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June 2016: Adolescent Health Essential – Engaging Teens as Learners, Leaders, and Team Members

June 2016

A key way to promote adolescent health and development and to prepare young people for adulthood is to actively engage them at school, at home, and in the community. School clubs, sports, music, the arts, out-of-school time programs, jobs, and places of worship all offer opportunities to involve teens in meaningful ways. Adolescents benefit when they provide input into the design of programs and activities, which not only improves the programs but also provides valuable leadership experiences. Engaging teens in learning, leading, and as team members is one of the Five Essentials for Healthy Adolescents identified in the HHS Office of Adolescent Health’s national call to action called Adolescent Health: Think, Act, Grow℠ or TAG.

TAG’s Game Plan for Engaging Youth

The Game Plan for Engaging Youth summarizes ideas for engaging adolescents in promoting their health and development. These ideas were generated by youth and adults at a meeting on authentic youth engagement convened by the Jim Casey Youth Initiative and the Forum for Youth Investment in March 2015.

The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative has led many successful efforts to engage young people throughout the nation. They distilled this wealth of knowledge into three guiding principles:

  1. Preparation. Young people need to be effectively prepared and empowered to make informed decisions about matters that affect their lives.
  2. Support. Young people should be provided with customized services and a network of supportive relationships that meet their needs, promote a healthy transition to adulthood, and provide tools that empower them to make decisions.
  3. Opportunity. Young people should be provided with an array of life opportunities that promote optimal growth and development; experiential learning; healthy risk-taking; and participation in normal everyday activities that contribute to social confidence and positive identity formation.

Visit the TAG Game Plan for Engaging Youth on our website to learn about eight successful youth engagement approaches and find examples of how professionals from different sectors can put youth engagement into action.

TAG in Action: Engaging Wisconsin Youth in Teaching Medical Professionals

The HHS Office of Adolescent Health has identified a number of successful strategies for improving and promoting adolescent health. The Wisconsin-based Providers and Teens Communicating for Health Program (PATCH) is an innovative, teen-delivered educational program that trains healthcare providers and teens to communicate effectively about sensitive health topics such as sexual health, mental health, alcohol and drug abuse, and safety. Teen Educators equip their peers with skills to navigate the healthcare system and advocate for health care visits that prioritize judgment-free care. They also teach teens skills to help them engage in meaningful and effective communication with healthcare providers.

The Wisconsin Medical Journal recently published research demonstrating that providers and teens in the PATCH program experienced significant improvements in knowledge, self-efficacy, and behavioral intentions to seek and provide quality sexual health care. The PATCH program is planning to expand throughout Wisconsin and is working toward replication nationwide.

What Can You Do?

Adolescents thrive in environments where they can engage in planning, leading, and providing input into the programming and services. Think of ways you can provide those opportunities at school, work, home, or other settings. Here are some additional ideas and resources to get you started:

  1. Engage students in learning more about and measuring the environmental health of their school. Learn more about establishing, maintaining, and enhancing school environmental health programs with Healthy Schools, Healthy Kids. (Environmental Protection Agency)
  2. Involve young people in developing public health strategies. Include teens in conducting community health assessments, reviewing data and identifying adolescent health issues. Schools can use the online School Health Index (SHI): Self-Assessment & Planning Guide to improve their health and safety policies and programs. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  3. Listen to youth voices. An important component of youth engagement is creating opportunities for youth to express themselves, voice their ideas, and provide input into projects or programs. The Youth Voice Tip Sheet provides many suggestions and resources on how to effectively solicit youth opinions. (Free Child Project)
  4. Provide leadership training. A number of youth leadership programs in the United States provide training to young people and give them opportunities to develop important life skills. Check out this guide: Engaging Youth: A How-To Guide for Creating Opportunities for Young People to Participate, Lead and Succeed. (REACH: Connecting Communities and Youth for a Healthy Future)
  5. Sponsor meetings or retreats on adolescent health topics. Have youth select the topics and lead or co-lead the sessions. For an example, check out this retreat for senior high school youth, "Sexuality and Our Faith." (The United Church of Christ)

Follow #TAG42mil for TAG updates and share your ideas with us at TAGTeam@hhs.gov.

TAG Tweets of the Month (please tweet!)

A #teenhealth essential: engaging youth as learners and leaders http://ow.ly/XBISS #TAG42mil

Youth engagement is central to positive youth development. Spread the word! http://1.usa.gov/1TEOXFT #TAG42mil

Improve adolescent health through youth engagement: A Win-Win Strategy http://1.usa.gov/1TEOXFT #TAG42mil #teenhealth

How can you engage youth effectively in your programs and services? Get the Game Plan! #TAG42Mil #teenhealth http://1.usa.gov/1Ui1XmP

There are 42 mil teens in the U.S. That’s 42 mil opportunities for better health http://bit.ly/1RwQGup #TAG42mil

Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on February 22, 2017