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Center for Adolescent Health

Center for Adolescent Health Blog


The Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health and Open Society Institute partnered with YouthWorks to fund the 5-week Summer Youth Leadership Institute for Baltimore City Public School students. Eighty students participated in the program across five BCPS high schools served as host sites: Academy for College and Career Exploration (ACCE), Achievement Academy, Forest Park High School, Frederick Douglass High School, and Patterson High School. Through the Summer Youth Leadership Institute students examined school climate data, held community conversations about school climate, and participated in enrichment workshops.

Following the Institute, a rising senior at ACCE, Jasmine Carter, is empowered to speak out. “What really stuck out to me the most is [learning] about our voice.” Aram Boykins, high school program manager for the Baltimore Debate League, shared valuable advice to the students. “He told us we have a voice, use it. ... So if you want something done you have to use your voice,” Carter explained.  Carter continued, “I want to make a big difference because it’s my last year. I’m going to use my voice as much as I can to improve our school. I’m going to think about what I learned in the program. It’s going to motivate me to do better in school and focus on what I got to do outside of school as well,” Carter, along with each of the groups, will present their findings and recommendations to their school’s principal and School-Family Council as well as the City Schools’ CEO during the 2017-18 school year.

The summer wasn’t all school climate for the students.  They also attended workshops on financial literacy, public speaking, and workforce readiness skills. ACCE student Deondrae Witherspoon liked the variety of the program. “We learned about banking, how to be a leader, how to be professional, and how to speak up for yourself,” he said. Partners from across Baltimore City provided enrichment programs, for the students such as spoken word, music, intensive mentoring, dance and mindfulness.

Katrina Brooks, CAH’s community relations director said, “It gave them the opportunity to test out their public speaking, so they felt confident through spoken word, music, and theatre. They were able to use their voice and practice in a safe space amongst their peers.” Enrichment partners included Baltimore-based organizations such as DewMore Baltimore, New Vision Youth Services, Equal Medium Mentorship Program, and Holistic Life Foundation. Brooks said, “Because the enrichment was focused on areas young people like or had some experience with, it was a good draw to the program. It was a great networking opportunity for schools and students that they could benefit from beyond the summer.”

The Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health thanks its partners in helping to make the Summer Institute a success and looks forward to empowering students in future sessions.

Written by: Lauren Burns


Thirteen Reasons Why is a fictional Netflix series. The show is about a girl who over the course of several years got bullied and raped, which led to her declining mental health. In the series, she leaves tapes for 13 people to describe their role in her decision to end her life. The show was the first exposure to the topic of mental health for some people. However, it is important to acknowledge some key differences between the series and what some people may experience in real life mental health.

                First off, Thirteen Reasons Why was written to be an over dramatized story. What does this mean? Well, it means that the creators were trying to draw watchers into the story. Of course, the truth can be warped to fit within the story and it be used as a cautionary tale, BUT, it might be worthwhile for people to follow up watching this show by doing research on mental health or talking to someone who works in the mental health profession. Doing this will ensure that we are not creating inaccurate stereotypes of folks who may be experiencing trauma in their lives.

                Second, there are many more options to addressing distressful and traumatic experiences than suicide. In 2014, only 13 people out of every 100,000 people committed suicide. However, there are roughly 18.5% of adults in the US experience some form of mental illness, and many of them are able to live with their illness. Most of them use therapy, medications or other healthy ways to deal with mental illness. The take away point is that people respond differently to mental health challenges and deal with them in different ways.

                Thirdly, suicide is never the survivors fault. The main character in the series blames other people for her committing suicide. Suicide is no one’s fault. Suicide is the result of a person feeling they have no other options. In some ways, the series romanticized suicide through the tapes that she left for others to hear. Suicide is not beautiful, it is upsetting and sad.

There are many things that you can do in life to help yourself or other people who might be having a hard time:

Be there for them as much as you can.

  • Sometimes people feel they are fighting their battles alone. This is often not the case. Simply and constantly showing them they you are here for them can only help.

Listen, and don’t judge.

  • It’s okay if you don’t directly understand what they are going through. Letting them talk to you about how they are feeling can be very cathartic for some people. That’s why you’ll need to be careful how you react to what they tell you, because it is often hard to tell people about this in the first place.

