Teens across New Jersey can start submitting entries for the 26th annual New Jersey Teen Media Contest, sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Human Services' Division of Family Development. Their mission is to support families, especially during these challenging times.

The 2021 contest is open to all middle and high school-aged students. Hand-painted, hand-drawn and written entries are all accepted just like in years past.

Deputy Commissioner Elisa Neira said the contest helps the department highlight the importance of its New Jersey help support program for New Jersey families.

Neira said the contest focuses on celebrating family and the importance of parents and loved ones and their deep involvement in a child's life.

This year's theme focuses on 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We wanted to figure out a way for teens to illustrate how they and their loved ones have supported each other throughout all of the changes from remote learning to finding new ways to stay connected to friends and families," said Neira.

Teens can use their creative and artistic side to demonstrate not only how this has been a challenging year but how they have relied so much on the support of their family and friends.

Neira said there's a lot of research around storytelling to get people to reflect on such a challenging year and put it into either words or to paint something or draw something.

In 2020, there was just never a moment to think, said Neira. Everything happened so fast with students having to switch to remote learning, pausing all their sports and activities, not being able to hang out with friends or enjoy the many events high school has to offer. Neira hopes this contest will be an opportunity for teens to find a positive side of 2020.

All entries must be postmarked by March 31. Winners will be selected in first, second and third places in both the middle and high school groups, for each of the two entry categories. Typically, winning students are recognized at an awards ceremony in May, but a final decision on this year's award ceremony will be made at a later date, depending on the status of the state public health emergency.

All information, official rules, entry forms and frequently asked questions can be found at www.NJTeenMedia.org.

More information about child support services in New Jersey is at www.njchildsupport.org or by calling 1-877-NJKIDS1.

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