Students prefer Web counseling for privacy

DENVER - Young people often feel more comfortable chatting online about their troubles than talking about them face-to-face, so Colorado students should have round-the-clock access to counselors through online chats, the Colorado Youth Advisory Council recommended this week.

Schools also should implement fact-based, rather than "fear-based," drug-education programs; follow examples set by New York and Chicago by setting up peer-mentoring programs; and increase funding for school-based health centers, the youth council recommended at a presentation attended by 16 of the state's 100 legislators.

Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts founded the council in 2008 to get young people involved in state government and to bring a youth perspective that rarely is heard inside the Capitol. For example, legislators often push for funding for school counselors, but council members say many students are embarrassed to be seen in the counselor's office and would rather discuss their problems through a computer keyboard.

"Colorado youth should know our diverse group is working hard, and also having some fun along the way, to represent the best interests of young people in our state," said Graham, a junior at Durango High School who serves as vicechairman of the council.

The group meets several times a year to identify the issues most important to young Coloradans. In previous years, legislators have been struck by powerful testimony from its members on the prevalence of youth suicide.

This year's recommendations fell into four categories: the academic achievement gap, jobs and higher education, behavioral health care and energy development.

"Fear-based" drug-education programs like DARE don't work, the council's report said. Instead, the state should fund a fact-based program that gives students unbiased information that will help them make informed decisions about drugs, the council recommended.