By Himani Dixit


For the 2024 Parents In Action Teen Scene, a panel of 15 teens, from 9th to 12th grade and ages 14-18 years old, spoke virtually with NYC- PIA chair and panel moderator Lucy Martin Gianino about their experiences in NYC independent high schools.


How does it feel to be back in school post-pandemic?

Most kids acknowledged that there were losses, especially in terms of social emotional development, but seem happy to be back in person.

“It’s been difficult in terms of forming friendships.  We had more time to get to be at home and get to know ourselves and our families better, but it was hard socially.”

“COVID happened at an important transition period for us.  There was a big jump from being at home, not having much homework, etc to now full on college mode with standardized tests and lots of homework.”

“There’s lots to miss about zoom, like being able to sleep in, but it’s good to connect in person.  The social aspect and community aspect is important.”


Where do teens go out on weekends these days?  Where do you hang out?

Most teens do meet in small groups at each other’s houses, but the general consensus is that big house parties “are out” because “a lot of parents don’t want to offer up their apartments due to the clean up that’s required afterwards, noise complaints, etc.”

Paid “venue parties” are becoming an increasingly popular trend.  An upperclassman will rent a space and then sell tickets, with varying prices, “usually charging freshmen more.”  They will market the parties on social media, namely Instagram and Snapchat.  “Companies also sponsor these parties to make money.”  The venues cannot legally serve alcohol, so if there is any drinking, it’s happening before or after the party.

“Going out downtown” is more popular with upperclassmen, especially seniors.


We’ve heard some parents are actually concerned their kids are not socializing enough, and encourage parties.  Is that true?

“It doesn’t always turn out well if the parents force socialization or parties on their kids.  It’s not really the right approach to help your kid out socially.”

“It’s more effective to push them to do activities or sports that they may be interested in and meet people that way.”


What’s popular in social media these days?

Tik-Tok, Instagram, and Snapchat continue to dominate as the most popular apps.  Tik Tok is used more by teens as “entertainment.”  They watch videos, follow celebrities, and maybe follow people they have mutual interests in common with.

“Snapchat is the main form of texting or communication amongst teens.  Instagram is seen as someone’s public social profile.”


Some statistics show teens spend as much as 3.5 hours on apps a day.  Is this harmful?

Most of the teens agreed that too much social media can be harmful by leading to things such as procrastination, negativity, social comparison, and leaving a digital footprint.”

“You have to really learn to manage your time with it.”

“The negative news can really weigh on you.  The other side is that there is inspirational content and there are some good role models on social media.”

“We started Instagram and Snapchat in middle school, and we’ve seen the influence grow larger.”


When did you all get cell phones?

Most kids said that by 5th or 6th grade, they had some sort of device where they could text / call.  They agree that phones are useful in socializing, but can act as a significant distraction.

“Cell phones are important to maintaining a social life, but you have to learn how to police yourself.  It helps you learn responsibility.”

“As a freshman, my screen time had gotten up to 5 hours a day, but I realized I had to scale back as a sophomore when my work load increased significantly.”

The teens emphasized that phones were an important marker to gain independence and also a safety tool for teens commuting or getting to activities on their own.

“My parents wanted me to have a phone when I started going to school by myself.”

“If you wait too long to give your kids anything, there are social repercussions.  In middle school, my parents didn’t let me have social media, and I did feel left out at times.”


Talk to us about drugs and alcohol.  What are kids doing these days, who is buying it, and where are you all getting it?

“Usually it’s someone with a fake ID or someone older.”

“Fake IDs are very popular.  I got mine from my older brother.”

What drugs are popular?  What about Ritalin and Fentanyl / Narcan?

Most kids said alcohol and weed were the most popular, with drugs like Fentanyl or other hard drugs being much less common.

“Weed is very common at parties.  Weed shops make it more accessible, but also safer.”

“Most kids know to not buy drugs off the street because of the risk of it being laced with something like Fentanyl.”

“Some kids are experimenting more after COVID, since that was a time of stunted growth.”  Some of the teens said maybe it’s even better to “start experimenting or be exposed to things in high school, so it doesn’t hit you all at once in college.”

“Ritalin or Adderall are not that popular and I haven’t heard of it much in the City.”


What about vaping?  Elf bars?  A new drug called “Zyn?”

“It was much more of a trend a few years ago.  Really died down as a junior or senior.”

“Some older kids are vaping, but for them it is much more of an addiction.  Younger classmen do it to experiment or be cool.”

“Most people don’t dabble in vaping.  If they’re doing it, it’s because it’s a necessity and because they are addicted.”

Elf bars are a form of “easy access” vape, but were seen by the teens as used in the same way as regular vape.

Zyn is a new trend – it’s a nicotine filled pouch meant to be chewed, similar to chewing tobacco.  Most teens said that while they were familiar with this from TikTok, they personally had not seen that many kids using chewing tobacco.

“It’s mostly popular with college frat guys.  I don’t know any friends that use it.”


What is the most effective way your parents can communicate with you about drugs, alcohol, and other pressures?

Most kids agreed that the best way is to create a comfortable, open environment where your child feels safe talking to you.  They want to feel like they are not going to be judged or get into trouble.

“Just yelling at your kid doesn’t really move the needle.”

“There are levels of misbehavior.  There do need to be consequences, but you don’t want your teen to go behind your back, so asking them why they did something and communicating is really important.”

“You can also share your own experiences from when you were their age- that puts you in their shoes, and it might be a useful perspective for your child.”

