By Marcia Quackenbush, MS, MFT, MCHES | May 8, 2019
Senior Editor, ETR
One measure of a successful training or conference is whether you learned something useful. Did you change your thinking? Get inspired by leaders in the field? Will you do anything differently when you get back to your work?
By any of those measures, 2019’s YTH Live conference was simply dazzling for me. There is something so refreshing about a well-organized conference featuring top-notch presenters from all over the globe, focusing on youth issues and authentically keeping youth front and center throughout.
If you didn’t get to attend—or even if you did—search Twitter and Instagram on the hashtag #YTHLive (if you don’t have accounts on these platform, do a general Google search—e.g., “Twitter #YTHLive”). You’ll get a sense of the energy, insight and breadth of the conference. You’ll also pick up on the power of this collaboration between youth and those of us who are “former youth.”
Some Cool Things I Learned
Everyone who attended had a different dance card. Here are just a few of the things I learned from mine.
- Young people are helping us all change our thinking so we can remove unintentional stigma from our health messaging. I loved this example from Melody, a peer health educator with SacPOP (Sacramento Peers on Prevention): “Change starts when we think of pregnancy less as a burden and more of a choice.” By the way, SacPOP is hosting a youth-led petition drive to bring more and better sex ed to California high schools. Check it out at their website.
- Support youth innovation and you will be amazed at the vision and creativity youth produce. Student teams from the DeAnza High School Technology Academy competed for cash prizes in developing prototype tech solutions to improve the mental health of young people. Finalists presented their ideas at one of the YTH Live plenaries—outstanding ideas and presentations, every one. Congratulations to the Wellness Whale team for taking first prize!
- Youth are transforming traumatic experiences into positive strategies for change. I saw this repeatedly in workshops and plenaries. For example, students who attended high schools that experienced suicide clusters went on to create Youth United for Responsible Media Representation. They engage with journalists and others in the media to encourage responsible reporting on mental health and suicide. “The media,” they tell us, “can play a big role in reducing stigma and spreading hope.” Their own stories offer compelling examples.
- It's time to reframe our paradigms. Genuine partnership will be more powerful than approaches that disempower youth or fail to recognize their expertise. Check out this model for more ideas (with thanks to Kenny Shults of Connected Health Solutions).
- There are some mighty innovative funders out there. The closing plenary of YTH Live brought together nine funders from both foundations and corporate teams. My favorite question to the panel? “What would you do if you had $5 million to grant to a youth-focused project?” So many inspired answers! Create stronger mentorship programs. Create programs so youth can mentor adults. Offer short-cycle funding (like 90 days) that will complement the action style of young people—they can get a LOT of work done very quickly.
The YTH Initiative is now a part of ETR, and I couldn’t be more excited. Such talent and energy! They are fortifying the voice of young people and elevating the consciousness of adults who seek to support youth. It’s a lot of heavy lifting. This team is so up to it!
Thanks, YTH, for an outstanding conference.
Marcia Quackenbush, MS, MFT, MCHES, is Senior Editor at ETR. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.