Teens Speak Their Minds
A chat with 11 high school seniors-to-be yields thoughts about vaping, cheating, learning online and having to compete for those precious slots at the college of one’s choice.
People who look back on their high school years as uncomplicated bliss are telling themselves a giant whopper. But even they, if they trod those hallways some decades ago, didn’t have to contend with today’s confusing mix of social media, a worldwide pandemic, online learning, school shootings in the news and unprecedented polarization. How are today’s students coping? It’s become an annual BERGEN tradition (though it took a pandemic pause last year) to find out. So, in anticipation of the new school year, our editors gathered 11 kids from 11 different high schools, public and parochial, and more or less pleaded that they politely sound off. Most were rising seniors, and we asked them about the issues they face in their lives. For once there were no wrong answers. (There were, however, long ones— and we confess to having edited for length.) We figure it’s a chance for adults, in turn, to “listen”—and learn.
Rita: What stresses you guys out?
Isabella: Being a teenager in general, especially during this time, can be very, very stressful. There’s a lot of pressures on everyone to just perform really well. I’m pretty sure everyone here are very high achievers and want to do the best that we possibly can. One thing my school did that helped us was, during finals week and midterms week, they brought in therapy dogs and we got to pet them and relax during our lunch period. For me, I also created a podcast called “Be Well” where I talk about mindfulness and mental health.
Christina: I definitely agree with Isabella. I’ve always had high expectations for myself. I’ve always taken honors level AP classes, and I feel it’s very important to find that balance between taking care of yourself and succeeding. Mental health is something I dealt with a lot in high school. I learned to finally manage it and really take care of myself. One thing that definitely helped me a lot is that I’m very bold with my faith. I’m a Christian, and I am the leader of this group called Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Park Ridge High School. It’s a great group where you can talk about how God has been working in your lives. It brings a lot of solace to me.
Shivani: We’re expected to act like adults, but not treated like adults. We’re given a taste of independence, not fully independent, and you really have to find your way to navigate this. I know many of us probably have jobs outside of school. I am an actor and model. I’m with the SAG AFTRA union, so I go on auditions. Pre-pandemic I would go into the city a lot, and I also have my own nonprofit that I work on, and then all my extracurriculars in school and outside of school plus staying on top of school. You really have to balance so much and this can come at a cost. For me, it’s been sleep. We do have a 55-minute, built-in time called Community Time. There would be, like, a study hall or we have Wellness Wednesdays, where we would do wellness activities like bracelet making or show a movie. That really helps us also come together as a community, especially given the pandemic. We’ve been online for so long, it’s great to be back in person.
Rita: Is there competition for coveted positions within the school?
Sarah: Competition is a really big part of high school in both positive and negative ways. It can motivate you to be a better version of yourself; at the same time it does sometimes add onto the pile of stress. It’s really easy to compare yourself to other people, even on a Zoom call. I’m surrounded by all these really successful people. I think one of the most stressful or unanticipated aspects of high school for me has just been accepting that sometimes I will be stressed. Maybe a class or test is going to be harder than others. Maybe someone is going to do better than me at something. And knowing to reach out to the people around me—my teachers, my coaches, my classmates—because they’re all ultimately there to help.
David: Going to an all-boys school at Bergen, boys have a very competitive nature, and so we have a lot of competition, whether on the athletic field or in the classroom. You know, all trying to get into really good colleges and have the best high school experience we can. I wouldn’t say that it’s a negative or positive at Bergen. I would say it’s just a driving force of the culture. We just had our student elections. I ran for president, and I came in second. I think the winners are awesome people and that either way, or even if, you know, the third or fourth or whatever were elected, it would have been a great opportunity for the entire school. But it’s just, you know. You want to win; you want to do the best you can.
Ben: There always has to be a “winner,” but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I mean, some of the greatest innovations have been born out of competition. The big thing is about balancing.
Amy: I do understand what Benjamin is saying. Competition is healthy, but sometimes it becomes very overwhelming. If you’re trying to get into this college and everyone else is fighting for your spot in that one college and that one field you want to major in, it becomes very overwhelming to you personally.
