Building a healthier, more inclusive future
Dr Asha Pemberton
International Adolescent Health Week is celebrated in the third week in March as a movement of advocacy and support for adolescents and young people. The goal of this week of celebration is to pay close attention to the issues that affect adolescents at the community and grassroots level so that we collectively learn and improve global adolescent health.
The colour for the week (#IAHW2023) is lime green, and all are encouraged to wear something representative on any day next week in support of the health and wellbeing of our young people.
This year, the theme for International Adolescent Health Weeks is: With and For Adolescents: Building a Healthier and More Inclusive Future. Indeed, nothing for them without them.
As we reflect on the ways we can include adolescents as active participants in plans and actions that support their wellbeing, initiatives should start in the home. Parents are encouraged, from as early as late childhood, to include and engage teens in decisions that affect their future. The best way to ensure the buy-in and support of young people is to support their feelings of control in decision-making. A critical aspect of adolescent development is the quest for autonomy.
In this regard, the first step in supporting healthy independence and personal agency is the involvement of young people, through listening to their suggestions, providing gentle guidance, but, importantly, allowing them to make choices and then learn from the consequences of them.
Within the school system, there are many opportunities for teen advocacy and leadership. While some young people have more natural interest in leadership or more assertive personalities, educators are encouraged to seek the more introverted students to solicit their opinions.
A true spirit of inclusivity involves make the extra and concerted efforts to gather the opinions and views of young people who for any reason are less likely to represent themselves or groups to which they belong.
Young people universally seek to belong and affiliate with a group of peers. Whether through sport, culture, online gaming or fashion, teenagers want to fit in.
With that noted, it must be recognised that some groups of young people have specific risks with regard to their health, which ought to be considered in any wellbeing initiative. Particularly vulnerable groups include adolescents with chronic medical conditions. As a cohort, these young people regularly depart from prescribed medical management owing to frustration, fatigue or even embarrassment. Movements to support inclusive health must pay attention to these young people, particularly as we are noting larger and larger numbers of young people with both childhood diseases and early onset of adult chronic medical conditions.
Young people with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities occupy another significant group that must be considered and included in health planning conversations. Advocacy for these groups is critical as they continue to endure real-time limitations to access not only to healthcare, but general social and lifestyle opportunities.
Added to these groups are young people with mental illness, the youths of migrant populations, adolescent parents and those engaged in the juvenile justice system.
In order to harness the overall positive potential of our young people and usher them into active young adulthood, there is much that is to be done.
This upcoming week, let us take time to consider how we as a collective can build a healthier and more inclusive future for our adolescents. In the home, school and community, there are many opportunities for advocacy and change.
Join the movement as we paint the world lime green for #IAHW2023.
"Building a healthier, more inclusive future"