- JFCS News
It has never been easy to be a teenager, but JFCS is finding that today’s climate is particularly tough on our young people.
Academic success, extracurricular activities, pressure to “package” oneself on social media—and the list goes on. These pressures can be coupled with frequent moves due to housing insecurities, financial stressors to find funds for school supplies and food, plus parents who work multiple jobs to just hold on. It adds up to almost constant anxiety and stress.
Teens Report High Stress Is The New Norm
The teens we serve consistently tell us about the pressure they feel from parents, schools, and even their peers.
“In the last few years more teens are coming to us for help with anxiety, depression, and substance use issues,” says Nancy Masters, Associate Executive Director of JFCS.
“Economic pressures on families, high rates of divorce, housing insecurity, and social pressures that we are hearing so much about—these have all led to a significant increase in teens struggling in our community,” she says.
The numbers show how worrying the issue of mental health has become: in Santa Clara County an average of 20 teens and young adults died by suicide every year between 2010 and 2014. In Palo Alto alone the suicide rate is four to five times the national average.
JFCS’ YouthFirst Teaches Life Skills and Stress Management Strategies
Close to 500 teens per year participate in JFCS’ innovative teen program, YouthFirst. It’s just one way JFCS is working with this vulnerable age range. Teens take on internship positions that encourage independence and giving back to the community. They’re also mentored by supportive staff.
The program emphasizes self-care and encourages teens to assess how they define success and what makes for a fulfilling life to each of them individually through values clarification exercises and peer discussion.
“The teens at JFCS’ YouthFirst might first come in looking for work, but stay to get the added benefits like mentorship and learning stress management techniques,” says Naama Lugasi, YouthFirst Palo Alto Program Coordinator. “And if they need additional help like mental health counseling, they get that, too.”
“YouthFirst is a safe place for teens to make mistakes. One of the biggest lessons we teach is that you don’t need to be perfect, and that there is important learning happening when things don’t work out the way you plan,” says Naama.
With input from the teens themselves the program now focuses more than ever on stress management techniques, including mindfulness practices and time management skills.
Parents are important partners too. YouthFirst staff connect parents to the JFCS clinical case management team and to JFCS’ Parents Place professionals for extra support if they find that families could benefit from other JFCS services.
Preparing Teens to Become Well-Adjusted Adults
Recently, JFCS’ Parents Place teamed up with author, parenting expert, and former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University, Julie Lythcott-Haims, to discuss her book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. She reviewed strategies for parents and practitioners to help teens learn the value of their worth and prepare them to become functioning and confident adults.
“The skills that young adults need to thrive, such as critical thinking, initiative, and resilience, are cultivated through the course of a childhood that is not overly directed nor overly protected by parents,” she writes.
She suggests that parents can help their children become self-sufficient through teaching them skills they’ll need in real life and giving them enough leeway to practice those skills on their own.
All Under One Roof: Educating Parents and Clinical Services
JFCS’ Parents Place program is serving a growing number of parents and teens throughout our regions. Parents receive coaching and personalized strategies to make sure that that they have the support they need to weather the storms that will certainly come when parenting teenagers.
Highly experienced clinicians are trained to help teens cope with a variety of challenges, most notably anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction, and issues related to problematic social interaction.
“Parents Place offers a true continuum of services—from prevention to intervention all under one roof,” says Nancy. “We focus on the strengths of each child and family rather than on deficits. Staff help families find practical solutions to the challenges they face; families come away from every meeting with a new tool they can take home to try out.”
Integrating Jewish Values
One of the key goals in our work with teens is strengthening their connection to Jewish values and the Jewish community.
Jewish tradition has much to offer in providing guidance about how to successfully raise children such as incorporating teachings on raising resilient children, creating a healthy family life, nurturing a sense of gratitude and appreciation for everyday blessings, and taking responsibility not only for oneself but also for the community.
The Waitlists Are Long and the Need Continues
Last year JFCS served 21,000 children, teens, and families overall—but the need grows.
“One of the greatest challenges we face is that there are not enough counseling slots available to meet the needs of teens who are being referred to us, and there are not enough services available in the larger community,” says Nancy.
There is currently a waiting list on the Peninsula, where JFCS serves the largest numbers of families with children and teens.
One of our highest needs right now is securing additional funding to expand JFCS’ YouthFirst program and provide increased mental health services.
“We are noticing that seeking help is becoming less of a stigma, and that’s a really good thing,” says Nancy. “Teen mental and emotional health impacts the entire community.”
Partial funding for the JFCS’ Parents Place and JFCS’ YouthFirst is provided by generous individual support, foundation grants, and named endowment funds. Special gratitude to Sandra and Vladimir Shmunis, The Parasol Foundation, Fran and Bobby Lent/Levine-Lent Family Foundation, Bigglesworth Family Foundation, Judith Moss Endowment Fund, Sadie Meyer and Louis Cohn Foundation, and the Bernice and Herbert Andron Scholarship Fun in support of JFCS’ YouthFirst Internship Program.
If interested in contributing to increase JFCS ‘ mental health services for teens or JFCS’ YouthFirst program, please call Barbara Farber at 415-449-3858 or email: BarbaraF@jfcs.org.