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The State of Teen Well Being: 60 Percent of Teens Not Flourishing
New report calls for increased public funding investment in teen-focused health and well-being policies to benefit Americans of all ages
Oakland, Calif. (June 9, 2020) –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 AcademyHealth, ACT 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.
Despite the incredible potential present in young people, they face deep challenges which impact teens, especially racial and ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, and girls, disproportionately. These challenges can be exacerbated by the social, physical, and emotional changes related to COVID-19.
“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.”
Advancing Adolescent Flourishing: Moving Policy Upstream is based on a detailed and stepwise approach that included a systematic review of interventions and strategies, a global scan of policy recommendations, a set of key informant interviews, and a structured approach to identifying and prioritizing a unique set of action items for the U.S. context, all guided by a National Expert Panel (NEP). Key findings from this comprehensive analysis include:
- Teens report higher levels of stress than older people. Leading causes are: mass shootings in the U.S. (75%), concern about peers with anxiety and depression (70%), rising suicide rates (62%) and pressure to get good grades (61%). Other key sources of stress include global warming (58%), deportation (57%), and reports of sexual harassment and assaults (53%).
- Between 58% and 68% of teens have experienced discrimination based on race or ethnicity and Black students are suspended or expelled from school out of proportion to their numbers in the population.
- Beliefs about school safety affect the psychological well-being of LGBTQ teens; 98% have heard the word “gay” used disparagingly at school.
- Despite being more likely to have one or more lifelong health conditions (47%), teens are less likely than younger children to have health insurance, a usual source of care, and annual medical and wellness visits. Forty percent of all adolescents live in poverty.
- Teens make up one out of four cases in the child welfare system and they have unique needs; meanwhile, the system remains focused on younger children.
Tax policy ignores the potential benefits of better supporting families of teens economically, even though teenagers are more costly to care for than younger children even barring college expenses. For example, Coronavirus relief payments only apply to children age 16 and under.
“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.”
The report is available here.
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Well Being Trust is a national foundation dedicated to advancing the mental, social, and spiritual health of the nation. Created to include participation from organizations across sectors and perspectives, Well Being Trust is committed to innovating and addressing the most critical mental health challenges facing America, and to transforming individual and community well-being. www.wellbeingtrust.org. Twitter: @WellBeingTrust
AcademyHealth is a leading national organization serving the fields of health services and policy research and the professionals who produce and use this important work. Together with our members, we offer programs and services that support the development and use of rigorous, relevant and timely evidence to increase the quality, accessibility, and value of health care, to reduce disparities, and to improve health. Learn more at www.academyhealth.org and follow us on Twitter @AcademyHealth.
ACT for Health brings together organizations and individuals to promote a holistic and coordinated approach to improving the mental health of children and adolescents. Learn more at https://actforhealth.org/