Hayden: Part of the reason that as high schoolers our nature is so competitive relates to the college admissions process. There are a specific number of spots, and we’re all looking for the factor that’s going to make us stand out. But one of the things at Glen Rock that I’m appreciative of is that I found such a good friend group and teachers that are so supportive. We’re so celebratory of each other’s accomplishments.
Naomi: At our school a lot of the competition circulates around grades. There’s a lot of gossip around how well you do on different exams in comparison to everyone else. But last year, what I really appreciated was my World Civ teacher. He allowed us to take quizzes and other tests through group work. He would split us up into breakout rooms and we would actually take these assessments together. It was really great because it felt—I think for a lot of students there was a lot of issues at our school with, like, cheating—or there wasn’t a lot of issues, but I think in order to kind of lift that guilt or lift that sense of uncomfortableness off students, our teacher allowed us to do that, which was great because it put everybody in the same boat and allowed us to want to do well for each other and ourselves as well.
Rita: Are you so set on specific colleges that if you don’t get there, you’re going to be heartbroken?
Shivani: For me personally, one of the hard truths that I had to grapple with is you can have a dream college but you shouldn’t, for lack of better words, put all your eggs in one basket. Like we said, the college admissions process, the student is one part of it, but then there’s also other students. There’s a college itself. There’s their pool. If they had too many applicants the previous year, if they need people to go international, it all really depends. My older brother was a senior in high school last year, so I had a firsthand glance at the college experience. College is a variable process, so I won’t have my heart set. Wherever you end up, it’s what you make of it.
Lauren: I’m the oldest in my family, so I’m the first one going through this process. It’s just hard because, uhm—it’s like a big business for colleges, just like advertising and things. But you don’t really know what the college is about, so it’s just hard to get that sense until you visit. And scheduling tours is really stressful, especially with me. I’m really busy, like I do spring sports and I have work on the weekend so it’s just not a lot of time to do these things.
Rita: One of you mentioned cheating. How prevalent would you say cheating is?
Sarah: From my experience in classrooms, I would say, unfortunately, cheating is a really big aspect of high school. For me it comes down to integrity. I don’t feel comfortable ever, like, cheating on anything, but I have friends or I’ve heard people talking about—even last year with AP exams, they’re taken at home virtually on the computer. Everyone is talking about, like, “Oh, it’s so easy to cheat.”
Ben: Two points. The scope of it has really been exacerbated by COVID and being at home. However, I still think that in looking at the whole thing about cheating, you have to ask yourself the question, “Why are people doing this?” And if you do, you really find that it’s most likely the reason why you would cheat. The reason why you would put your academic integrity on the line is because in the minds of those students, grades really do weigh that much. I think that kind of speaks to the overemphasis that we put on grades and your class rank and all that.
Rita: If you’ve made the decision not to cheat, and you have this moral compass that says “I’m not going to do it” but you’re surrounded by it, it’s putting you at a disadvantage and you have to make your peace with that, right?
Fred: Eventually you’re going to need to actually know how to do something—like if you’re taking a bio class and you want to become a doctor. So, like, when I’m taking a test and I get tempted, I just think, “When am I going to learn how to do it?”
Hayden: I one hundred percent agree with what Fred is saying, and I don’t think cheating is that prevalent of an issue currently at Glen Rock. Definitely during COVID [it was] a big issue, but we are all back in person. I mean it is high school and there is always going to be cheating. But for me, I’m going to have a bigger payoff from studying than they would from cheating.
Lauren: I’m in a lot of honors and AP; these people take it seriously, but for a lot of the assignments I know people who help each other out and kind of share answers. But I feel like you don’t really understand or process the information when someone’s just feeding you the answers. Especially with math—math is something I struggle with.
Christina: I know it’s a cliche, but you’re really only cheating yourself. I mean, I want to pursue a career in accounting, and if I were to cheat off all of my, like, accounting exams, how am I going to know how to handle the books of a company or tell them how accurate their financials are? I know I’ve definitely been in situations where people have cheated and done better than me on an exam when I didn’t cheat. And yeah, that might sting a little and might cut a little deep, but I know that I have more of a moral compass and more integrity than those people ever will.
