The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sought the input of professionals who, through their work in after school or community-based programs, education, faith-based organizations, health care, public health, and social services settings, reach a large number of adolescents. Together these national leaders identified five essential components of adolescent health.
Adolescents should have:
- Positive connections with supportive people: Adolescents crave safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with supportive adults, whether it is parents, coaches, neighbors, grandparents, teachers, older adults in the community, program leaders, and mentors. These types of connections are important for all teens and may be difficult for at-risk youth to find and sustain.
- Safe and secure places to live, to learn, and to play: Safe and supportive places such as schools, neighborhoods, communities, and healthy environments foster and support healthy adolescent development across the spectrum, including physical and mental health, social interactions, and cognitive growth. Adolescents also benefit from safe places to congregate and just “hang out.”
- Access to high-quality, teen-friendly health care: Adolescents benefit from access to high-quality medical and dental care, mental and behavioral health services, and to healthcare providers who understand and value adolescents. Services that are youth-friendly, culturally competent, affordable, convenient, and confidential are preferred by young patients. Health care that is adolescent-centered and involves parents, but allows for increased autonomy as adolescents reach their late teens, is desirable.
- Opportunities for teens to engage as learners, leaders, team members, and workers: Active youth involvement with people and programs is important for promoting healthy adolescent development. This includes activities at school, home, or in the community, such as school clubs, sports, music, the arts, or out-of-school time programs, jobs, or activities at places of worship. Adolescents also benefit from opportunities to become involved in shaping programs and activities, which not only improve the programs for other youth, but provide them with valuable leadership experiences and confidence.
- Coordinated, adolescent- and family-centered services, as needed: Adolescents enter service systems at multiple points and places. Integrated and coordinated services can help ensure better health outcomes and support healthy development for adolescents. Unfortunately, the systems for providing services and supports to adolescents are often fragmented, spread across government agencies, nonprofit organizations, healthcare providers, businesses, and faith-based organizations. There is a clear benefit from a more coherent, integrated approach to fostering health and healthy development for adolescents.