative and impactful way.

On set with the student crew and cast in Saco, Maine.

"Adolescents have an immense amount of energy and creativity they need to express," writes cofounder Branch. "It is a part of evolution for teenagers to push the edges. That is where innovation and new ideas emerge. When youth are given healthy channels and support, amazing things happen. When they are left out of healthy opportunities, that energy can get lost in sad, often tragic directions."

Cast members Tyler King and Emily Tierney in the film "April's Heart."

Project Aware is fostering a new generation of artists focused on telling powerful stories and creating meaningful change.

To date, the project has produced 12 short films and more than 20 public service announcements and has garnered hundreds of thousands of online views. By providing a healthy channel for creative expression, Project Aware is reimagining how young people can make their voices heard and inspire others to take action.

Students filming a documentary on racism at the University of New England over the summer.

"A lot of these young people don’t have a voice now," Lakari says. "Many of them may be struggling, labeled in some way. And this is sometimes their very first opportunity to get engaged and involved in leading and having a voice about a particular issue they’re concerned about. They get really excited about that."

The best part? They're sending an important message to other young people: You are not alone.

If all goes according to plan, Lakari hopes to see programs like his all across the country. "A program like Project Aware offers young people the opportunity to get connected with other young people that often share their story or part of their story," he says.

The cast and crew of "Reaching Out," a suicide prevention film to be released in 2017.

Faith-Ann Bishop, a 20-year-old film student in Los Angeles who wrote/cowrote four movies for Project Aware and was featured on the cover of Time magazine, sums it up beautifully in an email.

"It is our job to use our voices to help others find shelter in their thoughts," she writes. "Just one speech, one moment with someone can educate them, and reduce the stigma about mental disorders, suicide, drug use, or unhealthy relationships."

Hannah King in a scene from "A Better Place," which was written and directed by Faith-Ann Bishop.

"Trust yourself and your ability," she continues. "Never let others tell you your art or ideas are not worthy. Your voice is so beautifully unique and it will free you to use it."

Millennials moving back home seems to be one of the themes of this generation.

Image from iStock.

But the narrative around "moving back home" can be muddy. Why is it happening? What is it like to live at home? Is it a last resort or a smart choice? Here are six numbers that tell the story many people are missing:


39.5% (How many millennials lived with family in 2015)

That's a 75-year high, according to an analysis by real estate site Trulia. Though the economy's recovered since the 2008 economic crisis, the share of 18-35-year-olds living at home has continued to rise.

24.1%  (The number of kids living at home in the 1960s)

Though the number might seem high, it's worth remembering that there's always been some proportion of young people who live with families. The 60s were kind of the low bar for living at home, but that said, 24.1% of young adults still lived with family in 1960. Afterward, the number rose again, staying mostly in the low 30s from 1980 onward.

1940  (the last year so many young adults were in this situation)

In that year, about 40.9% of young adults lived with family, according to the Wall Street Journal. At the time, the U.S. economy was still recovering from the Great Depression and was still a few years from the giant post-World War II boom.

$30,100  (the typical amount of a millennial's student debt in 2015)

Student debt has become an unprecedented problem for young people. The median 2015 undergraduate will end up owing more than $30,000 in debt. That's up more than 50% in the last 10 years, according to the Institute of College Access and Success.

-$2,362  (how much real wages have changed — yes, it's a negative number)

If you adjust for inflation, median young households are making more than $2,000 less than a Gen-Xer did in 1998, per year, according to the Pew Research Center. It was $63,365 back then versus $61,003 today.

(That said, millennials are still up about $1,000 from boomers in 1980, but if you factor in student debt, an extra $1,000 doesn't seem to count for much.)

$234,900 (how much the typical new home will set you back today)

While wages haven't been going up, home prices have. According to CBS News, a new home will set you back almost a quarter of a million dollars, on average, as of this writing. That's up about 7% from last year. Rental prices have also been rising pretty dramatically.

Put together, the economic bar for independence is rising while wage stagnation and debt are pulling millennials down. Of course, millennials are still a major force in the housing market. About 35% do, in fact, own their own homes, and millennials make up the biggest share of first-time home buyers. There's just so many of them.

Today's young adults live in a different world from their parents. These numbers explain a lot about their new reality, and they show that some things will need to shift.

Image from iStock.

Things like stigma or expectations or even maybe policy about housing will need to change. And of course, everyone's going to have to do what's best for them. For some people, the best thing to do might mean moving away. For some people, that means moving back home.

So the next time you find yourself in another conversation about millennials, remember these numbers. And that behind them are real, difficult, complicated, weird, but most of all human stories and decisions.