Top 5 Reasons to Invest in Adolescent Health

Global investments in adolescent health harvests significant economic gains

Recently headlines broke across all consumer and health media outlets that signified the importance of investing in teen health from a global financial perspective. Like any other professional who is in the landscape of improving adolescent health, this kind of global attention and correlation between teen health and the economy gets me excited!

The news referenced a study that highlighted a small investment in “empowering and protecting the world’s 1 billion adolescents can bring a 10-fold return.” Here’s what it said:

“Improving the physical, mental and sexual health of kids aged 10 to 19 – at a cost equivalent to US$4.60 per person per year – could result in a 10-fold economic return by preventing 12 million deaths and more than 30 million unwanted pregnancies.”

I can think of 1,000 reasons to invest in adolescent health, but here are my top 5:

  1. With fewer teens giving birth each year, a country’s young dependent population grows smaller in relation to the working-age population, creating a window of opportunity for rapid economic growth.
  2. Keeping teens safe and encouraging them to make smart decisions can help to break the spread of poverty and disadvantage across generations.
  3. The rapid physical, cognitive and psychosocial growth and development that takes place during adolescence influences an individual for the rest of his or her life.
  4. In three out of four cases of serious injury or death in adolescents, the common causes are preventable. Support in healthy decision-making will help set a pattern of healthy lifestyles and reduce morbidity, disability and premature mortality later in adulthood.
  5. This generation of adolescents will transform all our futures!

How you can take action!

  • The key to improving adolescent health is operating from a prevention mentality versus a crisis approach. Investing in a risk identification assessment tool will address the early onset of behaviors that can grow to be potentially harmful. Plus, RAAPS, a globally-recognized, evidence-based, standardized risk screening and behavior change counseling tool can pay for itself with the proper reimbursement codes.
  • When it comes to talking with teens about sexual health, things can get awkward. That’s why we developed ACT Sexual Health, a virtual health educator where teens respond to assessment questions on a tablet or other technology device and receive sexual health education specifically tailored to them. Upon completion, ACT generates a personalized safer sex action plan, health messages and customized referral sources.
  • Risk behaviors account for the majority of teen injury and premature death. In the face of these challenges, health professionals and parents need concrete, actionable strategies for productive discussions about risky behaviors. Teen Speak is a how-to guide for real talks with teens to foster strong relationships and trust-building during the most formative time in their lives.

Netflix’s Hit Show 13 Reasons Why – How Do I Respond?

Critical next steps for adolescent health professionals and parents of teens


If it seems like everyone is talking about the hit Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why, it’s because they are. The bestselling book turned Netflix series produced 3.5 million tweets—more than any other Netflix show. Its overnight buzz among teens and young adults is leaving parents and professionals feeling troubled and conflicted on how to respond.

From the beginning of the show, we know the fictional character, Hannah Baker, has already taken her own life—an unfortunately relevant issue in our society. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers in the U.S. While 13 Reasons Why brings to light the intensity and darkness of suicide, it is also a raw encounter of the hardships teens deal with—from bullying, peer pressure, betrayal, and sexual assault.

Hannah Baker wasn’t showing signs of depression that we often associate with suicide, but she was experiencing common hardships that can lead to unhealthy behaviors. To make matters worse, Hannah felt that no one listened to her cries for help.

How to identify at-risk teens

No teen is immune to risks—from the biggest troublemaker in school to the straight-A-student, all teens deal with pressures that they may not be equipped to handle on their own.

How can you ensure they will come to you if they’re struggling? The key is two-pronged:

1) Establish a strong relationship that sets the foundation for real talks.

Establishing that strong relationship—whether you’re a parent or an adolescent health professional—takes time, energy and practice—but it’s worth it. A recent study surveying more than 63,000 youth in the U.S. reveals that teens with a trusted adult to talk to are 2.2 times less likely to engage in risky behaviors, and 3.1 times less likely to report thoughts of self-harm or suicide, compared to teens who reported not having an adult to talk to.

2) Apply proven communication strategies that foster open, real conversations about issues that could affect a teen’s safety and health.

How to have real conversations

Understanding exactly what is happening (and why it is happening) during adolescence can help you support the teens in your life during this physically and emotionally challenging time. Talking to teens about common issues that may lead them to a state of helplessness is a critical next step.

There are evidence-based techniques and communication strategies that are proven to help break through a teen’s silence about the stressors in their life. Those strategies can be explored in Teen Speak, a how-to guide for real talks with teens. Teen Speak provides a detailed road map on how to get the conversation started, using real-world examples of teen-adult interactions and sample responses to common scenarios to support positive change and safer decision-making. In this book, you’ll gain practical strategies for connecting with teens to reduce their risks.


Learn communication strategies for real talks with teens at

Download resources to support parents in building strong relationships at

The impact of a positive adult influence on our youth

For teens, an adult influence is mission critical to their overall health and well-being. Whether it’s a teacher, parent, health care provider, coach, mentor or other family member, having a trusted adult to confide in when it comes to issues or problems is an extremely important determinant on a teen’s decision-making.