David: I have, like, super-hard classes and sometimes people need to cheat to get by because you know they didn’t really put the effort in. But honestly, I do take a little bit of pride in scoring relatively well on a super-hard test when other people cheat. If someone else gets a 96 and cheats and I got an 89 but, like, I was the only one in the class who didn’t cheat, that really gives me a lot of self-confidence.
Amy: I love what everyone is saying, and I know we’re talking a lot about this year, but I wanted to see if we could revisit last year online. Cheating was rampant; it was everywhere. It seemed like the easy, short-term solution. But everyone who cheated last year is having a difficult time returning to in-person school. Especially things like chemistry and algebra. You’re having a very hard time this year because you don’t have the foundation of last year.
Rita: You mention online learning. Talk a little bit about what you missed. I have to imagine that the social aspect was really, really challenging.
Christina: I’m a person that benefits having a good relationship with my teachers and being able to ask for help. It is much easier to go up to, let’s say, a math teacher and say, “I don’t know how to do this problem. Could you explain to me?” than having to show it over, like, a Google Meet—or “Here, let me share my screen.” That could also like translate into the college process. So I’d like to have a smaller university where I can be more in touch with my professors. I did my whole sophomore year virtually. I didn’t go in person at all, and it got very difficult to, you know, be in my room for hours upon hours on end. Going back into school made me realize how much I took it for granted. Every time I said, “Man, I don’t want to get up and go to school today.” Every single day during the pandemic I was saying, “Man, I wish I could get up and go into school!” So it taught me to take advantage of what I have. And now I’m very appreciative to be in school with my friends and my teachers.
Isabella: My sophomore year, we did our cohort schedule, and then by the end of the year we were able to go back full time. But we were only going in for, like, half a day, so we got to leave at like 12:45 and we didn’t have lunch at all. So we never got to have that experience throughout my whole sophomore year of getting to sit with your friends at lunch and just talk about how your day was going. It would be during those quick breaks in between classes where you would have to FaceTime them. Zoom, like she was saying it was very draining. Your eyes are staring at a screen for hours on end in the same spot. And it was so easy to just pull over your phone for a second just to answer a quick text message. You didn’t get that rigor like I was used to my freshman year. And it seemed like fun at first when we didn’t have to go in to school. But then, as it just kept going on and on and the day never changed, it felt just like you were stuck in like this time loop. It just became so mentally and physically draining. And now that we have been able to go back full-time, it was kind of like a wake-up call at first, and it took some adjusting. But the teachers were very, very aware of that.
Rita: What about drugs? Is that an issue at your schools?
Naomi: Vaping is very, very prevalent. We actually had an assembly last week with the guest speaker who presented us with different facts about the harms of vaping.
Rita: Would you say it’s a coping thing, a coolness thing, relaxation? What is it?
Naomi: I see it happen a lot in the bathroom and I’m not really sure if that’s them trying to express their coolness or it’s a coping mechanism. I don’t know, ’cause I personally I don’t do that.
Fred: In my school at Bergenfield, drugs are not really like that big of a problem, but vaping is definitely a really big problem, not just in the bathrooms but, like, outside the school. I always see kids during lunch go into their car and start vaping.
Ben: It definitely, like, ruins the bathroom. It smells bad and it’s terrible for the students. The schools are kind of paralyzed in what they can do to combat it besides a detector. At least for our school, the security guards couldn’t go into the bathrooms, so it’s an interesting dynamic because it’s harder for the school to properly react. I think that’s why part of the problem still exists—because it’s just so easy.
Rita: Have there been changes in your school regarding diversity, in light of everything that’s been going on in the country? Do you feel your student population is accepting of different backgrounds, whether they be religious preferences, political preferences, sexual orientation?
Sarah: At least in my school, we’re a very welcoming environment. And just from what I’ve seen, a lot of people feel really comfortable expressing who they are, whether through their clothing, their makeup, anything of that sort. We have what’s called Unity Club, which brings attention to different backgrounds, cultures, religions, sexual orientations. And that’s really helped to give a voice to some people who maybe in past generations, maybe five to ten years ago, wouldn’t have been as comfortable expressing themselves as they are today.
Rita: That’s really good to hear. So would you guys say that you can’t identify certain students who are made to feel like pariahs?
