Author: Jennifer Salerno

3 Tips for Even Stronger Connections with Youth

You know the scenario: you administered the Rapid Assessment for Adolescent Preventive Services (RAAPS) risk assessment and are ready to meet with youth to confidently discuss their identified risks. But how do you start the conversation? And once it’s started, how do you help guide them towards healthier behaviors?

Coaching youth toward behavior change is arguably just as important (if not more important) as the risk screening. Luckily, Motivational Interviewing (MI) is here to help. MI has been studied extensively and shown to be an effective approach with youth to reduce risks (like substance abuse, unintentional injuries and unsafe sexual behaviors). Here are three questions to ask yourself to determine if improving your MI skills would be helpful in guiding your youth towards safer behaviors:

  1. What are you doing to connect with youth? MI helps create the spirit of how you’re talking with youth; it shows commitment to evidence-based strategies and helps improve quality of services.
  2. How are you communicating with youth on identified risk behaviors? MI equips you with strategies to improve your ability to discuss identified risks and motivate youth toward healthy decisions.
  3. How are you cultivating your skills in working with youth? Youth risk is different than adult risk, which means you’re going to need specific skills. That’s why adolescent-specific MI training is so important. MI creates an environment that allows youth to disclose information about their risk behaviors, improve their motivation to change, and seek advice on how to do so. Dynamic and engaging MI workshops can help you improve your skills in using MI to more effectively motivate the youth you serve.

 Before you can coach youth on risk reduction, you need to know the risks! RAAPS is a reliable and validated assessment and coaching tool that quickly identifies risk behaviors in youth and provides simple health messages to support behavior change and ongoing discussion with a professional; it’s developed especially for the needs of youth…and the professionals (like you) who care for them.

To learn more about how Adolescent-focused MI Training can facilitate those important conversations and help youth build positive attitudes, language, and actions, check out our newly released whitepaper: Adolescent-focused Motivational Interviewing (MI): Making the case for more effective communication with youth.

For more information on scheduling an MI Training at your organization, contact us at info@pos4chg.org.

No Fear: Youth Risk Screening

Connecting with teens is tough, especially when you’re a professional looking to discuss serious topics like mental health, substance abuse or sex. In short: risk screening can feel overwhelming, even scary—but that shouldn’t hold you back. According to the CDC, risk behaviors are responsible for 3 out of 4 (75%) preventable deaths and illness in youth. Having a trusted adult to confide in is one of the single most important mitigating factors in reducing youth risk.

Luckily, Rapid Assessment for Adolescent Preventive Services (RAAPS) is here to help. RAAPS is a reliable and validated assessment and coaching tool that identifies risk behaviors in youth and provides simple health messages to support behavior change.

Instead of letting your fears of comprehensive youth screening become barriers, let them be your guide! Here are a few examples:

  • Fear of not having the resources to address risks that may be identified. In addition to helping you identify key risks, RAAPS provides built in health education and national resources to help you navigate conversations around risk topics that may be uncomfortable. This opens the door for youth to connect with you as a trusted adult without you having to be an expert on every risk behavior or situation.
  • Fear of not having enough time. Finding practical solutions that minimize impact on time and workflow was at the heart of the development of RAAPS. In less than 5 minutes the 21 RAAPS questions identify the risk behaviors that contribute most to preventable illness and premature death in young people aged 9 to 24. Even in the tightest of workflows, in organizations that run like clockwork, finding a 5-minute window of time for risk screening could save a life!
  • Fear of upsetting parents. We get it, parents may be uncomfortable with the idea of their child being asked about risk factors and behaviors. You can help parents understand the importance by explaining that standardized risk screening is an opportunity to stop an uptick in bullying, prevent a potential suicide, or identify incidences of sexual abuse. Additionally, RAAPS technology provides a suite of resources to use when talking with parents that can help these conversations go a little smoother.

Remember, just by being present and starting the conversation you are helping. If you want to take your skills even further, Possibilities for Change offers Adolescent-Focused Motivational Interviewing workshops to help you better connect with the youth you serve. We’re excited to offer a training with open registration for the first time—taking place on June 3rd in Ann Arbor, MI! This in-person workshop will help you to learn and translate new MI knowledge into effective practice through a dynamic and engaging experience. Only 20 spaces available, so register today!

…And When I Get That Feeling, I Want Sexual…Health Coaching!

Valentine’s Day is nearly here and that means love is in the air. For many teens, that may mean more than just candy adorned cards.