Looking at 2015-2016 RAAPS data, nearly 1 in 10 out of the more than 63,000 youth completing RAAPS, indicated that they did not have at least one trusted adult in their lives. Further investigation of the data shows that adolescents who do not have a trusted adult to talk to about problems or worries are 2.2 times more likely to engage in risky behaviors than adolescents who report having a trusted adult in their lives.

These results emphasize the crucial need for adults to build strong relationships with teens during adolescence, a time when they are starting to engage in risky behaviors, considering these behaviors are the primary cause of premature death and serious injuries. The infographic below shows the significant findings of this two-year study, including actions to help teens connect with a trusted adult.


The importance of engaging and coaching parents to reduce adolescent risk

It’s a statistic you’re probably familiar with: 3 out of 4 adolescent deaths in the US today are due to identifiable and preventable risk behaviors. Common risk behaviors that include suicide, substance use, unsafe sexual behaviors and unintentional injuries and violence.

When it comes to keeping our teens safe, the phrase “it takes two to tango” rings especially true. Adolescents need access to a trusted adult in a private setting where they can disclose information that may be detrimental to their health or well-being. That’s where professional risk screening and counseling comes in. If a health care professional is providing risk behavior counseling and a parent isn’t enforcing the same practices and principles at home, it can be a wasted and ineffective effort. Parent influence is so important. Family closeness and attachment have been shown to be one of the most important factors in leading to less drug use, delayed sexual experiences, and fewer suicide attempts in teens.

Sounds complicated? It doesn’t have to be. Encouraging and supporting youth to make safe decisions is truly a partnership. It’s your role as a health professional to call the plays in “practice”, but it’s the role of the parent to coach and shape their children to perform well when it’s game time.

So, how do we most effectively work together?

First, understanding exactly what is happening (and why it is happening) during adolescence and utilizing effective communication strategies can help you support adolescents during this physically and emotionally challenging time.

Then, it’s up to you to equip parents with the understanding, tools and direction to guide their children to smart behaviors that keep them out of harm’s way.

If you need some support and resources for parent coaching, I encourage you to join me and other health care professionals from around the country as we come together to explore how to improve communication and engage parents to reduce adolescent risk.

Register today for the webinar on Thursday, December 8 at 3 p.m.:

Talking Sex with Teens: Community Health Centers ACT for Change

Today’s adolescents are engaging in risky sexual behaviors at earlier ages than ever before, resulting in nearly 250,000 teen births in 2014 and nearly 10 million new sexually transmitted infections annually. Sexually transmitted infections are a significant public health problem in the United States and of particular concern in the adolescent and young adult population. A big factor contributing to the spike is that often times, teens are reluctant to discuss their sexual health with their care team since information about sexual health related behaviors and risk factors has the potential to appear in care summaries, patient portals, insurance explanation of benefits and the like—all which adolescent and young adult patients worry can be viewed by parents and guardians. The lack of communication results in an increased risk for undiagnosed and untreated STIs, missed opportunities for behavioral health interventions, including guidance on managing risk and addressing social determinants of health, and increased disease burden in the community.

In order to improve sexual health screening and behavioral counseling in primary care, Possibilities for Change teamed up with the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), the Health Center Network of New York (HCNNY), and four participating health centers across New Jersey and New York for a pilot project using the ACT Sexual Health System.

With today’s earlier onset of sexual activity comes an increased incidence of high-risk behaviors such as:

  • Early sexual intercourse (before the age of 13 years)
  • Multiple sexual partners (history of 4 or more lifetime partners)
  • Inconsistent condom and contraceptive use
  • Drug or alcohol use prior to sex

Research suggests that several key factors have a significant influence on sexual decision-making including: substance use prior to sex, depression and low self-esteem, homelessness, school failure, sexting, and history of abuse and dating violence. Our nation’s public health institutions have recognized the need to improve adolescent health care in the United States and are calling attention to this important issue. The Institute of Medicine (IOM), National Research Council, Pediatric Health 2011 Report concluded that “improving health outcomes for adolescents is essential to achieving a healthy future for the nation.”

In 2014, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that reported one-third of all adolescent health maintenance exams were completed without any discussion of sexual health. For those providers who did introduce the subject, an average of 36 seconds was spent discussing sexual health. It was concluded that strategies need to be utilized to engage adolescents in open discussions around sexuality, promoting healthy sexual development and decision-making:

  • Prioritize adolescent sexual health and ensure that all adolescents are screened and counseled on their risk behaviors using standardized, validated tools – according to nationally-recognized guidelines;
  • Become educated and aware of the inter-relationship between adolescent sexual health, high risk behaviors, and other population disparities;
  • Participate in continuing education on effective adolescent counseling strategies that will actively engage youth in the behavior change process (such as Motivational Interviewing);
  • Develop policies and processes to ensure adolescent engagement and comfort with disclosure of sexual feelings, behaviors and experiences; and
  • Address necessary workflow modifications to ensure risk screening and behavioral counseling is consistently incorporated.

To learn more about the disparities and behaviors that contribute most to sexual risk and how primary care practices and school-based health centers can meet the needs of adolescents to positively impact their sexual health, download and view the recorded webinar.

How do you talk to adolescents about safe sex decisions? Share your experiences in the comments below!