Hayden: Pretty much what Sarah was saying. Glen Rock offers an Alliance Club, we have a Black Student Union, a Jewish Student Union. There’s all these resources for kids to join. If they identify that way, or if they just want to know more or are an ally, we have a day of silence in support of the LGBTQ community. I can’t speak for everybody, but I would say for the majority we’re all very accepting and just try to make sure everybody feels comfortable.
Rita: What about bullying? We still hear about instances where a young person felt the need to take his or her life as a result of not being able to deal with certain pressures from their peers.
David: Yeah, I think bullying is a high school thing because teenagers—Amy made a really great point earlier about everybody always comparing themselves and competing with the person next to them, even though that’s not really what you have to do. Bullying is about not feeling great about yourself, so you take it out on somebody else. At Bergen we are so lucky compared to public high schools. It’s all guys who already genuinely have personal relationships with each other, so I can’t say there’s any real bullying.
Isabella: Yeah. So, like David, but on the other end, I go to an all-girls school, so there are always going to be those social cliques—even at a coed school—where everyone will just find their group and stay with each other. And that’s normal, and that’s O.K. So, like, the people I surround myself with are maybe different than the person next to me in my English class, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have an overall respect for one another.
Lauren: Although bullying seems to calm down a little bit—like, the intensity of it—I feel like sometimes people throw shade. Or throw certain comments that are kind of hurtful. It can really hurt someone. People will be like, “Oh, it was a joke!” But sometimes it’s not really a joke. Sometimes people take it seriously.
Rita: How comfortable do you feel saying, “Gee, that really wasn’t cool?”
Christina: It’s really hard to speak up and say that’s not really cool. It’s really hard to stick up for yourself and say, “Oh, that really made me upset” or “I’m not very thrilled that you said that.” And I think this creates a culture of then going to somebody else and saying, “You know what? I feel this way, but I didn’t actually say it.” And then it turns into “So-and-so said this, so-and-so said this-and-so.” Being in a small school, word spreads quickly. And although I go to a high school that builds itself on the values of respect and kindness, you know here’s always going to be those people who are going to intentionally try to tear others down. But back to like your question about, like, how you respond to that. It’s very difficult, and some people are fortunate enough to be able to do that, to be able to go up to somebody and say, “Hey, I don’t think that’s really cool.” I give them a lot of credit, and we should strive to be those people, because you’re taking a big risk.
Shivani: I also go to a small school. We have less than 130 kids, so word does spread quickly. One of the values that we are taught is if we see something, say something, and we’re obviously always told not to bully. I was really nervous about the bullying. My middle school graduating class was seven kids, and I’m only five-foot-two. I’m Indian. I’m Hindu. I’m going to this Catholic school with the demographic that’s a little bit different than mine, so I was nervous about the bullying, but I have only been met with kindness and acceptance. I’m part of our Asian American Cultural Club, and we have a director of diversity, equity and inclusion. So I think the inclusivity at my school definitely overpowers the bullying. The bullying more rests in rumors and exclusion, but I always try my best. We have big lunch tables, so I try to invite people over, but I won’t say that it doesn’t happen.
Rita: Given what’s going on in the news today, do you guys ever feel unsafe?
Naomi: Yeah, it’s a really hard and horrible thing to have to wrap my head around. This morning, actually, we received an email from our principal regarding new safety precautions about entrances and where drop-off locations will be if students forget items at home. That has definitely worked to make me feel more safe.
Shivani: We have two separate buildings connected by one breezeway, and we need an ID to get in and out of that hallway. We also have multiple people watching on cameras the entirety of the school. So that has given me a lot of comfort. And we do lockdown drills, fire drills, all of that, and my school is directly across from the town of Alpine, which is known for its affluency. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t worry about that, just as a rational person. Even when I go to the movies, I will scope out an exit. Especially once you hear of a new mass shooting, it’s definitely at the forefront of my mind.
Hayden: Naomi put it perfectly. It’s a frustrating thing to have to wrap your mind around, especially that it keeps happening. At Glen Rock they do work hard to keep us safe. We have a security guard posted by our main entrance. We have security cameras with people watching them. Our doors and gates are locked. But you know, all the schools where it’s happened— they’ve tried to be safe too. And it’s almost like we can’t do anything about it. I mean, we can’t vote yet.
