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Young people need adults who will listen to them—understand and appreciate their perspective—and then coach or motivate them to use information or services offered in the interest of their own health (Hamburg, 1997).Simply presenting information on the negative consequences of high-risk behaviors is not enough.Discussing options for using birth control with a physician or telling a school psychologist or social worker that one is feeling depressed or sad generally requires both time and trust.Professionals may find that the strategies they use to provide information and offer services to adults just don’t work as well with adolescents.The truth is that adolescents, despite occasional or numerous protests, need adults and want them to be part of their lives, recognizing that they can nurture, teach, guide, and protect them on the journey to adulthood.Directing the courage and creativity of normal adolescents into healthy pursuits is part of what successfully counseling, teaching, or mentoring an adolescent is all about.Despite the negative portrayals that sometimes seem so prevalent—and the negative attitudes about adolescents that they support—the picture of adolescents today is largely a very positive one.Most adolescents in fact succeed in school, are attached to their families and their communities, and emerge from their teen years without experiencing serious problems such as substance abuse or involvement with violence.
At the same time, however, the survey found that 89% of the respondents believed that “almost all teenagers can get back on track” with the right kind of guidance and attention.
In fact, most adults agree about the kinds of things that are important for adults to do with young people—encourage success in school, set boundaries, teach shared values, teach respect for cultural differences, guide decision making, give financial guidance, and so on (Scales, Benson, & Roehlkepartain, 2001).
However, fewer actually act on these beliefs to give young people the kind of support they need.
It may take a number of sessions of nonjudgmental listening to establish the trust needed for a particular adolescent to share with an adult what he or she is thinking and feeling.
It may take even longer before an adolescent feels comfortable asking an adult for help with an important decision.
Media portrayals of adolescents often seem to emphasize the problems that can be a part of adolescence.