Teen [Fill in the Blank] Month 2.0

Date: May 25th, 2016

Bob Reeg

As most readers of Under the Currents know, the month of May is recognized in the United States as Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. As May approaches each year, Healthy Teen Network faces its annual ambivalence on how best to observe the month. On the one hand, we want to elevate public awareness of the great strides that young people, with support of their families, caring adults, and supporting organizations, have made in reducing the incidence of pregnancy among teens. We also join in the belief that more needs to be done to reduce pregnancies among adolescents. And, so we do utilize the month of May to highlight our own teen pregnancy prevention-focused activities, amplify the prevention messages disseminated by our colleague national and state organizations, and recognize public health agencies for their important contributions. (Check out this Storify link for our Twitter Chat from last week on moving beyond prevention.)

On the other hand, a public awareness campaign placing laser beam focus on teen pregnancy prevention never really “hits the spot” to us. Not because reducing pregnancies among adolescents isn’t a worthy objective (it is!), but rather because—despite the best intentions of those of us who organize or participate in problem-focused awareness campaigns—messages with negative frames tend to lead receivers of the messages either toward simplistic remedies (i.e., silver bullets) or to hopelessness (“too big; will never happen”). In the specific case of teen pregnancy, a problem-focused frame can and has led to mischaracterization of teens as irresponsible and devoid of capacity to make healthy decisions. That is precisely the OPPOSITE attitude most young people carry, as observed by Healthy Teen Network and our members in the field over our decades of educational work with them.

So, what to do, what to do? This year, our internal balancing act led us to wonder what the month of May might look like if the collective “we” both enlarged the canvas of young people’s desires/needs and snapped around it a positive frame. Might May become a month when we as a nation would recognize and remind ourselves that youth have the right to healthy and fulfilling lives, just as every other human being has rights? When we might celebrate youth as assets? When we would showcase the many interventions, programs, and tools, including our own Crush, Pulse, and Generate My Healthy Future, available to help youth unleash their own power to make positive and healthy choices? When we would call policymaker attention to the absence of a general youth policy and specific under-investments in resources and services unique to them?  When we would call upon Congress to finally, at last, ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child?

The reality is that it’s pretty solid that May will continue as Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month for the foreseeable future. No worries; it is what it is. There’s always, August 12, International Youth Day, to which we can hitch our wagon. What might the U.S. observance of International Youth Day look like from your vantage point?  What rights do the youth you support or nurture wish to express for themselves? Have you asked them lately? Ever? What will you do in your community or organization setting, whether there is a designated day/week/month or not, to raise public awareness that young people have universal and specific rights? Let us know by commenting to this blog post.

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About the Author

Bob Reeg, MPA, CVA, Program Development and Public Policy Consultant, is an accomplished nonprofit organization program director & public policy analyst and advocate, and an emerging social purpose entrepreneur.

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