Youth Engagement Tips for Professionals: A Win-Win Strategy
One of TAG's "Five Essentials for Healthy Adolescents" is providing opportunities for teens to engage as learners, as leaders, as team members, and as workers.
In every field, there are innovative ways for professionals to engage with young people as they promote adolescent health, and authentically engaging youth turns out to be a strategy where everyone is a winner!
- WIN! Adolescents who are directly engaged build leadership and teamwork skills while developing positive relationships with adults - key protective factors that help them learn and grow.
- WIN! Adult professionals and programs that engage teens as learners, leaders, team members, and workers are able to improve their services and supports to be more adolescent-friendly and effective.
Following are a few examples of how professionals from different sectors can put youth engagement into action. More information about TAG's "Five Essentials" and action steps are available in the TAG Playbook.
What Can Healthcare Professionals Do to Engage Teens?
- Invite teens to help make your clinic or practice teen-friendly. Connect with a local youth council in your area or reach out to some of your own adolescent patients. Ask them to help stage a "make over" to make your office and services more welcoming to teenagers and ask them what policies and procedures their doctors should have in place.
- Ensure teens are fully engaged in their self-care. Train your entire staff on how to foster open communication and trust with the teens you are serving, so that young people will feel comfortable talking about their health and wellness. Be sure all staff are up-to-date on policies for protecting teens’ privacy and confidentiality.
Check out an example of "TAG in Action": The PATCH program in Wisconsin has teen leaders train doctors and other healthcare professionals on how to interact with their teen patients.
“One of the biggest things healthcare professionals can do to engage youth is ensure that they decode the medical jargon. It’s intimidating to talk to a doctor. Youth need to understand what you are saying.”
— A.O., Youth
What Can Public Health Professionals Do to Engage Teens?
- Involve young people in the development of public health strategies. Include teens in conducting community health assessments, reviewing data, and helping to identify adolescent health issues to address.
- Hire young people to staff projects that promote adolescent health. Train volunteer teens to reach other teens with health education or peer support.
See an example of "TAG in Action": As part of a collaboration between the Chicago Public Health Department and Chicago Public Schools, youth were hired as "Teen Health Agents" in their Condom Availability Program, an idea inspired by a young person.
“Volunteering is a great way to educate young people and teach us responsibility while we gain experience in a specific field.”
— E.S., Youth
What Can Out-of-School Time and Community-Based Professionals Do to Engage Teens?
- Engage young people in evaluating and improving your program. Train and support teens to review and help interpret your program data, and then work together to develop ideas for program improvement.
Here's an idea: during a self-evaluation meeting, review TAG's "Five Essentials for Healthy Adolescence" with youth and talk about how your program is addressing each of the essentials. What are you doing well? What could you do to better support adolescent health?
- Train youth to identify, share, and disseminate health resources. What's on their minds when it comes to health? Work with them to learn more, locate resources, and determine the best ways to reach their peers.
“Adults reaching out to youth works, but it isn't always the most efficient way. Youth reaching out to youth is more effective because there is a better understanding and connection between them.”
— E.D., Youth
What Can Education Professionals Do to Engage Teens?
- Involve student leadership councils, or other groups of students, to implement youth-led programs that are school-wide and take a strengths-based approach to promoting adolescent health and mental health.
Check out an example of "TAG in Action": Sources of Strength is an evidence-based approach to preventing suicide, violence, bullying, and substance abuse.
“Preventive approaches, especially when it comes to mental health issues, are critical. Teaching kids how to cope with stress will help us not engage in risky or unhealthy behavior.”
— A.O., Youth
- Recruit and support youth within your school to assess your school's overall approach to promoting adolescent health.
Here's a great resource: the Center for Disease Control's School Health Index (SHI): Self-Assessment & Planning Guide is an online self-assessment and planning tool that schools can use to improve their health and safety policies and programs. Focused on STEM? Engage students in learning more about and measuring the environmental health of their school at Healthy Schools, Healthy Kids.
What Can Faith-based Community Professionals Do to Engage Teens?
- Sponsor meetings or retreats on adolescent health topics. Have youth select the topics and lead or co-lead the sessions.
See an example of "TAG in Action": The United Church of Christ youth curriculum on "Sexuality and our Faith."
- Provide young people a leadership role in worship, in developing your youth programs, and creating service projects. Ask them to help you create a welcoming environment where adolescents feel safe and supported.
What Can Social Service Professionals Do to Engage Teens?
- Focus on the positive and encourage staff to regularly ask the youth about their strengths, interests, passions, and life goals. Support teens in finding ways to become learners and leaders in their own lives.
“Youth can participate in trainings for staff. They will help [staff] understand how to approach youth, especially about issues of health, from a youth's perspective.”
— L.A., Youth
- Enlist the help of current or former youth recipients of services in staff training. Ask teens to provide advice on how staff can best develop relationships and build trust with youth, and how to create an environment where young people feel comfortable asking for help, trying new things, and making mistakes.
Check out an example of "TAG in Action": The SPOT engaged youth in the development of their entire program – from designing the space to determining the array of services to hiring staff.
What can you do to help TAG's Five Essentials for Healthy Adolescence become a reality for the youth in your life?
Adolescents should have:
- Positive connections with supportive people
- Safe and secure places to live, learn, and play
- Access to high-quality, teen-friendly health care
- Opportunities for teens to engage as learners, leaders, team members, and workers
- Coordinated, adolescent- and family-centered services.
Adolescent Health: Think, Act, Grow® and the logo design are registered trademarks of HHS.
Content last reviewed on February 26, 2019