Ben: When I first started knowing about it, which was probably with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas [High School in Florida in February 2018], I was, like, almost enraged that something like this could happen in a place of learning. I think the scary thing for me is that as it’s gone on you worry less and less. People are like, “Oh, there’s just another one.” You become desensitized.
Rita: Yeah, which is really scary.
Ben: As for my school, I think I’ve overall felt pretty safe. But it’s a scary thing to know that you live in a world where you have to think about that.
Amy: It’s terrifying. It’s wrong that this is normalcy—for us to have to go to school with this fear in the back of our head. Each time I turn on the news, the fear just continuously grows. One day in school the administration brought in buckets of emergency protocol items like toilet paper and water bottles in case we did have a lockdown that lasted several hours.
Rita: Oh, my God.
Amy: I never thought that this could happen to us until I did see these buckets come in. Then I was like, “This can happen to us, even though we live in such a great area.”
Lauren: Amy and I are in the same district, or we’re in very close districts. So I go to Pascack Valley and she goes to Hills, and our school as well has those buckets. They’re called emergency sanitation buckets.
David: At Bergen Catholic I know I have really great protectors in the staff that are teaching me. These teachers protect us like we’re their kids, they put so much time and effort into us. Some of these teachers really would risk their life.
Christina: I do feel safe each and every day at Park Ridge, but that doesn’t stop me from necessarily worrying every day that something so horrible like what happened in Texas could happen to us.
Isabella: May was Mental Health Awareness Month, and on the last day we all wore green to bring awareness about it, and we had a mental health quote said every day on our morning TV show that we host. Also, what we did after the Uvalde shooting was, myself and five other juniors, my best friends, we ran a prayer service— completely student-run—to honor each and every life that was lost at that shooting. And I’m so glad that my school was able to support us. Then today we were able to raise money. Since we wear uniforms at school, we all got to dress down in orange, which is the color for gun violence prevention, and we donated $5 or more, which we’re going to send directly to the families of the victims and a banner as well to the whole school.
Rita: We did a special report a month or so ago about mental health, especially among teens. So I’m curious to know if you feel you’re supported by your schools regarding mental health.
Christina: Park Ridge High School is 7th through 12th; it’s junior/senior, so I never really understood the importance of mental health. Then I started taking very difficult classes and doing a lot of extracurriculars and it took a toll on me mentally. I didn’t know how to balance my school life and my personal life. Park Ridge High School does a great job of reaching out in terms of helping people with their mental health. And I think the biggest lesson that I have learned— throughout my entire life, even—is that it is OK to ask for help, and it’s OK to not be OK. We have the Special Services Department—Mr. Yeager, our school psychologist counselor. He’s a great guy and he worked so hard to really help everybody; his days are jam-packed busy all the time and he does a great job of reaching out to the students and really helping them.
Lauren: As someone who struggles with mental health, it can be hard to be aware of when you need to, like, take a break from something. You can get into cycles where you feel stressed or unmotivated, and it’s hard to vocalize that with teachers, because a lot of the times it sounds like an excuse, which is obviously something you never want to do. We have a Wellness Center in our school; it’s a place where you can go, you can be excused from class and take a break and just talk to a counselor.
Shivani: I know for me personally, realizing the importance of mental health was something I struggled with. I think I got caught up in hustle culture—“Oh, I only slept four hours last night, but I’m going and I’m doing this”—and it almost becomes like you’re proud of yourself for it. I know that became really, like, part of my life. It’s not something that my school fosters, but I think it’s just something that we as teens foster in ourselves, especially if we create our own sense of self-competition and we’re trying to better ourselves. April was a very interesting month for me because I was studying abroad over spring break in Oxford, and then as soon as I came back I only had one week to study for APs and then I was competing in the DECA [formerly Distributive Education Clubs of America] International Career Development Conference the following week. And then I had prom the same day that I flew back from Georgia. It was just incredibly intense.
