DiscoverCounselor Toolbox PodcastEnhancing Healthy Adolescent Development
Enhancing Healthy Adolescent Development

Enhancing Healthy Adolescent Development

Update: 2019-07-171


Enhancing Healthy Adolescent Development

Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes PhD, LPC-MHSP, LMHC

Executive Director: AllCEUs Counselor Education

Host: Counselor Toolbox Podcast, Case Management Toolbox Podcast


– Identify the developmental tasks of adolescents and what can be done to facilitate those

– Review unique points to remember when dealing with adolescents

– Identify protective factors

– Identify antecedents to high risk behaviors

– Brainstorm ways to address antecedents with the individual, in school, in communities and in families

Developmental Tasks of Adolescence

Points to Remember

– Adolescents are competent individuals with strengths and potential

– Adolescents are diverse in their developmental stages and their abilities to comprehend and respond to specific tasks and expectations.

– Adolescent behavior is meaningful to the adolescent.

– Adolescents desire a sense of belonging, wish to participate in decisions, and have a voice about issues that affect their lives.

– The context of an adolescent’s environment (i.e. family, school, peers, culture/ethnic group, neighborhood and community) should always be considered.

Points to Remember

– Build on adolescent’s strengths

– Much of the morbidity and mortality during adolescence is related to unhealthy or risky behaviors (e.g. smoking, drinking and

driving, unprotected sex, drug use, violence)

– Adolescents who engage in one risky behavior are more likely to engage in others

– Focus on the antecedents of high-risk behavior instead of the behavior itself

Antecedents to High Risk Behaviors

– Adverse Childhood Experiences

– Abuse, neglect or victimization—Experienced or witnessed IPV

– Divorce and separation

– Mental health or substance abuse issues in the household

– Undiagnosed learning disabilities

– School failure

– Academic failure was a greater risk factor for later adolescent drinking than adolescent drinking was for later academic failures

Addressing Antecedents

Adolescent Brain Development

– The brain matures from “back” to “front. ” Adolescent decision-making behaviors are more influenced by the amygdala than the prefrontal cortex:

– Decision-making is influenced by emotional/gut responses vs. higher order cognitions

– The pre-frontal cortex is responsible for planning, strategizing, judgment, impulse control and regulation of emotions

– Initial “growth spurt” at 11-12 years and continues through 25 years

– From 12-12 there is a pruning process of unused neuronal connections

– The temporal gap between the development of the socio-emotional and cognitive control systems of the brain underlies some aspects of adolescent reckless behavior and risk-taking

Comprehensive Health

– Healthy young people learn better and achieve more.

– Schools can directly influence students’ health and behaviors.

– Schools and communities can encourage healthy lifestyle choices, and promotes adolescent health and well-being.

– Health literacy can be incorporated into all aspects of school as well as recreation

– Schools, families and communities need to collaborate with youth to develop workable strategies


– Enhance cognitive “wise mind” processing during adolescence to retain those synapses

– Actively engage youth by providing opportunities for meaningful participation and sustained involvement in protective activities

– Develop resiliency skills

– Enhance protective factors

Protective Factors

– Family support

– Positive family communication

– Clear and consistent boundaries and expectations

– Other adult relationships

– Encouragement to develop relationships

– Connection to the family, school and community

– Youth are provided opportunities to be useful resources (meaningful participation)

– Youth feel emotionally and physically safe

Protective Factors

– Planning and decision making

– Resiliency:

– Problem solving

– Efficacy

– Social support

– Communication skills

– Mindfulness/self-awareness

– Self-esteem

– Distress tolerance

– Resistance and refusal skills

– Positive view of the future

– Cultural competence

Engaging Youth

Motivating Youth

– Something they want to do

– Time: Teach smarter (Have students read/watch the material at home and use class time to practice and ensure comprehension) (Jonathan Chein)

– Energy: Adequate sleep (see teach smarter) and access to essential nutrition

– Resources: Transportation, ability to earn money to afford activities

– Rewards: Financial, time off from school for community service activities, alternate study halls

– Examples: Church, Gym, Fair, Afterschool Activities


– Involve youth in the development of health promotional strategies

– What would encourage you to exercise-

– Types of activities: Skate parks, basketball courts, walking trails, indoor recreation, incentives

– Incentives: Days off from school,

– Obstacles: Transportation, cost, safety

– What would encourage you to avoid drugs and alcohol-

– Benefits to use:

– Drawbacks to use:

– Alternatives to use:


– Use media

– Actors, athletes persons of important to the youth to communicate messages

– Provide incentives for submitting pro-social memes to a moderated account (not pictures)

