My name is Braden Mensack. I am a senior from Keys High School and have been
advocating through the Youth Action for Health Leadership (YAHL) program for almost two
years. YAHL is a youth-led advocacy organization focused on improving the health and
well-being of youth in the state of Oklahoma. I decided that I needed to join the YAHL program
because I felt that it was my duty to make a difference and spark change within my community,
but I knew I couldn’t do it alone. The YAHL program became the perfect way for me to make a
difference while helping myself, and not to mention, have fun! The two issues that I see above
all else in my generation’s youth are their seemingly obligatory tendency to follow what everyone
else is doing and their decreased care for their own bodies. Both of these issues are
becoming increasingly more relevant from generation to generation.
First, people within my age group, based on what I have seen from my friends and peers,
have an almost indescribable desire or need to do whatever the people around them are doing; an example of this would be everyone wearing the same new shoes. This is obviously unhealthy as it deflects individualization which, in turn, creates situations in which youth believe that if they do not fit in with these social spaces, they are less than. But, more specifically, this is unhealthy for physical health with vaping becoming such an epidemic, and youth today believe that they are not “cool” if they don’t vape. YAHL has stepped in to fight this youth desire to be like everyone else by combating the vaping epidemic; more specifically, we, as youth advocates, fight these issues that we see on a legislative level. A change in legislation that puts power back into local communities’ hands and prevents big tobacco companies from selling to minors would change the youth’s mentality on what the people around them are doing and would promote the individualization of my generation.
Second, my generation has shown a significant decrease in the care of their health when
compared to other generations. I have seen this within my own school through the increased use of both alcohol and vapor products by my peers. This also goes to show how far the effects of a lack of youth individualization can go; the increase in the desire to be like others creates a decrease in the care and well-being of our own bodies. As an organization of youth fighting for youth, we must continue to go against the grain and continue to fight these harmful trends on a legislative level in order to change the actions and outcomes of our own generation.
With our generations becoming ever more connected, we must remember that at the end
of the day, we’re the same humans as those one hundred years ago. Though the increase in social media and pop culture trends has shifted our viewpoints from that of an individualistic standpoint to that of a cultural one, we must sit back and remember that, at the end of the day, we’re all just human. We must use organizations such as YAHL to advocate and raise awareness of these increasing social issues and fight them at the source–before they become an issue for future generations. The YAHL program has given me great advocacy opportunities and I have already begun to see the changes reflected in not only my peers, but also my school as a whole.