Isabella: Like Shivani said, she’s incredibly busy and I can a hundred percent relate. And one thing that was really positive was my guidance counselor. Like, she’ll reach out and ask for periodic meetings. She called me in for a meeting a few weeks ago because I had just won the title of Miss New Jersey Teen USA, so it was a lot of pressure that I was adding on top of my already really heavy workload and a lot of clubs that I’m head of, and she called me in and I sat down and she asked me, “Are you O.K.? Are you sure you’re not taking on too much?”
I used to be a competitive dancer on top of all of that, and in October I was like, enough was enough. I would cry every day to go to dance ’cause I had so much homework and it was not healthy for me at all. She was always there to listen to me and to let me just speak my truth and what I was feeling and I never felt judged. It has allowed me to make many more sound decisions that didn’t make me feel guilty, like I was quitting something, or that I wasn’t strong enough mentally to handle it. It was more that I was just leaving some toxic part of my life and finding that outlet.
Rita: How many hours of sleep do you get each night?
Fred: Four to five. I do a lot of sports, so usually I wake up at around 7, have school from 8 to 3, then I usually have practice from 3 to 6, and if I have, like, a track meet or a game, then sometimes I’ll get home even later. It’s 7, 7:30, and then I’ll be starting my homework around 8 or 9. But before, like, I used to work during the week. So now I only work on the weekends, but when I would work during the week I would have practice from 3 to 6, then work from 7 to 11:30, and then I’d start my homework at, like, 12 so then I would be going to sleep really late. When I had a job I would sleep maybe four hours, three hours.
Ben: Probably around five to six on average. I aim for six or six-and-a-half, but there’s always stuff that gets in the way. Like Fred was saying, definitely with sports, that makes it a lot harder.
David: Usually I’ll get around, maybe, four. But in the past week I’ve gotten a pretty good schedule. It’s been like going to sleep at 12, waking up at 6.
Naomi: I usually try to average about six to seven.
Amy: I’m going to go “five to six,” but there were times in the winter it would be a solid two. I was doing swim season, waking up at 3 in the morning, going to bed at 12 or 1. It was incredibly demanding. And this year, especially junior year, winter was difficult, and I saw so many people dropping winter sports and I didn’t realize why until I saw that sleep balance that no one could achieve.
David: Can I just ask a question? Has anybody else pulled an all-nighter this year or in their high school career? I know I definitely have.
Rita: They’re saying no, most are saying no. So Lauren, how many hours for you?
Lauren: I used to really get no sleep at all, and it was a really big problem. So my mom started taking away my phone at night. That really helped a lot. Obviously at first I resented that, like, a lot because I do have trouble falling asleep. But now I’m getting like six or seven.
Shivani: Freshman year was seven. Pandemic made me slack off. Now it’s four to five, but I got introduced to a beautiful thing called NAPS.
Isabella: Probably five to six.
Hayden: I would say six to seven. If I don’t sleep, I get sick. Tried and true, every time if I, like, only do two hours of sleep I am sick the next day. So I try to get sleep.
Rita: I feel like sleep is a very good coping mechanism. It’s like if you sleep, then you’re rested. You can deal with things. Christina?
Christina: During sports seasons, maybe five to six; when I’m not playing sports—that’s in the fall—I would say maybe six, sometimes seven if I got lucky. But I’m definitely a person that can’t run on like no sleep. If I get, like, four or five hours of sleep, next day I’m just checked out. I just don’t function.
Sarah: I’m the same way as Hayden was saying. I cannot function without like at least seven hours. Obviously there are some days I’m only getting maybe five, but I usually really try and get my sleep when I can.
Rita: Another thing that has been prevalent recently is this political divide in our nation, right? It just seems to be filtering into all aspects of our life. Do you feel that people in your school communities are open to letting people express their differences—or you don’t talk about it? What’s the vibe like?
Fred: If you say the wrong thing, or if you just have a different political view from someone else—especially now with cancel culture—a lot of people, like, they’ll go to social media, they’ll tell their friends, and then they’ll start switching up what you said, and then it just keeps snowballing and then people start thinking you’re a bad person. In my school, it’s really hard for someone to just not agree with you and still respect you.
Naomi: Everything now is so tainted by politics. People at my school use the vaccine as an indicator of whether someone is a member of, like, a certain political party, when people don’t realize that there’s parents behind that decision.