“It’s also good to know their friend group – that’s who’s monitoring them when you’re not around.”


Let’s talk more about social media – FOMO (fear of missing out), bullying, doxxing, etc.  What’s happening that’s concerning?

The teens on the panel are well aware of the concept of a digital footprint and of cancel culture – the idea that they may face consequences or “be cancelled” for something that they post online.  There is a general fear that something that they post will be taken out of context and come back to haunt them.

“I know people who have had rumors spread about them due to social media and something that someone posted online.”


Social media can also exacerbate mental health issues.

“People are very critical of themselves on social media- a lot of girls even edit their pictures, so it doesn’t even really look like them.”

“Social media distorts what a normal person looks like.”

“People see it as their social resume.  It’s like a highlight reel.”

“I haven’t seen as much direct bullying on people’s posts, but there is a lot of indirect bullying – people will talk about something that’s posted or send a post to their friends.”

“There is definitely more drama with girls, and it’s all indirect bullying.  Everything is behind someone’s back, not to their face.”

“Social media is not the best way to help a kid out of their shell – it’s better to encourage in person interactions.”


What are the other big challenges for teens these days?

Mental health, doing well academically, the college process, and social pressures were cited as the biggest challenges.

“Comparison to peers, and people who promote their own achievements sometimes through social media, can be rough.”

“The college process is time consuming and stressful, and definitely takes away from social time.”

“Kids talking about classes, tests, and what standardized exams they’re taking can add to the stress.”


What can parents do to best support their teens?

“Don’t set ridiculously high expectations, and don’t punish them for a bad grade.”

“One piece of advice I was told that really helped me is ‘as long as you put forth your best effort, that’s all you can do.’  I think every parent should say that.”

“If something doesn’t go well, see it as a speed bump.  Get them the help or resources they need, and have a plan of action.”


Do most of you have a support system?  What does it look like?

“Reach out to your school to find a teacher or advisor your teen trusts.  It can be easier to talk to someone who’s not a parent, and it’s important to have a support system outside of the home.”

“We do family dinners where everyone gets to know what is going on with each other’s lives.”


Let’s talk about dating and relationships…


Most teens said that this is highly personal and dependent on the each individual.  There is not really a “norm.”  Generally speaking, most teens are not really looking for relationships, as they are more focused on school.  Hook ups (defined by one teen as “making out”) are much more common than relationships.

“Freshman and sophomore culture is definitely more around hook ups.  As teens get older, some are looking for more serious relationships.”


What about gender identity and same sex relationships?


“It definitely feels more represented and accepted.  There are LGBTQ clubs at most schools.”

“You can ask others how they identify, but it can also make people question themselves.”

“Fluidity is more common but stigma still exists.  Pronouns can help kids feel more accepted.”

“In sophomore health, we learned everything in depth, including the dangers of porn.”


Lucy quoted from a book that said every teen should know how to “do laundry, cook a meal, and handle money” by the time they graduate.  Are you all competent at these things?


The teens generally said that “there’s so much more to it than that.”  They cited things like time management, nutrition, and independence as more important factors.

“You have to know how to spend your money, and not just follow trends.  Like right now, everyone is buying Sambas [a type of shoe].  Or people spend a lot of money at Sephora.”

“A credit card with an allowance is a really good way to teach money management to kids.”

“A summer job might also be helpful to learn to make your own money.”


What sustains you and do you feel hope for the future?”


“People are doubtful in our generation, but generally there is a lot of hope.”

“Sometimes we see 8 year olds on social media buying products at Sephora or those Stanley Cups, and it’s disheartening, but there’s a lot of positive things that are happening too.”

“I’ve seen people mature in how they deal with social media so that it doesn’t destroy their productivity, and that’s been encouraging.”

“We are hard-working and dedicated, and we are the right generation to change things.”

“This generation has a burning sense of equality and acceptance.”


The floor was then opened for audience questions.


How serious is Fentanyl?  What measure are being taken to prevent exposure?

“Most kids think it’s extremely scary.”

“Some kids buy weed off the street that might be laced, but I haven’t heard of it otherwise.”


College students are much less independent than ever before.  Why is this, and what can we do to make kids more independent?

“Let your kids make mistakes and fall.  Let them learn from their own mistakes.  Don’t figure out everything for them.”

“Do not coddle them and let go of their hand.  Let them be independent in terms of getting to school and moving around by themselves.”


Do you really feel connected with your friends?

“There are different types of friends for different things.  Social media can create artificial relationships, but online relationships go away when people have more real in person interactions.”

“Older siblings can act as a role model and help build connections.”


What did your parents do right and what did they do wrong?

“They didn’t force me to share information but encouraged it.  It helped build trust.”

“Conversation not interrogation.  Allow sharing without reprimanding, almost like a friend.”

“Don’t try to mold your kid to be like you.  Let them be their own person.”


What age did you start traveling solo in the City?

“Definitely before high school.  Maybe 7th or 8th grade.”

“I was taking the subway in 8th grade on my own.  It helped me gain awareness and independence skills.”


Have you heard of kids using LSD and mushrooms?

“Definitely varies based on the social crowd your kid hangs out in.  Some kids have never done that.”

“It’s not as common as weed or alcohol.”


Where do hook ups happen?

“At parties mostly.  People that have less strict parents, it can sometimes move into someone’s house.”

“People will invite 2-3 friends to their house so it’s like 2 couples and it’s not as dangerous.”


Lucy then read a poem called Roots and Wings, and thanked all of the teens for their insights and time.  The seminar then concluded.  

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