Teens Give Heartfelt Advice to HRSA

Matison Smith of Sussex County Delaware was among a delegation of 15 teens from 13 states and the Northern Marianas to visit HRSA headquarters on April 9 under the auspices of the 4-H Club's National Congress. They offered practical insights on how to stop bullying as part of the 4-H "Breaking the Code" campaign.
Matison Smith of Sussex County Delaware was among a delegation of 15 teens from 13 states and the Northern Mariana Islands to visit HRSA headquarters in April under the auspices of the 4-H Club's National Congress. They offered practical insights on how to stop bullying as part of the 4-H "Breaking the Code" campaign.

 

First things first: The federal government needs to fix its anti-bullying web sites to make them "less about adults." Furthermore, Facebook is so yesterday that the sight of the logo on a web site can send teens "bouncing" away without even reading the content -- speaking of which, the government uses too many words, and not enough images and quick-links to local help.

Oh, and it also would be a good idea to get some celebrities on board -- like Taylor Swift -- talking about their own experiences with bullying and how they dealt with it. Short video clips preferred, of course, because who has the patience these days for a 3-minute PowerPoint presentation on YouTube?

So said a traveling squad of national 4-H Club leaders who stopped by HRSA on Tuesday to meet with the agency's Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

And when 4-H speaks, adults would do well to listen.

Founded in 1902 in Clark County, Ohio with the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 4-H chapters were meant to be social outlets for rural kids. But ag officials soon noticed that they were quick to adapt to new techniques and technologies, and employed them as quiet agents at the turn of the last century to teach their parents modern farming through hand-to-hand demonstration.

Hence, the 4-H motto: "Head, Heart, Hands and Health ... To Make the Best Better."

Today, 4-H is an international enterprise, with rural and urban chapters and seven million members in 50 countries. But the organization's fundamental mission remains unchanged: building better people through relentless positivity and field experience; improving agricultural and industrial practices; and sustaining the eternal struggle to enlighten adults about what's really going on in the world.

At far left and right, MCHB's Maureen Perkins and Bethany Miller hosted the traveling 4-H leaders at 5600 in the midst of their whirlwind tour of the nation's capital. See below for a complete roster of delegates.
At far left and right, MCHB's Maureen Perkins and Bethany Miller hosted the traveling 4-H leaders at HRSA Headquarters in the midst of their whirlwind tour of the nation's capital. See below for a complete roster of delegates.

 

Breaking the Code HRSA Exit Disclaimer is but 4-H's latest campaign: To turn "Bystanders" into "Up-standers" and shine a hot light on the secretive  sub-culture of shunning, intimidation, gossiping, class discrimination and physical abuse that sustains the "hidden code" and pecking order in which bullying thrives. Dozens of major universities have signed on to support the effort, which teaches teens that they have the power to challenge the oppressive system that operates in many schools by standing up and being counted -- and refusing to be quiet about it anymore.

Autumn Olsen"So many students, so desperately want to feel that they are part of a teen movie – whether that means being rich, or pretty, or having these four years everyone thinks you should have," said Matison Smith, an honors senior in her Delaware high school. "In fact, it often isn't like that … and in a desperate attempt to gain control over their lives or feel better, (some kids) bully others."

Utah native Autumn Olsen said local hotlines, advocacy groups and government outreach programs, though well-meaning, cannot replace ground-level human connections when kids are suffering: “If you were to ask a teenager the first place they would contact in a moment of darkness, it probably wouldn’t be a hot line or social media," she said. "Personal connections with programs and people (give) us the sanctuary that we need."

Her 4-H  companions, she said, "are the proof that involvement in good things can make a difference in lives – and we know that (HRSA) can help that difference reach to lives all over the country." She urged the agency to send representatives to every school in America.

Olsen, who works with Utah-based companies to get mental health and suicide prevention messages placed on the clothes they sell -- like, "Be Nice" on thousands of t-shirts -- said the small, personal messages, repeated often enough, let peers know who the "Up-standers" are: "People will be able to ... realize no one is alone through their dark times.”

Alia CamachoAlia Camacho of Arizona agreed, adding that everyone should set up short, crisp, positive messages on phone apps like Snapchat to make such appeals ubiquitous. She noted that kids increasingly are abandoning Facebook and other "old media" platforms favored by their parents. And not enough parents are following their kids to the new apps.

Facebook "is no longer a top competitor in the teen social media landscape,” confirmed Sarah Alexi of North Carolina, citing a Pew Research Center study. She added that government Instagram accounts aren't updated or re-designed enough and often look stodgy compared to other flash-bang screens competing for teens' attention.

In the end, said Lake Vasey of Delaware, the medium is the message. Bullying only thrives when peers feel alone, disconnected and powerless to stop their tormentors. And the HHS message to "Stop Bullying Now" is only as powerful as the number of times it's heard in the halls of America's schools -- from the mouths (and t-shirts) of the kids who witness it.

"An Up-stander is someone who recognizes when something is wrong and acts to make it right," Vasey said. "Being an Up-stander is being a hero. We are standing up for what is right and doing our best to help support someone who is being hurt."

Members of the Delegation included (from left to right in photo above): Lake Vasey-Delaware; Kristine Hoffner-Colorado; Lisa Chapman-Washington state; Andrew Dexter-Maine; Alia Camacho-Arizona; Sarah Alexi-North Carolina; Elisabeth Miller-Wisconsin; Matison Smith-Delaware; Kaitlyn Joerger-North Dakota; Madison Powell-Indiana; Autumn Olsen-Utah; Erin Rose May-Kansas; Hunter Morgan-New Jersey; Alyssa Attao-Northern Mariana Islands; and facilitator Breanna Lewis-Arkansas.

 

Date Last Reviewed:  April 2019