Shivani: I think social media has drastically radicalized this—and in recent elections, I think the divide had gotten even bigger. It’s a much more radicalized time to be politically voiced, and I think certain values will get, I guess, misworded or tainted definitely—what Fred and Naomi are saying. You have a certain viewpoint, then some people villainize you, some people will put you on a pedestal.
Rita: Well, is the way you guys deal with that just not to talk about it?
Isabella: In my friend group we’re very open to talking about it, and I think it’s because we all basically have the same opinion. But when someone else may have disagreements, you kind of shove that onto the side and ignore it just because you don’t want to start any problems. It’s respecting that they have a different decision, having that responsibility not to, like, egg someone on.
Rita: Let’s do sort of a lightning round. Where do you guys go to hang out with your friends?
Sarah: We’ll usually just spend time at each other’s houses.
Christina: I belong to a gym in Ramsey, and going there is a great way to hang out with friends and take your mind off certain things.
Hayden: A little cliché. Me and my friends, we shop a lot together. We go to the mall.
Rita: Retail therapy!
Hayden: Yeah, like once a month. Every other month we try to do something a little bigger. This past month we took the train into Hoboken. Isabella: My friend group and I, we’re a little bit more introverted, so we just like to hang out at each other’s houses. We do love to get ice cream.
Shivani: I’m from Paramus, so we have all the malls at our disposal. Also, I would say our houses, and next to AHA there’s Closter Plaza about seven minutes away, and I have a slight obsession with acai bowls. So we’ll all go get acai bowls from Super Juice Nation there. Or go to Starbucks.
Fred: Usually me and my friends will either go to the gym or we’ll go to the basketball court in Bergenfield. Ben: Definitely people’s houses. And there’s a place called Ice Cream on Grand [in Englewood].
David: I love going to Ridgewood with my friends and, you know, catching a movie and catching some awesome Mexican food. But then on the way back from baseball, we usually go to Paramus Park. And then if I want to see a movie, I’m going to AMC at Garden State Plaza. And then there’s lot of my friends, we love going out for like pizza and reviewing different pizza across the county, ’cause I think our state definitely has the best pizza in the country.
Naomi: Personally, I am a huge foodie, so my friends and I love trying new restaurants. I think our default is pretty basic. It’s The Cheesecake Factory, but we also love going to, like, Raymond’s in Ridgewood. We went to Hanami in Westwood the other day, which was fun.
Amy: I have be honest, there’s not a lot to do in my area, so like David and Naomi we’ll drive out to Westwood or Ridgewood. I was at Hanami the other day too. Ice cream always, and really just each other’s houses.
Lauren: Pretty much everywhere that everyone said. Ridgewood has a lot of options; it’s nice and especially since my friends got their licenses we can go out to farther places. Westwood has, like, the Farmhouse and Playa Bowls, and that’s really close to where I am, so I used to bike-ride there in the summer. There’s also Uncle Louie G’s in Park Ridge and The Ridge Diner.
Rita: Any final words?
Shivani: Everyone, please keep in mind that for teenagers it’s become way more competitive nowadays. I would say just maintain an understanding that we have a lot to deal with. We have jobs, we have school, we have extracurriculars, we have college, we have caring for our family. And we’re expected, again, to be independent, yet not even given full independence. Just respect the teenagers in your life.
Amy: I’m seeing a recurring theme of stress. It really plays into everything—into competitiveness, bullying, coping mechanisms, everything. It takes such a toll on our mental health and the balances and priorities we have in our life. So really, I just wanted to tell everyone, take a step back and really think about what you’re prioritizing in your life. Don’t put school above your own mental health and your own well-being, because then you’re going to lose parts of yourself. And I believe that’s it. It’s great talking to all of you.
Lauren: This forum was a really great experience.
Christina: I’m so blessed to be surrounded by so many bright minds—like, literally blown away by all of you. I wish you all the best of luck in your future endeavors. I know you will all be successful, and my final message would just be to remember that you matter, like you’re allowed to prioritize yourself, and it’s not being selfish.
Hayden: When you’re in that moment where everything seems overwhelming, just try and think about all the things you have to be appreciative of right now.