– Encourage students to write letters to producers of network shows indicating their preferences

– Encourage parents and community members to write letters to producers regarding prosocial messages they want communicated

– Work with local news media (TV, print and radio) to offer education on health literacy, parenting and mental health promotion

Youth Engagement Programs

– Youth engagement programs can facilitate positive youth development by:

– Providing opportunities for skill development and capacity building

– Providing opportunities for leadership

– Encouraging reflection on identity

– Developing social awareness

Transform Leadership Potential In Youth

– Permit youth to self-select for participation

– Respect and consider youths’ power and experiences

– Provide frequent and diverse leadership opportunities within the organization or community

– Ensure opportunities are available for all youth, including high-risk

– Develop an understanding of differences in cultural expression of leadership behaviors

– Allow youth to take on responsibilities and leadership roles without expectations of perfection.

– Offer opportunities encompass non-traditional leadership activities, such as volunteering or being a student assistant.

– Evaluate and explore youth’s perspectives and beliefs about leaders and leadership.

Keys to Youth Empowerment

– A welcoming, safe environment

– Meaningful participation and engagement

– Equitable power-sharing between youth and adults

– Engagement in critical reflection on interpersonal and sociopolitical processes

– Participation in sociopolitical processes to affect change

– Integration of individual and community level empowerment

Proactive Approaches

– Proactively develop emotional, cognitive, interpersonal and physical assets of youth

– Identification of things that make them happy

– Math: Budgeting for things they want; financial management for the future

– Research: Learning about something they are interested in

– English: Writing a paper on something they love (persuasive, entertaining, educational/informative)

– Science: Exploring the fun side of science, encourage youth to identify ways to make learning a topic enjoyable

– Home: Encourage them to do one thing daily for 30-60 minutes that makes them happy

– Community: Form a youth engagement committee at recreation centers/churches to identify what youth want to do and what would make them happy.

Proactive Approaches

– Proactively develop emotional, cognitive, interpersonal and physical assets of youth

– Ability to use psychological flexibility to deal with distress

– Social studies: Explore the news and help students use psychological flexibility and problem solving

– Before exams practice psychological flexibility

– Vulnerability prevention (the week before)

– Being mindful of the present moment and choosing thoughts and behaviors that will best help you achieve your goals (graduation, college, getting out of this class…)

– At home: Encourage parents to use a psychological flexibility worksheet


– Psychological flexibility worksheet

Proactive Approaches

– Proactively develop emotional, cognitive, interpersonal and physical assets of youth

– Effective problem solving skills

– Math: How can you figure out how to solve this problem…

– Science: Experiments– How do you make bath bombs- How can you get koolaid off a shirt- How can you get a balloon to stick to your head-

– English: Write a paper or have a panel discussion on how social media bullying can be prevented. The best way to deal with manipulative people. How to help a friend who is making poor life choices…

– Home: Negotiation and scaffolding

– Community: Involve youth in addressing social problems

Proactive Approaches

– Proactively develop emotional, cognitive, interpersonal and physical assets of youth

– High levels of health literacy

– Math: Measuring food, calculating calorie needs, understanding BMR and calorie consumption

– Research: Finding credible resources to answer questions

– English: Write papers on topics related to health literacy

– Science: Learn about the impact of nutrition, sleep and exercise on the body, review the Krebs Cycle

Proactive Activities

– Regular engagement with peers in prosocial activities

– English/Social Studies: Identify a social problem in the community, have students work in groups to develop and implement a solution

– Science: Encourage group work and make science club fun. Go to daycares and retirement homes to do science magic (and get time off from school)

– Home: Encourage youth to spend at least 20 minutes a day with the family. Plan monthly outings

– Community:

– Churches, recreation centers, libraries engage youth to identify what they want to do and develop afterschool and weekend programming (board game clubs, video games, art)

– Businesses offer affordable movies, drinks and a place to study


– Enhancing adolescent development means

– Preventing adverse childhood experiences

– Ensuring adequate growth and development

– Enhancing protective factors in the person, home, school and community

– Strategies include

– Involving community groups, rec centers, businesses in providing opportunities for youth recreation and leadership

– Working with schools to adjust curriculum to teach skills necessary for success including resiliency skills, health literacy and mental health promotion

– Ensuring families have access to the resources they need to create a safe and nurturing environment

– Involving youth in identifying problems, challenges, gaps in resources and incentives for participation









Enhancing Healthy Adolescent Development

Enhancing Healthy Adolescent Development

Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes