Safe spaces for teens aren’t controversial, they’re critical

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When the researchers Carl Hanson and Quinn Snell set out to identify the top 10 factors that predicted suicidal thoughts and behavior in 179,000 Utah high school students, they had no preconceived notions. Instead, they fed years worth of survey responses from those teens, who'd answered questions about things like school involvement, family life, and mental health, into 100 different machine learning models, eager to let the data lead them to a conclusion. 

What the Brigham Young University professors learned should spark a serious conversation about why children and teenagers need digital and real-life safe spaces free from bullying, discrimination, and violence. Critics of the concept of safe spaces — settings designed to minimize fear and harm while fostering trust and confidence — lambast it as a way for youth to insulate themselves from contrary ideas and objectionable behavior. But for young people, safe spaces can offer desperately needed acceptance, inclusion, and love. 

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