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Kirby Summit IV: Scaffolding for Adolescent Relationships

Kirby Summit IV: Scaffolding for Adolescent Relationships

By Marcia Quackenbush, MS, MFT, MCHES | October 23, 2018
Senior Editor, ETR

ETR has now hosted four Kirby Summits. These convenings bring together a small group of brilliant people with a shared commitment to promoting adolescent health and well being.

The key to the Summit’s uniqueness? While each one of the invited participants brings impressive expertise, as a group they come from different disciplines and perspectives. Kirby Summit IV, held just a couple of weeks ago, invited adolescent sexual and reproductive health experts, developmental scientists, researchers who explore adolescent relationships, and individuals leading community-based efforts that allow adolescents to thrive.

Earlier Summits have generated many rich, innovative ideas. They have synthesized wisdom from different areas of research and understanding. Participants listened to one another, challenged each other, and came up with some new ways to think about how we best support adolescents and their families. We call this “disrupting our thinking,” and it’s a hallmark of the Kirby Summit process.

Focusing Hard on Practical Solutions: Supporting Healthy Adolescent Relationships

The focus in Summit IV was on building stronger scaffolding for adolescents in romantic relationships. How can parents, educators and providers offer useful support in the processes of forming, navigating, and ending relationships during this phase of life?

Why focus on relationships? They are essential to many of the central developmental tasks of adolescence. When relationships break up, adolescents are at greater risk for a range of problems, including depression and suicidal behaviors. Early relationships can set patterns that adolescents continue to follow into their adult lives—sometimes positive and healthy, sometimes challenging and risky. Summit participant Thao Ha, PhD, explains it well in this post.

Summit IV placed a determined emphasis on identifying concrete, innovative solutions for parents and other trusted adults. In one quick activity, groups came up with prototypes of tools that could achieve this end. Board games, apps, video learning centers and more—splendid creativity, grounded in science and experience. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next!


Watching It Happen

Technically, even though I attend the Summit, I’m not really a participant. I’m an observer. I show up with camera in hand and take photos of the process. I guess that makes me a bit of a lurker.

I listen in on small group conversations. I talk with people during the breaks and invite them to contribute to our blog. I take pictures of the dazzling chemistry of this energetic group. There is a lot of talking with hands!

I hope some of the pictures here inspire you to talk with your own colleagues, stay curious, disrupt one another’s thinking, and discover some of your own splendid creativity.

Thanks, Summiteers, and Thank You, Doug Kirby

It’s an honor to spend time with this group. I appreciate how much the Summiteers give to this effort. The Summit is also a time to remember the contributions of our late friend and colleague Doug Kirby, in whose memory the Summit was created. His interest in diverse perspectives, his insatiable curiosity about people, and his willingness always to question his own assumptions and revise his thinking, serve as an ongoing model for us all.

Thanks to The David and Lucille Packard Foundation for their support, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for letting us use their beautiful venue as a meeting site.

Watch for upcoming posts from Summit participants—you’ll love learning from them. And if you haven’t already checked out ETR’s research briefs based on previous Kirby Summits, they’re well worth a read. Check the link below.

Kirby Summit Briefs

  • Sex and the Teen Brain: Disrupting What We Think We Know
  • Developmental Neuroscience and Adolescent Sexual Health: Emotion
  • Developmental Neuroscience and Adolescent Sexual Health: Social Status and Autonomy
  • Developmental Neuroscience and Adolescent Sexual Health: Peer Presence

You can access all Kirby Summit briefs here.


Marcia Quackenbush, MS, MFT, MCHES, is Senior Editor at ETR. She can be reached at

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