According to a survey conducted by a senior health science II class at Dickinson High School, approximately 56% said they have been offered drugs/nicotine products and 50% of the students polled said they have consumed alcohol. Out of about 230 students that completed the survey, 40% said they’ve had thoughts of suicide.

These were some of the statistics highlighted in the DHS health science II class, taught by DHS health sciences teacher Sara Rhode, which were then presented by the class of nine seniors to different boards and committees in Dickinson throughout the month of May. The answer to their findings is that there needs to be more communication within the community as well as more youth programming.

Rhode along with Karen Goyne of Southwestern District Health Unit, Commissioner John Odermann and DHS senior Jaydin Decker speak to some of these statistics and how the community will overcome some of those obstacles with its emerging adult population.

“... These are our future leaders. In a few years, these people are going to be job holders in the state of North Dakota and maybe even the town of Dickinson,” Decker said. “If I was an adult, I would want to give the kids in our school system, the best shot that they have, because they're what the town is going to bring to what our future is going to be.”

Social gap with teenagers leads to drug/alcohol issues

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“I think the biggest thing was mental health being an issue, because I know one of the statistics came back that a high amount of students that did take the survey have felt suicidal. And that was very alarming,” Rhode said. “And then another thing that they found out was that they feel like the students need more help while in high school with guidance in preparing for college and entering the workforce… Students feel like there's a gap there, and they're not getting the assistance that they want to feel prepared to leave high school.”

With assistance from Goyne, the class presented in front of the Dickinson Rotary Club, a work session with the Dickinson City Commission, Dickinson Kiwanis Club and the Parks and Recreation Board.

Compared to today’s Generation Z population, Rhode said it was a different era when she went through high school. Being involved in extracurricular activities helped keep Rhode busy and there wasn’t such advanced technology like there is today.

“... We didn't have the disconnection that I feel today's generation has. So I feel like that is the big difference is just how these kids today are like locked in their screens because I was not sitting on a cell phone for eight hours a day when I was in high school. I was out with friends, I was in volleyball league and basketball league,” Rhode said, adding, “... I just feel like today that students and kids don't do that because they're stuck on their phones because they're bored and there's nothing else to do. So I feel like it's kind of like their crutch today.”

With events such as First on First in Dickinson, alcohol is typically available for purchase at those venues. Some of the students suggested that Dickinson needs more events that are tailored for that emerging adult audience between 13 and 20 years old and don’t allow alcohol or smoking. Events such as laser tag, movie nights, dodgeball tournaments and ATV trail riding could help prevent alcohol or drug abuse with teenagers, Rhode said.

Rhode noted that there is a lack of advertising for events for teenagers and a way to solve that communication deficit would be to create a social media platform such as a Dickinson Teen Snapchat account.

Decker, who helped create the survey, noted that the results provided an alarming statistic at mental health and it’s important that the community is aware of what’s happening.

“I just hope that these city leaders and adults see that teens have a lot more going on inside their head or at home or at school, work, whatever, than what they present. And even if a student might be (doing) fine getting good grades, everyone has their struggles,” Decker said. “There's things that anyone can do to help out, especially in our community. I hope that our community gets more involved with our community population and presenting more activities for them to participate in.”

Communication is key in creating change, Goyne said. By having these students come forward, it allows for not only the conversation to happen but fixing the problem.

“What I liked about the kids’ presentation was that they weren't going to complain about it; they were going to basically let them know what's happening, and try to figure out how we can change this (and) how we can improve it,” Goyne said. “... I really want the community to know that there are youth out there who want to make a change and these seniors, they're going to be going away to college. So they're not really going to receive the initial benefit of what they talked about and what they presented, because they're going to be gone. But hopefully it'll be for the up and coming generations.”

Though the Dickinson Parks and Recreation Board has programming, it is usually for those 13 years old and under, Goyne noted. Family events that do take place in Dickinson such as Harvest Fest are meant more for younger children, she added.

“... Like these kids said, ‘We know that this is not the answer to preventing vaping tobacco, alcohol, those kinds of things, but it could have an impact on kids’ stress, their thoughts of suicide because they're alone… Maybe it'll garner an interest from kids to want to become more involved. And I think if kids feel that people care about what they think and care about what they're doing and they feel like they're listened to, they're going to be more apt to have a positive response to that as well," Goyne said.

How youth programming, committees will help solve communication barriers?

For the number of students at DHS, the seniors from the health science II class remarked that there are not enough counselors to support that volume.

“I think what will occur is all of these groups are now aware of this and they know that there are some things to be done,” Goyne said, explaining, “So it's going to (take) starting some youth groups (and) advisory groups. We're going to continue to have these groups involved with the high school class, and just continue doing some partnering community partnerships.”

Odermann added, “The thing that I thought was really interesting about this group of kids was I think they were really honest with us, which was very valuable for us as a commission because it would be really easy for us to just fall back on our morals and say well, ‘We do things for kids.’ But obviously we're not doing as good of a job to where it's reflective of these students.

“... We have started preliminary talks about (whether we should) start a youth commission because there are cities that have a youth commission that kind of advises the city commission on the youth concerns, youth priorities and things like that.”

With the city administrator and city boards aware of this issue, Odermann hinted that there could be a creation of a youth advisory board somewhere down the road.

“The trees that we plant right now as a commission… are not trees that we’ll ever probably going to sit under the shade of. But if we plant trees that are students in high school and junior high are invested in and they help cultivate, that's something they'll probably enjoy the fruit of somewhere down the line,” Odermann said. “And so asking them what they think (of what) Dickinson should look like (and) what they should be providing for our citizens, I think that's a really important piece of representing our constituency… Just because you can't vote doesn't mean that your elected officials shouldn't represent you.”