Fast fact: 30% of 12-14-year-olds have had sex with 4 or more people—that number climbs to 48% for 15-17-year-olds and 59% for 18 and over.

Sexual health has always been a hot topic—pun intended—but it’s not the easiest to talk about. Whether it’s parents feeling just as embarrassed as their son or daughter about “the talk” or professionals trying to elicit honesty from youth who aren’t open to sharing. Barriers to having these much needed conversations are common. And even when you do get youth to share, many of us feel overwhelmed when talking with them about the risks they have identified. Adolescent Counseling Technology (ACT) for Sexual Health can help!  ACT-SH functions as a virtual health educator providing interactive and engaging, evidence-based counseling to guide youth in identifying sexual health risks and creating personalized safer sex action plans. ACT-SH can be a powerful tool to help understand the needs of our youth:

Like RAAPS with Adolescent Counseling Technology (ACT), youth respond to a set of questions that identify risk behaviors, in this case specifically on sexual health, but ACT goes one step further by providing motivational interviewing based feedback to youth as they are completing the assessment. And when used in tandem with RAAPS, ACT-SH is automatically launched when youth respond positively to the sexual activity question, creating no extra step in workflow!

Here’s what a current user of RAAPS and ACT SH had to say: “I am a big proponent of RAAPS! The patients generally are honest and able to complete RAAPS quickly. We initiated ACT-SH a couple of years ago and having RAAPS automatically direct sexually active patients to ACT-SH has worked SO well. Although most of my patients are pretty open with me, I do feel ACT-SH has helped the more timid ones share behaviors they otherwise would not. The benefit? I then can better address, counsel, do necessary testing, etc. Thank you!”

For more information on the implementation of ACT SH in a community based setting, check out this case study from Spartanburg, South Carolina.

2018 RAAP UP!

Here at Possibilities for Change, we believe all organizations serving adolescents and young adults should have access to the tools they need to provide quality care and affect positive change. When you implement youth risk screening practices with RAAPS, you’re doing so much more than simply administering an assessment; you’re opening the door to endless possibilities to change lives. And our stats from 2018 are here to prove it. Together with our network of professionals we helped identify and prevent more risky behaviors than ever!

Me, Me, “MI” – The Language of Teens

Test your Teen Speak skills.  Which of the following are true statements?

  1. Teens don’t like being told what to do.
  2. Teens don’t learn from our experiences.
  3. Sometimes teens resist our advice just to be resistant!
  4. All of the above.

Yes, it’s obviously “D”.  But why?

The answer is not because teens choose to be difficult.  (Although it can definitely feel that way.) Yet the answer does lie within their wonderful (and maddeningly) hard-heads…

Brain development during adolescence deeply affects what a teen can understand, how they hear and respond to information, and their decision-making about risky situations.   Resisting advice, not learning from our experiences and not responding positively to being “TOLD” what to do are all 100% normal for teens.  Unfortunately, risk taking and experimentation are also a normal part of adolescent development.  So, if our usual communication strategies are not working, how can we help teens avoid situations that may influence them to make risky decisions and instead engage in more positive risks that encourage personal growth and development?

Here’s one more quick quiz…

Data shows that the most effective strategy for helping teens reduce risk and change behavior is:

  1. Raising your voice until they hear you (or at least you feel heard)
  2. Locking them in their rooms until they turn 30
  3. Bribing them with clothes and/or screen time
  4. Using Adolescent-focused Motivational Interviewing (MI) techniques

We’re sticking with the obvious response of “D” (but couldn’t resist having a little fun with it along the way…) Adolescent-focused MI helps anyone (providers, professionals and parents) connect with and communicate more effectively with teens.  MI strategies create the opportunity for meaningful, two-way dialogue, increase engagement, and has been proven to increase the efficacy of behavior change and risk reduction efforts with teens.

So how does Adolescent-focused MI work?

The heart of an adolescent-focused MI approach is respect.   The success of this approach relies on enabling teens to drive the conversation.  With a mix of changes to your communication strategies (some big and some small) – Adolescent focused MI can successfully change the dynamic of your discussions with teens.  While some of these strategies can take years of practice – there are LOTS of simple changes that will immediately improve your “Teen Speak”.

To learn more about Adolescent-focused MI, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3:

  1. Download this infographic for some straight-forward techniques you can start using today.
  2. Watch our webinar for a guided introduction to adolescent-focused MI, led by nationally-recognized expert and educator: Dr. Jennifer Salerno.
  3. And check out our suite of adolescent-focused MI trainings that can be tailored to the specific needs of your organization.