When you think about preparing youth for transition to adulthood, do you think about preparing them to take care of their own health? Just as all youth need to develop competencies related to achieving employment and education goals, they also need to develop thriving competencies – the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for maintaining optimal physical and emotional wellness through adolescence and into adulthood.
Now that I’m an adult, rarely a day goes by that I don’t think about some aspect of my health and take certain actions to protect or improve it. But when I was a teenager, I wasn’t as aware of or concerned about managing my health. Even though the health and physical education classes in school taught me about typical adolescent health issues, I wouldn’t say I really knew what it meant to take responsibility for my own health.
I was fortunate that I could always rely on my parents to assess and manage my health needs. This included ensuring that I saw the appropriate doctors for routine and urgent care health needs and deciding which doctors I would see depending on our family’s insurance coverage and financial ability at the time. So it wasn’t until I left home to attend college and experienced a health crisis that I started learning how to make decisions about and manage my own healthcare.
At the age of 18, I suddenly had a health condition that required regular doctor visits, taking medication, monitoring my symptoms, discussing treatment options with my doctors, and making daily decisions about how to take care of myself to improve my health. There was a period during this transition that my health condition almost derailed my educational progress. My school work, my job, and my social life were all adversely affected as I struggled to cope with my illness.
Luckily, during this stage of my transition to adulthood, my family helped me learn a lot of what I needed to know about managing my health but I also did a lot of self-educating – reading about my health condition and asking my doctors questions. There were missteps and mistakes along the way but I learned from each experience and gradually became more competent at managing my condition.
Just as we often take our health for granted, we also take for granted that young people will learn what they need to know to manage their own health. We might assume they are learning everything they need to know at school, from their families, and from friends. But let’s not assume or take it for granted – let’s ask them and, when needed, connect them to opportunities to develop thriving competencies.
NCWD/Youth’s new Innovative Strategies Practice Brief, Youth Development and Leadership Opportunities to Develop Thriving Competencies, highlights some ways that youth programs and organizations currently support youth with this aspect of transition. The strategies featured in this brief include:
- Providing or connecting youth to mental and physical health services;
- Helping youth develop knowledge and skills for health-related decision making and management; and
- Offering benefits planning and counseling to youth and families.
Share your own strategies and resources for helping youth learn to manage their own health by leaving us a comment.
Thriving is one of five youth development competency areas. Adopting a youth development approach means helping youth to develop the full range of competencies they need to be fully prepared for adulthood. Learn more about Youth Development and Leadership, Area 3 of the Guideposts for Success.
- Take Charge of Your Health: A Guide for Teenagers, National Institutes of Health
- Healthy and Ready to Work National Resource Center
- Tunnels and Cliffs: A Guide for Workforce Development Professionals and Policymakers serving Youth with Mental Health Needs
- Transition’s Missing Link: Health Care Transition, Policy Brief
By Mindy Larson, Senior Program Associate, with the National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development.