Teens Bring Economic Stress To School

Austin Seale, who is waiting for his next paycheck to buy guitar strings. (EN Doane) CBS

The students at Montclair High School in Southern California are learning the three Rs, but many of them are living the lessons of a fourth R: Recession.

"Hi, my name is Brenda and what the recession means to me is stop wanting what I want and start wanting what I need," said one student in school project where students videotaped themselves.

"Hi, my name is Dulce and what the recession means to me is wearing $10 shoes," another said.

More than 80 percent of the nearly 34 million teenagers nationwide say they are concerned about the economy, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane.

"Hi, I'm Kristen Beltran," said Kristen, shooting herself at home. "And what the recession means to me is not being able to afford the things that I really need."

Kristen's dad, a welder, has a quarter of the work he had this time last summer. The mortgage is three months behind. Fifteen-year-old Kristen wishes her parents would let her get a job.

"Are we going to have enough money for groceries? Are my parents going to be able to pay the bills?" Kristen asked.

"These are things you worry about now?" Doane asked.

"Sometimes, yeah," she said.

"And you didn't before?" Doane asked.

"No," Kristen said. "You know - that's adult stuff."

"You can see it in their eyes," said Nathan Robinson, a math teacher. "They're thinking about something else. And it has nothing to do with Algebra 2."

Their teachers say it has everything to do with what's happening at home.

"You want me to learn about this when I can't even go out and buy, you know, something to eat?" asked Melissa Smith-Wilson, an English teacher, about her students' problems.

"It sounds like there are all of these new problems cropping up among the student population," Doane said. "How does it manifest itself?"

"In tears," said Christina Martinez, an academic counselor. "Really, I mean, I don't know what else to say other than that. I have kids crying in my office. I have more parents meeting with me. Sometimes without their kids."

"They don't want to tell the kids how bad things are?" Doane asked.

"I don't think they want to cause their child more discomfort by having that conversation with them present," Martinez said. "So they'll come and they'll tell me, 'I don't know if you know, but we're moving out of this apartment right now. We were evicted.'"

"Hi my name is Faith Herrera, and what the recession means to me is …" said Faith while panning the camera around her house. "Is losing my dream home."

Parents often try to shield their kids, so when things fall apart, like in a foreclosure, it comes as a shock. It sure did to Faith.

"It seemed that our family was going through a great life, and then my dad lost his job," Faith said.

Some psychologists worry that for teens, who are still developing their very identity, the financial and social strains of the recession could lead to a lifelong sense of insecurity.

"It makes me disappointed in myself that I cannot help anybody," Faith said.

"Why disappointed in yourself?" Doane asked.

"Because, it seems like I keep trying and trying, and nothing seems adequate enough," Faith said.

Meaning schools have to provide a lot more than an education.

"We're a bank. We're counseling services. We're a grocery store," Hernandez said. "Backpacks, alarm clocks, school supplies, stacks of paper. We give those things out. And it's pretty regular. And definitely an increase from last year."

"Hey. I'm Felicia and what the recession means to me is my prom dress," another student said on tape.

Because a teacher pitched in with money so Felicia could by that dress. While she has a job and loving sisters, she does not have much else. She sleeps on the floor of her home.

Felicia draws strength from her sisters.

"Hey, I'm Austin and what the recession means to me is waiting for the next paycheck to get new guitar strings," said Austin Seale, who at Los Osos, a nearby school, gets his strength from his parents.

"This can tear families apart or it can bring families together and lucky for me - it's brought my family closer together," Austin said.

Austin said his mom lost her job in the mortgage industry and his dad's hours were cut, but his parents were up front about their financial troubles.

"My parents keep it more open than I think some families do," Austin said.

Experts say that's a good idea - because kids know what's going on anyway.

"And they are always wanting to talk about it in class," Smith-Wilson said. "They want a dialog a lot more about these things. Whereas before, I couldn't get them to talk about things that are going on with their families."

They talk about their dreams too, which for many, includes college.

A generation determined to rise above this recession.

Find Out More

Where you can offer help if you're able, or receive help if you need it:
  • Children's Health Fund
  • National Association of School Psychologists
  • Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital
  • Kidcare International
  • Children's Defense Fund
  • Montclair High School, HS Staff Scholarship, C/O Elizabeth Gomez, Counselor MHS, 4725 Benito Street, Monclair, CA 91763, 909-621-6781
    • CBSNews

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