Issaquah teenagers request a place to ‘hang out’

July 5, 2011

By Laura Geggel

The future is close at hand, and Issaquah’s youth want to have a hand in it.

The Action Forum for Youth brought young voices to the forefront as teenagers met with community leaders to discuss ways to help youth connect and succeed in their community.

One of the first tasks was dispelling negative stereotypes, Issaquah High School junior Allie Lustig said.

“Adults just really don’t get it,” she said. “They think all teens are into prescription drugs, and I’m like, ‘No, no.’”

The Issaquah Community Network held the forum May 5 at the Issaquah Holiday Inn. Network Executive Director Barbara de Michele asked all 44 attendees three questions:

  • What positive and negative issues come to mind when you think of today’s middle and high school students?
  • Of these items, which are the most critical challenges for youths and their families?
  • What action steps can the community take to address these challenges?

The forum’s participants came up with multiple positive and negative issues facing youth. Positive friends, caring adults, available activities and good academic classes help students. On the other hand, isolation, bullying, the pressure to fit in, a sense of entitlement, lack of free time, stress and less face-to-face communication does not help.

Throughout the forum, several issues continued to resurface, de Michele said.

Participants agreed that stress is a driving factor behind risky behavior.

“We talked about how the stress could leave to potential activities, such as drugs or alcohol, as potential outlets,” Skyline High School sophomore Grace Wan said.

Some parents provide alcohol to their children to be “cool parents,” and the community should educate them otherwise, Wan said.

Stress also comes from the pressure to succeed. If the community redefined success as something that was more inclusive, teenagers and adults might feel more welcome, Issaquah High School junior Allie Lustig said.

“I definitely think there’s an idea where you have to do this and this and this to be successful,” Lustig said. “You can get wrapped up in, ‘Oh, I have to get into the University of Washington and I have to do well on the SAT and all this stuff,’ when success is actually something that matters to you. Going to a four-year college isn’t for everyone.”

Community members also agreed that technology helps and hurts students — while it improves education, and increases awareness and communication, it also reduces in-person contact, districts students from homework, and plays into bullying and harassment.

Students leading students and finding good adult role models could help, de Michele said.

After forum leaders shared the positive and negative issues associated with youths, they picked the most urgent topics and thought of ways to address them. The top four solutions focused on community engagement, including:

  • Establishing a place for teens and youths to gather for entertainment, social networking and music;
  • Developing school models that are more true to real-world expectations and consequences;
  • Showing the “Race to Nowhere” documentary throughout our community; and
  • Enabling students to create short educational videos about issues important to teens that could be shared with parents, law enforcement and the community.

Both the network and the Issaquah Youth Advisory Board plan to use the ideas to form their agenda for next year. The network will use the data for the federal Drug Free Communities grant application that would give Issaquah $125,000 per year for 10 years in an effort to reduce teenage risky behavior.

“We felt it was very good and very successful and had a good conversation with the people who attended,” de Michele said.

Creating a teenage hangout place was at the top of her list, Lustig said, adding that many of her classmates drive all the way to Alki Beach in West Seattle for a gathering place. In middle school, she remembered hanging out near the Regal Issaquah 9 Theatre and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, even though loitering was discouraged.

“There’s really nowhere for us to go and just hang out,” she said. “We need a place where we can just, like, chill.”

Students also asked for more interaction with community members. For example, they would like to learn more about life experiences, work ethic, job interview skills and skill development, de Michele said.

“It seems that leaders are interested in seeing what we want to do,” Issaquah High sophomore Iman Baghai said. “It will be great to proceed with something tangible out of this.”

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or lgeggel@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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