Youth Engagement Tips for Professionals

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 (PDF, 31 pages) (also available in Spanish; PDF, 31 pages).

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.

Find more TAG resources for Healthcare professionals.

“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.

Find more TAG resources for Public Health professionals.

“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.

Find more TAG resources for Out-of-School Time and Community Program professionals.

“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 and Prevention'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.

Find more TAG resources for Education professionals.

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.

Find more TAG resources for Faith-Based professionals.

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.

Find more TAG resources for Social Service professionals.

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:

  1. Positive connections with supportive people;
  2. Safe and secure places to live, learn, and play;
  3. Access to high-quality, teen-friendly health care;
  4. Opportunities for teens to engage as learners, leaders, team members, and workers; and
  5. Coordinated, adolescent- and family-centered services.

Adolescent Health: Think, Act, Grow® and the logo design are registered trademarks of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Youth Briefs

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

Youth Transitioning to Adulthood: How Holding Early Leadership Positions Can Make a Difference

Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth

Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).