Salisbury Press

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Writing a new story

Wednesday, June 14, 2017 by The Press in Opinion

The off-the-top-of-the-head answer to the question, ”What motivates you to go to work each day?” for most of us is, “To put food on the table and pay the bills.”

But, there is usually a much deeper reason — a passion that draws us to our particular line of work.

For me, it is the morning news.

Whether it is the sunrise edition on TV, the digital version of the local paper or the actual hard copy, I seem to pick up on the same message: Families are struggling with raising their children.

While there is a ton of research to back up many of my observations, it is my gut instinct that gives me the daily surge to go to work.

The hardest part of the paper to read is the obituary section.

Yet, I feel like my morning is off to a rocky start if I don’t read it.

Next comes the police report because ... well ... you never know. And I don’t want to go into work and have other people tell me the latest scoop.

My heart sinks when my early morning ritual is filled with stories of young people dying due to what appears to be suicide or drug overdose.

Even the professionals say they cannot make a distinction between the two as they often intertwined.

I can’t help but see a pattern in many of the death notices of young people.

Without making hasty generalizations, I note the majority are young adults in labor-type jobs, sometimes several as opposed to a vocation or career path.

I also take note for many victims of drug overdose there appears to be a pattern of parental divorce and blending of families.

The picture I get is of youth who are “floundering,” not yet having found their niche or direction yet bursting with untapped potential.

I sometimes see the names of children of people I have known and wonder what happened.

A peer group that began dabbling in substances, a paramour with an addiction, or a bout with prescribed painkillers are often what sent them down the path they didn’t want to travel.

The new phrase being used to described this population of young people is “disassociated youth.”

So, my question becomes, “What are we doing to connect our youth?”

While we cannot prevent broken relationships in families, how do we buffer kids against the things that sometimes happen to families, such as divorce, separation, illness, death or financial stress?

How are we guiding our children even at very young ages to discover their strengths and abilities and expose them to potential careers or vocations?

Are we educating about the importance of choosing good, pro-social friends and avoiding dangerous relationships?

Are we teaching them how to build their own resilience and manage life’s ups and downs in healthy ways?

The answers cannot come solely from the school. Families, communities and schools must all work together intentionally to increase opportunities to build these attributes, skills and capacities.

Unless we embrace this mentality, the daily news will never change and the stories will only get worse.

Research tells us resilient youth are created in strong families and vibrant communities.

According to data from the Lehigh County coroner, between 2010 and 2015 the number of drug deaths in Lehigh County more than doubled.

In 2016, there were 157 fatal overdoses, 43 percent of which were in the 20-29 age bracket.

As of March 31 of this year, we are on par in Lehigh County to exceed the 2016 number with 42 overdose deaths.

This doesn’t have to be the outcome. We can change these outcomes by valuing our young people and engaging them in the life of their communities, schools, neighborhoods and families.

What motivates me to go to work each day? I want to help write a different story.

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Editor’s note: Denise Continenza, M.Ed. is the extension educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, for Penn State Extension, Lehigh County.