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CanTeen provides safe space for students stressed about heading back to the classroom

Ellen Abbott

It’s back to school week across upstate New York, and while it’s an exciting time for many students, stress can be lurking beneath all the back to school activities, especially for teens.

Wesley Sweetman is a director at the CanTeen in the Cicero-North Syracuse school district.

"So this is a safe place for young people to come, spend time with one another, pursue their own interests, and just be themselves," Sweetman said.

Sweetman said the start of school introduces many stressors, from changing buildings and being introduced to new schedules, to finding it hard to switch from a summer sleep schedule to one that fits into school hours. Sweetman said organizations like his, fill another gap, allowing kids to find a physical community in the midst of change. He said now more than ever, a digital world fills that void.

“People are looking for this community and if they aren't able to find it here within their own world around them then they'll try to find something that is there digitally and sometimes that can lead to getting involved in things that their parents don't really know about," Sweetman said.

Sweetman sees some lingering effects of the pandemic, which could be a factor in an increase in social anxiety CanTeen staffers are seeing.

"We have seen a lot of young people who probably have some trauma involved in not being able to do things, or some young people who just didn't really care to go do those things and so they got used to not having to," Sweetmand said. "And now going back to the grind and stuff like that has been difficult."

For caregivers, Sweetman said listening is the best strategy to help youth.

"Being understanding of these changes and being understanding of these stressors can really allow a deeper bond to form between guardians and their young person," Sweetman said.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.