Leaders from afterschool and community programs identified several potential roles and responsibilities for professionals who wish to support adolescent health and development.
Out-of-School Time and Community Programs: Making a Difference
After school, summertime, and community programs support multiple aspects of adolescent health and healthy development, including physical health, cognitive development, and socio-emotional health.
Professionals from these groups are encouraged to take action on one or more of the roles and responsibilities identified below that can promote adolescent health.
Benefits of after-school, summertime, or community programs:
- During after school activities, children develop social skills, improve academic performance, and establish strong relationships with adults1
- Participation in club activities is linked to higher academic performance and self-esteem,2 and participation in sports is linked to higher social competence2-4
- Sports participation is also linked with better health and lower likelihood of obesity5,6
- After school and community programs provide youth with safe, enriching environments to grow and develop skills outside of school and can provide youth with a sense of accomplishment
- They can also provide a safe space for adolescents to congregate
- Peer-to-peer relationships formed during these out-of-school time settings are as critical to adolescents’ overall health and well-being as the presence of supportive adults and information and resources
Action Steps and Resources
- Help youth connect to supportive adults, positive peers, schools, and the community
- Create a safe, warm, and enriching space
- Encourage physical activity and good nutrition
- Be another set of eyes and provide a listening ear
- Share local resources with youth
- Teach youth about staying healthy and safe
Help youth connect to supportive adults, positive peers, schools, and the community
Encourage youth to connect with supportive adults such as program leaders, coaches, tutors, or mentors, as well as peers who can also be mentors. Serve as a role model in your actions, behaviors, and speech. Be a resource both to adolescents themselves, but also in other ways, like providing access to space, equipment, or resources to support activities. Arrange opportunities for young people to get involved in the community, such as with older citizens in retirement centers or as volunteers for community projects.
Create a safe, warm, and enriching space
Provide a safe environment, a "safe haven," to engage adolescents in enriching activities and the formation of healthy relationships with one another. Create stability, consistency, and a sense of safety for adolescents through well-trained staff, age-appropriate programs, and safe and secure settings. Teach about healthy relationships and encourage a sense of community among your participants. Support skill-building activities to contribute to adolescents’ overall sense of competence and future accomplishments. Offer unstructured time where adolescents can just be.
Encourage physical activity and good nutrition
Plan group activities that include physical exercise (like hikes, bike rides, and competitive sports) and non-competitive play (like aerobic, muscle and bone-strengthening, and cardio-respiratory fitness activities). Establish policies to encourage healthy snacks or meals (as appropriate or needed), and distribute tips for healthy eating.
Be another set of eyes and provide a listening ear
Keep a lookout for how adolescents are doing in terms of their health and healthy development. But also, be a listening ear. Let adolescents talk things through and then help them think about what they should do or say, or guide them to resources that can help.
Share local resources with youth
Teach youth about staying healthy and safe
Offer special sessions about health and healthy development. For example, bring in speakers on online safety, texting, suicide prevention, healthy relationships (with peers, adults, and mentors), and gender-specific workshops since boys and girls are often working through different issues.
Gartland, D., Bond, L., Olsson, C.A., Buzwell, S., & Sawyer, S.M. (2011). "Development of a multi-dimensional measure of resilience in adolescents: The Adolescent Resilience Questionnaire." BMC Medical Research Methodology, 11. Retrieved January 21, 2016, from http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2288/11/134/
Fletcher, A.C., Nickerson, P., & Wright, K.L. (2003). "Structured leisure activities in middle childhood: links to well-being." Journal of Community Psychology, 31(6), 641-659.
Schaefer, D.R., Simpkins, S.D., Vest, A.E., & Price, C.D. (2011). "The contribution of extracurricular activities to adolescent friendships: New insights through social network analysis." Developmental Psychology, 47(4), 1141-1152. Retrieved January 21, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3134619/pdf/nihms-294155.pdf
Kort-Butler, L.A., & Hagewen, K.J. (2011). School-based extracurricular activity involvement and adolescent self-esteem: A growth-curve analysis. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 40, 568-581. Retrieved January 21, 2016, from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1197&context=sociologyfacpub&s
American Academy of Pediatrics — Committee on Nutrition. (2003). Prevention of Pediatric Overweight and Obesity. 112(2), 424-430. Retrieved January 21, 2016, from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/2/e296.abstract
Drake, K.M., Beach, M.L., Longacre, M.R., MacKenzie, T., Titus, L.J., Rundle, A.G., et al. (2012). "Influence of sports, physical education, and active commuting to school on adolescent weight status." Pediatrics 130(2), e296-e304. Retrieved January 21, 2016, from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/2/e296.abstract