Talking to and about young people

If you’ve spent any time as a youth counselor (or attending meetings), the chances are good you’ve played “Two Truths and a Lie,” an activity in which you share three things about yourself and the group guesses which one is false.

During a recent regional call of the National Network of State Adolescent Health Coordinators, Jennie Blakney (NJ) offered a fun twist on this icebreaker. She asked us each to share “a common lie you routinely hear about young people, and a truth you know about young people.”

The lies we heard were themes on the usual, persistent stereotypes: “Young people are lazy, they don’t care, they’re reckless, irresponsible, self-centered…” The truths people reported were inspiring and refreshing: 

  • “Young people just want to be heard.”
  • “They want to be engaged in the conversations about solutions to the problems affecting them and their friends.”
  • “They are ready NOW to lead – not when they’re 25 or 30 or 40.”
  • “They’re not a mysterious subset of people – all we need to do is talk to them like we talk to other adults, with kindness and mutual respect.”
  • “Adults just don’t need to try so hard, young people ARE listening: they want to learn from us, and teach us, too.”

How we talk about and to young people matters. Words matter. The narrative about young people is one we’ve gotten wrong for, well, forever. Yes, young people can act in ways that seem reckless to adults who “know better” or display body language that comes across as uninterested and aloof. But those of us committed to changing the tired narrative know that it’s on us adults to do a better job of understanding and framing adolescence as a critical developmental period in the life course.

We all envision a day when a common adult reaction to the word “teenager” is “Oh, aren’t they the greatest?” as opposed to a dramatic sigh or eye roll. We’re dedicating this edition of Connections to helping you translate what you inherently know about young people into script-flipping dialogues with your internal and external partners. As we’ve learned from the careful work of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one way to do this is to focus on shared, friendly, systemic solutions. 

Make sure to check out this NEW resource, “Messaging Healthy Youth Development,” adapted from our favorite national framing resources by our own Communications Director Katie Pierson. In response to your feedback in last year’s SAHC survey and at the September meeting, this tip sheet tees up straightforward language for you to use in making your case.

The year may be new, but our commitment to changing the narrative is the same. We at SAHRC are resolved to support you and your partners in those efforts. 

NNSAHC Insights

This space features diverse perspectives on what’s happening in adolescent health. Articles are submitted by guest writers from the Network and our national resource partners.

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