If you believe that they are going to hurt themselves, never wait for them to actually do it.

  • I know that you might want to stay on that person’s good side. This is not the time to think of yourself. If they give signs that they might be self-harming or seriously thinking about suicide, contact an adult or the authorities. They might be angry at you afterwards for stopping them, but connecting them to someone who can help is critical. It has to be more important to you that they are alive and safe rather than them liking you.

If you feel like you can’t handle the information they are giving you, it is OK to take a step back.

  • You can to help without sacrificing your own mental health for them. Both of you should have a person (e.g., a therapist, teacher, parent, other adult figure) to talk to.

When in doubt, take the advice that you are given on a plane in case of an emergency: apply your own mask before helping someone else. So it’s okay to take care of yourself before trying to help others. Stay safe and stay connected.

For more resources, please visit:

By: Ellen Nikirk

Ellen Nikirk attends Garrison Forest High School. As a participant in the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program, she is working with and learning from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health.

teen sleep

Did you know that if you go over 19 hours without sleeping, you have the mental and physical faculties of a person who is legally drunk? Sleep is a very important part of ordinary human life. Sleep helps our brains and bodies to recuperate, and gives us energy for the next day. It affects our learning ability, memory, mood and attention span. It can also affect our reaction time, which means that a sleepy person behind the wheel of a car is just as dangerous as a drunk driver. The majority of people do not have a problem falling asleep, especially young children and older adults. However, the age group that has the hardest time getting sleep is teenagers.

People my age (teens between 13 and 18) are supposed to get roughly eight to ten hours of sleep a night. That’s too bad considering that over 80% of teens get 7 hours or less of sleep each night. Our internal clock might be one reason we miss out on our recommended amount of sleep. A person’s internal clock is how our bodies tell time. Everyone has one, but for teenagers, our internal clocks are wonky, which means that it can make it harder to fall asleep or wake up early. But there’s not much we can do about that now other than live with it.

Here’s the thing…most teenagers have other factors that impact how much and how well they sleep. One biggie is stress. Studies show that between the ages of 14 and 20, life is largely more stressful than any other age of human lives. Maybe because it comes from EVERYWHERE, like school, family dynamics, friends (or frenemies) and even our own hormones sometimes working against us. It can be hard to change or avoid things that can cause us stress. Luckily, I have found some tips for dealing with school and other stress inducing things that affect our sleep negatively.

  1. Prioritize: Give yourself specific times for any type of work, whether it be homework, a job, or chores. Also try to consolidate work time into large chunks.
  2. Be Realistic: Don’t try to take on more work than you know you can. Try focusing on few things so that you can excel in them, instead of being mediocre at a multitude of things. With this in mind, you can eliminate unnecessary activities.
  3. Balance out Stress: Do activities that help to relieve stress, like reading, writing, exercising, talking with friends. Not everyone is the same, so find the healthy thing that works for you and do that to reduce the stress you may be feeling.
  4. Keep a Sleep Schedule (no matter how silly it sounds): Make sure that you consistently get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. It’s ok to sleep in for a little while more when you can, but no more than an hour can mess up an already messed up internal clock.

The most helpful thing that a teen can try doing is getting an extra 60 minutes of sleep each night. This is because an extra hour can help: your mood, your grades, your memory, and your physical health.

By: Ellen Nikirk

Ellen Nikirk attends Garrison Forest High School. As a participant in the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program, she is working with and learning from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health


What is the first thing you think of when you hear teen dating violence? You may think of physical and/or psychological manipulation and exploitation. You might think of the statistics and information that you were told in high school. Like that 1 in 3 of young adults were in an abusive relationship by the age of 24. Or that roughly 58% of college students have been in an abusive relationship. You might have been surprised that the amount of boys who are victims of dating abuse is almost as high as the amount of girls. However, most of us know that facts, but are not quite sure how to help. For anyone who knows someone who was or is being abused, you have to be there for them. You have to be a no judgment zone, and you have to make them feel safe. Here are a few suggestions on how to help a young person who may be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship.

I think my friend is in an unhealthy relationship. What should I do?

