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What we’ve learned about youth interests and issues

We believe that young people have an important outlook on the world and that they experience unique issues. As we target young folks in our messaging campaigns, it’s important that we understand those issues so we can move forward and create authentic and relevant messaging.

As part of our work, we talk with young folks aged 12 to 19 to capture their opinions on the issues most affecting them and their peers. In the video below, we discuss what we’ve learned: Young folks have told us that mental health, social media, and substance use are a few of the most important issues facing them today.

Mental health

Mental health has become an increasingly important issue. Young people, Just like many of us, are concerned. They’re concerned about their peers, their communities, and their personal well-being.

Gen Z has been known to be fiery regarding advocacy. It’s no surprise that they’re working to destigmatize mental health by creating places and taking up space to talk openly about it. And they’re not just scratching the surface. They’re getting deep into it by talking about the factors that impact mental well-being, such as access and environment.

A Colorado Health Access survey reported that Coloradans with insurance are more likely to report having better mental well-being. Yet in 2019, 360,000 Coloradans went uninsured. How might that inequity affect Colorado youth?

Not only that, but young folks are feeling pressure as they navigate digital learning environments, public safety concerns and adolescence.

Social media

Young folks also told us about how the time they spend on social media impacts their lives. On average, Young folks under 18 are using it six hours per day.

Although this time could be a cause for concern for some, young folks, say no. The time they spend online helps them explore their identities, create connections, and privately explore the world. However, some young folks say they don’t know how to use social media productively. With a lack of guidelines on safety and productivity, some young folks say that they feel sucked into using social media just to use it.

While not all young people could agree on how much time is appropriate, most could agree on one thing: Spending too much time online can be risky. Seeing influencers and peers at their best and their worst all the time can spark harmful comparisons and erode one’s self-image.

Substance use

Substance use also has a unique and powerful impact on youth. We know from research, from youth experiences, and even our own upbringings that peer pressure is a normal thing for young folks to experience. But with today’s high-risk substances such as high-potency marijuana and fentanyl, experimentation can be risky or even fatal.

We know that substance use in a young person’s environment can lead to them using substances later on. According to a 2022 Rise Above Colorado survey, two out of five youth have lived in a home where an adult was using substances.

Young folks are familiar with the issue of substance use, and some of them are familiar with the issue of overdose. Young folks in Colorado are likely to know someone or know of someone who has overdosed on substances.

From these insights, we’re able to better understand and serve youth across the state of Colorado. Our understanding helps us to empower healthier and more informed young folks.

GracieGraciella Saucedo-Rivera is a youth advisor and account coordinator with SE2.