“These are unprecedented times.”

We’ve heard that statement a lot over the last year, but it’s true. “Unprecedented” is defined at dictionary.com as “never before known or experienced.” There’s a lot going on for young people that has never been experienced before. Remote learning for 9 year olds … Teenagers who can’t just hang out together … Required screen time for everyone ... Masks covering our smiles… Yep, unprecedented!

The number of youth experiencing mental health issues is also unprecedented.

Together with the Harris Poll, the National 4-H Council set out to examine the impact of this public health crisis on the mental health of teens.

A survey revealed that in the wake of COVID-19, seven in 10 teens are struggling with their mental health and more than half of those surveyed shared that the pandemic has increased their feelings of loneliness, with 64 percent believing it will have a lasting impact on their mental health.

The U.S. Census shows that we have 4,313 youth in Jackson County between the ages of 15-19. That means that nearly 3,000 teens in our community may be facing mental health challenges.

This is a call to action for an unprecedented response to support any young people who are in your sphere of influence.

The Search Institute has shown that children and youth greatly benefit from caring relationships with adults other than their parents. This is especially important during this time of social isolation.

Who can you reach out to? Can you check in with kids at church? Can you intentionally nurture your relationship with your nephew or niece? Chat or Facetime regularly with your best friend’s teenager? Be sure that your cousin’s children are involved in the next hunting trip? Or have bedtime conversations with your own child?

If you’re not quite sure how to reach out here are some tips from the Search Institute about creating relationships with young people:

• Express and Care – let kids know that they matter to you.

• Challenging Growth – push kids to continually get better.

• Provide Support – help them complete tasks or achieve their goals.

• Sharing Power – treat kids with respect and give them a say.

• Expanding Possibilities – connect kids with people and places that broaden their worlds.

Read more about developing positive relationships with youth, and lots of other information about children and families, at search-institute.org. For resources about ways to get children and youth involved in positive learning experiences (face to face and remote) in Jackson County check out our 4-H clubs, activities and summer camp at jackson.ces.ncsu.edu.

Heather Gordon is Jackson County extension agent, 4-H Youth Development.