The 2018 midterm elections are rapidly approaching, and many — especially first-time voters — believe that they will make an impact on our government.

After the devastating Parkland, Florida shooting in February, young people came out in droves to protest America’s existing gun laws and call on all lawmakers to do something about them. When little action was taken, the protestors threatened to unseat them in the 2018 midterm elections, saying that young voters will decide the outcome.

[rebelmouse-image 19397601 dam="1" original_size="700x464" caption="Photo via Unsplash/Jerry Kiesewetter." expand=1]Photo via Unsplash/Jerry Kiesewetter.


While several polls suggest voters ages 18 to 29 are registering to vote this years in higher numbers than in previous midterm election years, it’s difficult to say whether or not those registering will actually cast their ballots this November.

That’s why young people across the country are making it a priority to inspire others, young and old, to use their voting power in these pivotal elections.

Not only are they helping newly eligible voters get properly registered, they’re also keeping the election a constant conversation in their community so it doesn’t lose its potency.

And, thanks to School the Vote, a campaign run by DoSomething.org, largest tech not-for-profit for young people and social change, these young voter registration members are making an even greater impact.

Here’s a look at four of them:

Lindsey Luis Washington from Vancouver, Washington is helping prospective voters weed through the fake news on their candidates.

Photo via Washington. Used with permission.

Even though she’s only 17, and not quite eligible to vote, she runs voter registration tables at her high school and in her town. She’s also part of a project called Democracy Now!, which plans to canvas the neighborhood and carpool voters to the polls on election day.

“I truly believe youth are the future. We are living in a time where what is occurring in this world affects each and every one of us in some way,” Lindsey writes in an email.

She recognizes that historically, young voters don’t turn out as much in midterm elections, but at the same time, the activism her generation’s sparked in response to the dissatisfaction with the status quo over the past two years has been extraordinary. Thanks to the internet and social media, they’re tuned in to the issues that affect them, and can see a direct path to making themselves heard.

However, Lindsey notes that the flood of information her generation receives daily can also work against them, especially when it comes to voting. It’s becoming harder and harder to separate genuine reporting from fake news, and as a result, they’ll end up sharing articles and opinions that skew the facts and incorrectly tarnish political candidates.

Of course, that’s hardly just a habit of Gen Z’s, but Lindsey’s doing what she can to curtail it by regularly fact-checking her own posts and the candidates she supports, and encouraging her peers to do likewise.

Megan Dombrowski from Detroit, Michigan is spreading the message that every vote really does matter.

Photo via Dombrowski. Used with permission.

Megan’s main motivation is to turn the enthusiasm she’s seeing among her peers into actual votes, because she knows that even a few hundred can swing an election. Like Lindsey, she’s manned registration tables, and keeping voting relevant through campaigns like “Get Out the Vote.”

“In the 2014, only 15% of voters aged 18-24 turned out to vote,” says Megan. “Our demographic is large enough to swing elections and elect representatives who are willing to listen to us. If we do not stand up and participate in our democracy, we have no right to complain about what is happening.”

Unfortunately, she feels like her generation is susceptible to the negative narrative around politics today, and that may dissuade them from voting.

“Many brush off elections as no big deal, and say that they’ll just vote for who their parents are voting for. It’s time for all of us to realize that our vote is our voice, and that everyone of ours’ is important.”

That said, she’s so grateful to be working with DoSomething to help more people realize the significance of voting. The organization’s incredibly user-friendly, and someone’s always available to answer questions, no matter how big or small.

Her ideal political system would include new voters being automatically registered, gerrymandering outlawed, and women, minorities, and young people running for office in record numbers. Thanks to women like her, that’s no longer out of reach.

Meanwhile, Amethyst O’Connell from Roseville, Minnesota is focusing on the college demographic, because they often need extra encouragement to vote.

Photo via Amethyst O'Connell. Used with permission.

Last year, as the Student Senate President of Saint Paul College, they were part of a massive statewide voter registration campaign on National Voter Registration Day that helped 1,313 people get registered.

Amethyst believes it’s incredibly important for students to vote because legislation, especially on the state level, can have a major impact on their education. They know this from first-hand experience:

“I graduated from Saint Paul College debt-free due to a pilot program, the Minnesota Occupational Grant program, that was signed into law by my state legislators,” writes Amethyst in an email.

However, despite what legislation like this has done for students, college life doesn’t make voting easy. For one thing, housing insecurity is a real issue, which can impede voter registration. And busy college students will often be turned away from voting booths because they don’t have up-to-date voter identification. Juggling class, work and other school responsibilities can be a major deterrent as well.

But Amethyst does their best to convince them why it’s worth navigating through all those obstacles so they can vote, especially in local elections.

“The elections that are the most likely to affect your day-to-day life are the local elections, and ironically, the elections that everyday people tend to ignore,” they explain.

Veniece Miller from Fruita, Colorado spearheaded a youth voting initiative in her small town, because she wants to get as many 18-year-olds to the polls as possible.

Photo via Veniece Miller. Used with permission.

With the help of the nonprofit, Western Colorado Alliance, she trained students in her community to hold voter registration drives in their schools. Now there are 25 student ambassadors holding drives this fall.

“If society has taught us anything in the past year, it is that students can make a real difference. They are engaged, knowledgeable, and ready to take part in our right as citizens of the United States,” writes Veniece in an email.

Unfortunately, she notes that civics is woefully underrepresented in our country’s education system, so many voting age youths won't even learn about the voting process until well after an election.

“Youth can feel the imposter effect; like they are not knowledgeable enough or qualified enough to vote,” she explains.

So Veniece is raising awareness by getting as many 16-year-olds pre-registered to vote as she can, so they’re primed when they become eligible to vote. She’s also helping young voters see how quick and easy the registration process is.

“A short one hundred years ago, my gender did not have the right to vote. An even shorter 49 years ago, my age did not have the right. I feel a great sense of responsibility to those that have gone before me that have fought and gained the right for me to vote.”

We are coming to a pivotal moment in our country’s history where our youngest voters could change the landscape of our government. With youth leaders like these, the chances are looking good.

“The more youth that vote, the more voice we are gaining, saying to our representatives that we are here and holding them accountable,” writes Veniece.

But that responsibility isn’t not just up to them, it’s up to all of us to show up if we want things to change.

Learn more and register to vote in just two minutes at DoSomething.org.

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.

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