If you find out that one your friends’ is in an abusive relationship, what are you going to do? Tell them that you have too and it is a normal part of teenage relationships? NO! You want to be able to help them while in the relationship, and hopefully out of the relationship. Consider this list of Dos and Don’ts when trying to help your friend:

  • DO help your friend to recognize the abuse
  • DO NOT let them blame themselves
  • DO connect them with resources
  • DO NOT focus on the abuser, focus on your friend
  • DO help them develop a safety plan
  • DO be supportive and caring, even if it does not feel like much
  • DO NOT directly accuse the abuser face-to-face or online, this can affect your friend negatively as the abuser may take it out on them
  • DO continue to support them after the relationship, this is very important
  • DO thank them for their trust (because it can take a lot to tell/talk to people about abuse)

My child just told me that they are in an unhealthy relationship. How can I help them?

Parents will likely have a much harder time dealing with dating violence involving their child. While over 82% of parents are positive that they could spot abuse, over half (58%) were unable to notice it. In fact, roughly 81% of parents did not see dating abuse as a problem, or did not know that it is a problem for teenagers. That fact within itself is a problem. However, if you see that your child is being abused, here are a few dos and don’ts to follow:

  • DO show acceptance
  • DO show concern
  • DO NOT directly talk about the person, but DO talk about their actions
  • DO NOT give ultimatums to your child
  • DO give them support
  • DO be prepared
  • DO make decisions with your child, NOT for them
  • DO NOT be judgmental of your child
  • DO be there for them when they need you

What should I do if I may be a perpetrator?

The first thing that you can do is to be aware of what you are doing and know why it is wrong. Next you should focus on altering your brain from that way of thinking. Sometimes perpetrators of abuse do not know that what they are doing is wrong. They might not know because of many reasons. One could be the normalization of unhealthy relationships in society today. Another could be due to their upbringing or the relationships that they have been in before. It could also be because the perpetrator is abusing drugs or alcohol, which can impair their thinking. Sadly, another reason may be because they like doing it or they like the control that it gives them. This, however, does not forgive those actions, but it does mean that the abuser can know when they are being abusive and modify their behavior to exclude those abusive actions. Here is what perpetrators of abuse can do: get more specific info:

  • DO recognize what you are doing
  • DO do research on abuse and what exactly it means
  • DO get help, whether from a therapist or a family member
  • YOU CAN talk to your partner about the abuse in a safe setting for both of you
  • YOU CAN go to the websites below to get professional help from people specially trained to help perpetrators of violence
  • DO NOT refuse to get help and continue to harm your current and/or future partners

You can go to these websites for more external help:


Here are some additional resources that anyone can use to get more information on dating violence and ways to get external help:

By: Ellen Nikirk

Ellen Nikirk attends Garrison Forest High School. As a participant in the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program, she is working with and learning from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health.


On a late summer afternoon, Powell is deep in conversation with Gary Dittman, pastor of Amazing Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, in his cluttered basement office. Their exchange calls to mind a back porch chat between friends. Powell is upbeat and empathetic as they catch up on church initiatives, a few setbacks and neighborhood politics. She’s quick to spot opportunities for promoting intergenerational fellowship and pleased to learn that Amazing Grace offers a program on healing from trauma. “You know I’m all about that!” she says.

Powell and Dittman contemplate using research funds to purchase a PlayStation 3 as a way of encouraging young men who are avid video gamers to participate in the church community. Although the topic of HIV/AIDS doesn’t come up directly in this particular conversation, they cover other critical issues from the neighborhood’s need for fresh vegetables to the young boy who lives in a three-bedroom house with 13 others and scrambles for food to feed his family.

Powell’s work with pastors takes into account the hard choices they have to make when allocating limited resources in communities with multiple health disparities. Not all are willing or able to launch HIV/AIDS ministries and outreach programs as Frank Lance has at Mt. Lebanon. Powell and Lance, who serves on the city’s HIV/AIDS commission, have spent hours discussing ways to incorporate HIV-related information and programming into the agendas of less progressive churches. “The greatest stigma [associated with men who have sex with men and HIV/AIDS] is still in the black church,” Lance says.

Read the full article....

By: Stephanie Shapiro