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Surveying Teens’ Sense of Safety

As teenagers return to in-person learning, few have confidence that their schools are prepared to address mental health and safety needs. What can education leaders do?

A majority (54%) of teens feel their schools are ill-prepared to respond to critical emergency incidents and mental health needs, according to the most recent Navigate360/Zogby Strategies poll.

Fifty-three percent of teens are thinking more about their physical and social-emotional safety than they did six months ago, according to this third nationwide poll. When asked where they feel safest, schools consistently came in last compared to places such as after-school jobs, places of worship, restaurants and stores.

Only 37% of surveyed teens say they are confident their classmates know what to do in an emergency, and only 35% agree their school’s leadership knows how to respond to ensure minimal casualties and loss of life. Considering the ongoing occurrence of shootings and other violent critical incidents across the United States, these statistics highlight how important it is for schools to ramp up safety efforts and communicate them to students and staff.

Mental Health Matters

As students return to the classroom, social-emotional safety remains top-of-mind. Despite reported increases in anxiety and stress nationwide, only 23% of teens surveyed for this poll believe their school is prepared to handle any mental health issues they may face.

“With schools opening again and the tragic increase in violence across the country, we have a lot of work to do to relearn socialization skills, identify concerning behavior and react to potential threats of harm in real-time,” said Navigate360 CEO JP Guilbault. “Catching up on learning loss cannot be our singular area of focus this summer and fall. We must actively and proactively work together to create spaces that are safe physically, socially and emotionally.”

This poll is the third installment of the Safety and Wellbeing Index. The index assesses the public’s sentiment regarding mental and physical safety throughout the United States.

Key Poll Statistics

  • 38% of teens are confident that school officials can create an atmosphere of physical and emotional safety in the classroom
  • Half of teens (49%) and parents (51%) are aware of a classmate or student who was bullied because of their race, sexual orientation or income level
  • 3 in 5 teens (59%) say they know someone who has considered self-harm or suicide, up 3 points from the previous poll conducted in January

What We Can Do

What can we do to ease students’ minds as they return to in-person learning? For one, we can work to build a holistic culture of safety in which they feel confident enough to reach their full potential and thrive. This can be accomplished through implementation of smart visitor management and anonymous tip reporting technologies that help prevent harm, as well as behavioral threat assessment and suicide prevention solutions that help schools assess and manage situations that involve self-harm or harm to others. Just as critical, we must communicate these initiatives consistently so that students feel as supported and safe as possible when they return to school buildings.

Evidence-based social-emotional learning (SEL) programs offer students the opportunity to develop crucial developmental skills that will endure long after they graduate. Additionally, courses that offer lessons focused on restorative justice are proven to reduce recidivism and help build a sense of empathy and social justice in teens who would otherwise receive only punishment for their challenging behavior.

About the Poll

The Navigate360 and Zogby Strategies Safety and Wellbeing Poll consisted of sampling (304) 16- and 17-year-olds nationwide and was conducted online on March 25, 2021 with parental permission and a sampling error of +/-5.7 percentage points. The poll of 1,000 adults across the country was conducted online on March 25, 2021. The margin of sampling error is within +/-3.2 percentage points.

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