Courtesy: Youth Against Violence (YAV)
Youth Against Violence volunteers at a "Hands to heal, not to harm" campaign event on February 26, 2022.

The pandemic has created an anxious and insecure environment for students. I’ve witnessed the mental toll that isolation has weighed on my friends and peers — the lockdowns and distance learning forced kids who used school as a way to escape back into abusive households, constantly treading the line of danger. On top of having to already worry about school, family, jobs and relationships, also stressing over Covid puts the mental health of youth in jeopardy. With stress being a risk factor for teen dating violence, sound mental health is crucial for its prevention.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen more and more discussion about the negative effects of poor mental health, but little information on how to get out of toxic environments. I myself have experienced it and understand how stress can affect your mental state for the worse.

But I’ve found support and a way to help others who may be in this situation by getting involved with Youth Against Violence, a program from STAND! For Families Free of Violence in Concord. STAND is a local domestic violence organization that educates youth on healthy relationships to prevent teen dating violence.

Young people deserve to be heard and supported, now more than ever. By listening and understanding that young folks need mental and emotional support, adults with decision-making power, like those running school districts, can take the first steps to reduce the stress of youth. Here are some suggestions for how to do this:

Have meaningful conversations with the young people in your life

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy noted that research has found “the most important thing a child needs to be resilient is a stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult.” Having healthy relationships with adults creates a safe atmosphere for the youth, letting them know they aren’t alone. Whether it is college applications or relationships, it’s helpful if adults who work with youth — like parents, teachers, or coaches — try to understand and see things from our perspective.

Build a closer relationship with us by showing interest or support in the work or hobbies we are pursuing. Reassure us that we are not alone in feeling anxiety, stress and depression, which will help keep us from feeling ostracized. Encourage us to tackle tasks at our own pace, and be open to talking about healthy relationships to let us know we are supported — which isn’t a reality for some teens. I wish more adults realized that teens are the experts of their own lives and have their own responsibilities they have to fulfill. As a student in high school myself, I have experienced many moments of stress and anxiety while trying to fulfill goals in order to not be left behind. This is why, when I am experiencing overwhelming thoughts, I know I can speak with my college adviser about my problems or concerns.

Help young people protect themselves in their relationships in-person and online

Building trust and encouraging teens to prioritize mental health is not only important during this pandemic, but also to prevent teen dating violence. Young folks are especially vulnerable to this issue. With the surge of the pandemic, youth have been engaging in online relationships leading to the rise of digital abuse, which can involve online privacy violations, monitoring the other partner, threatening or harassing over social media, etc.

Love is Respect, the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s specific platform for teens and young adults, reports that 25% of domestic violence survivors in California experienced digital abuse from January to June of 2020 compared with 21% during those same months in 2019.  Through my involvement with Youth Against Violence, I see firsthand how being able to effectively communicate, whether it’s with peers or parents, creates less tension, frustration or anger. Violence prevention programs that teach these skills are important to stop the snowball of bad mental health and unhealthy relationships from rolling down the hill. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, see the STAND resource page, the Love is Respect website or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233 for support. Organizations like Bay Area Legal Aid also provide resources for young people struggling during the pandemic.

Model healthy relationships

Young people learn behaviors and habits from the people around them, so having conversations about the importance of mental health, seeking help, and showing positive ways you deal with stress show youth a positive outlook on an overwhelming topic. Children having a stable relationship with trusted adults helps them understand what a healthy relationship looks like. Living in a household where they can’t talk about tough topics creates a muddled view of what abusive and unhealthy relationships look like, which is dangerous. Showing them love and acceptance helps youth do the same for others and lets them communicate openly about their feelings, thus helping them create healthy relationships, preserving their mental health and preventing violence.


Angel Quintanilla is a youth leader in the Youth Against Violence program of STAND! For Families Free of Violence, a local domestic violence organization serving Contra Costa County and a member of the statewide coalition California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the author. EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.

Share Article


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.