The Role of Caring Adults in Supporting Adolescent Health and Wellbeing

May 22nd, 2024 | viewpoint


By Megan Hiltner, MPH

May is National Adolescent Health Month,™ a time when we focus on supporting the well-being of young people now and into their adult lives. This annual observance, hosted by the HHS Office of Population Affairs (OPA), emphasizes the importance of building on young people’s strengths and potential, encouraging meaningful youth engagement in health activities, and highlighting key topics in adolescent health.

One of the themes for this month—and one of the goals outlined in Take Action for Adolescents—A Call to Action for Adolescent Health and Well-Being—emphasizes the effect that caring adults can have in adolescents’ lives. As a parent of a teen, I’ve witnessed the role of my son’s teachers, coaches, and other trusted adults in his life: they provide him with support and guidance that goes beyond what I, as his not-so-cool mom, can’t always offer. These adults are approachable; they listen to him and show compassion. Recent research validates these benefits, showing that people who have positive relationships during childhood with adults beyond their parents tend to have better mental health outcomes, academic achievement, and prosocial behavior in adulthood. [1, 2]

I’m also proud to be part of JSI’s work to develop resources for adults who work with adolescents. Funded by OPA, the JSI-led Reproductive Health National Training Center (RHNTC) creates materials tailored to the needs of youth-serving professionals in various settings, including health care, schools, and the juvenile justice system. These resources cover topics like sexual and reproductive health education, healthy relationships, weight stigma and bias, and trauma-informed care. One resource that I find particularly important for those working with adolescents is a podcast on adolescent brain development. It reminds us that teenage brains are rapidly developing yet resilient. After listening to it, some of the unpredictable behaviors of young people in your life may make more sense.

Engaging trusted adults is also an important part of our health communications work at JSI, which educates and motivates youth to adopt healthy behaviors. As part of The Partnership @drugfreeNH, JSI developed the Stronger Than You Think campaign, which teaches parents, caregivers, and other trusted adults to talk with youth about the risks and consequences of using substances, providing support and accurate information without judgment. In a similar vein, JSI’s Save Your Breath offers educational materials for pediatricians, school health officers, and guidance counselors about screening and referring youth who vape to treatment.

Take Action for Adolescents calls on professionals and policymakers to ensure that high-quality information and training is accessible so that adults can understand young people’s concerns and experiences and support them to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing. Through the RHNTC and other projects, JSI supports those in a position to help young people thrive and works with partners to coordinate efforts that serve adolescents in our communities.

We can all strive to be approachable adults who encourage curiosity and resilience in the adolescents with whom we interact.

  1.  JAMA Psychiatry. 2024;81(4):406-413. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2023.4900
  2. Mirković, B., Brady, B., & Silke, C. (2021). Associations Between non-parental Adult Support and Youths’ Individual and Contextual Characteristics. Child Care in Practice.

Partner with Us

We strive to build lasting relationships to produce better health outcomes for all.