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Advancing Adolescent Flourishing: Moving Policy Upstream

Adolescent brain science shows the teen years are a critical developmental period—a time that’s malleable enough that investments at this age can make a difference for teens today and the rest of their lives, according to a new analysis by AcademyHealthACT for Health and Well Being Trust (WBT).

The report, Advancing Adolescent Flourishing: Moving Policy Upstream, found that enhanced teen-focused health policies at local, state and federal levels of government will contribute greatly to the larger enterprise of healing the nation for all. Yet, current national investment in adolescents is lacking. The analysis includes action items and recommendations that are promising for advancing teen psychological, social, and emotional well-being.

Even before today’s worldwide health crisis began, three out of five teens reported either languishing or only feeling moderately mentally healthy. And, almost two out of five high school students said they felt so sad and hopeless at times that they could not engage in their usual activities.

“Everyone benefits when young people thrive, yet adolescents have largely been overlooked and deprioritized in the national policy landscape,” said Benjamin F. Miller, PsyD, chief strategy officer, WBT. “It’s imperative the nation invests in teens’ psychological, social, and emotional well-being through a comprehensive framework for excellence. We—especially adults who shape policy—must do better to ensure the next generation of leaders can excel.”

“Our work revealed 47 action items,” said Denise Dougherty, PhD, senior scholar at AcademyHealth, ACT for Health Board Member, and lead investigator on the project. “The priorities identified by our National Experts are intended to foster flourishing across all teens. The end of this unprecedented school year provides a unique opportunity to consider the needs of teens.”

Advancing Adolescent Flourishing: Moving Policy Upstream’s recommendations include:

  • Developing a vision that considers young people as a resource, not a problem by adopting principles of respect for teens and including them in policymaking that concerns them.
  • Incorporating trauma-informed and healing-centered models in child welfare, juvenile justice and violence prevention programs.
  • Providing parents and families of teens with access to adequate material resources – such as supplemental income, food, shelter, or money for education or extracurricular activities.
  • Supporting state and local education agencies to shift their focus from academic achievement alone to an equal and integrated focus on teens’ psychological, social, and emotional wellbeing.
  • Holding social media companies, influencers and advertisers accountable for protecting teens from harmful contact and engaging with researchers, teens, and community stakeholders to produce more content that supports teen wellbeing.
  • Bringing more attention and resources to teen well-being by declaring and acting on a “Decade of Adolescent Flourishing.”