By Jennifer Salerno, DNP | October 6, 2016
Founder, Possibilities for Change
Whether you’re a parent or an individual who works with youth, you are placed in an influential role to help keep teens safe and healthy. But that’s no easy task!
Risky behaviors account for the majority of teen injury and premature death. In the face of these challenges, educators, providers and parents need concrete strategies to support teens in smart decision making.
The research of my team at Possibilities for Change, along with my work at the School Based Health Center Program and the Adolescent Health Initiative at the University of Michigan, have introduced evidence-based practices and principles that support better communication with teens. In our work, we leverage motivational interviewing techniques to encourage teens to think through their motivations, plan ahead for risky situations and feel empowered to make positive choices. Our ultimate goal is that they make safe and healthy decisions for themselves.
Here’s an approach we’ve used that will work for educators, youth service providers and parents. Professionals can teach these skills to parents.
We suggest starting by using one of our tried-and-true techniques to shape behaviors—roleplays. Of course, outside of a classroom setting, it’s probably not going to work to ask teens to act out situations or read through a script. Not many would take that approach seriously. But you can bring up issues during opportune moments and talk through options and possibilities. This is a sort of “thinking” roleplay process, and it helps teens actively consider and practice decision making.
You can use current events or teachable moments as a starting point. For example, imagine you and a teen see a news story about a collision caused by texting and driving.
The steps above can actually be distilled down to four broad tips. We use this structure in many of our discussion activities with teens.
Example: “I’d like to talk with you about the situation that happened at school. When is a good time today?”
Example: “Tell me about the party.”
Example: “What is it about wearing a seatbelt that you don’t like? What are some reasons you should wear one?”
My recently published book Teen Speak offers additional examples and further guidance for effective communication with teens. It explains what’s happening to adolescents from a developmental perspective as they are growing from children to teenagers. It reviews what risk behaviors are most common at each developmental stage as well as the strengths and challenges that influence teen behavior.
The book is geared towards parents, but the suggestions will work for any provider working with youth. It’s also helpful for providers working with parents of teens.
Jennifer Salerno, DNP, is the founder of Possibilities for Change, an organization that is transforming adolescent health through the development of state-of-the-art health care delivery systems designed to support the professional workforce and empower adolescents and their families. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.