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Teen Leader Creates Safe Spaces for Peers

Guest blogger, Areya Williams is a Speaking Defender and part of The Expressive Leaders Program at The Practice Space. This post is about her journey in starting a club at her school to support her peers in using their voice to promote positive mental health and create safe spaces.

My Name is Areya Williams. I am in the 7th grade. I live in Vallejo, California. I live with my mother and my father and my two younger siblings and I have a lot of interests and hobbies. For example, I love to watch anime. My favorite subject is science. My favorite food is seafood. What makes me an Expressive Leader is a lot of things. I feel like everyone is a leader in their way. I am a very good leader and a very good friend. Everything I do I put a lot of effort into and I lead by example when I don’t even realize it. I feel like I am a good role model and a very good leader and as an older sibling I feel that is a very important thing.

I feel like an issue that not a lot of people pay attention to is bullying and stress as a teenager myself. I feel like there is a lot of stress especially when you have a lot of work and there are times when you have personal things going on. These things cause stress which can lead to depression or self-harm and I feel we need to put a stop to this and have open spaces. It could be just a 2-minute talk or even a hug; that counts and could help.

My project is about many things. It’s not just about one thing. I am a therapist but way younger and within the age range as other teens so I feel it’s easier to talk to someone your age and someone who understands and is probably going through the same thing. I chose this project because I feel like that is very common when you are in middle school, high school, and even college. Stress can cause a lot of damage and even trauma. It can cause heart problems which increase heart rate which elevates levels of stress hormones and blood pressure which can cause a lot of damage to the body.

The reason I started a group at my school was because during the first couple of months of the pandemic I sat back and started realizing that something that was not getting talked about a lot is stress in young kids and bullying.  When I started doing Expressive leaders I realized this was my opportunity to talk about it and I started my club. What inspired me to do this was myself when we were coming up with topics I decided to come up with something I was already dealing with which was stress. It was a very difficult time and I felt very alone until my mom started helping me and I decided to do this project. I feel like on this topic not a lot of people like to bring up self-harm and also I know some kids take pills or even vape and I have even had that problem at school. This issue is important because it’s not right that kids feel like they have to take that route. After all, they are stressed and don’t know what to do or where to go and I feel like we should all be very concerned because mothers and fathers are losing their children every day. I don’t think parents should have to worry about what’s going on plus the fact that their child could be somewhere smoking or taking pills or causing self-harm. This also goes into parents getting involved like strict parenting and not letting your child have a bit of freedom makes it worse because you’re making the child feel as if they have to sneak out which causes more stress. Because it’s like you’re trapped – like roots in a tiny pot and there is nowhere to go. 

As part of this project, I have decided something that could work is sharing the things I am going through and going around and having everyone else do the same. My goals for the club were to help kids my age be able to talk openly about their problems and mental illness to not feel like they are trapped and have no safe place. I felt that maybe if I started this club me and others in the group could be that safe space for each other and be there for one another. In my club, we worked on activities such as learning sign language and playing “getting to know each other” trivia games, and kahoots.  Next, I will be trying my best to do more activities and I will try and see if people will like the activities I do but if not then I will try something else. I will do this thing where I ask everyone what type of activities they want to do. One challenge I do have is the activities because I am not good at coming up with them but I have a couple of activities that I wrote down that some friends suggested so for my next class I will do those.

One surprising thing I have learned is that I wasn’t doing the right activities at the right time. But I also got some tips and feedback from some friends of mine and my mentors. Which helped me. But surprisingly I was doing it very wrong. I realized instead of thinking about what everyone else was doing I was doing it myself which was very selfish of me. But I have learned from my mistakes.

As a result of this project, I have learned a lot about feelings and reading people. There used to be a time where I wasn’t very good at reading people and I was not able to understand what was wrong with others and how they felt. But now I understand more. I have also learned about the brain, thanks to my counselor Ms. Racheal. She has been a big help throughout this journey and it has been very nice and helpful working with her. I feel like I have learned a little about the brain, like how there is this one part of your brain called the Amygdala. The Amygdala is a part of the brain that causes fear or anger or stress It can detect both emotional and biological stressors. 

I am currently transitioning to holding meetings in person! Thank you for reading my blog post! 

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