Author(s): Well Being Trust
- Denise Dougherty
- Normand LeBlanc
- Paul Armstrong
- Nisha Shah Kanani
- Richard Wittenberg
- Elizabeth Cope
Published: June 9, 2020
“The well-being of children is an overarching societal goal. Teens ages 13 through 18 are a significant child subgroup, comprising 25.1 million Americans, or 2 out of 5 children. As adolescents, teens live through a critical developmental period, during which their circumstances, brains and bodies are undergoing multiple changes. Many of today’s teens—including and beyond those diagnosed with mental disorders—are not flourishing to the extent they could be. Further, evidence is growing that thriving teens would be able to contribute to the well-being of their families, communities, and the nation.
The climate for supporting further efforts to advance teen well-being is becoming more favorable, as suggested by the following trends:
- Growing interest across the globe in understanding, measuring and promoting psychological, social, and emotional well-being;
- U.S. support for research on adolescent brain changes and their implications for an expanded view of adolescent mental health; emotional well-being frameworks and research; and social and emotional learning in schools;
- Growing research and policy interest in population mental health, the social determinants of health and mental health and improving health through social policy;
- Private philanthropic support for translating teen-relevant science into policy and practice.
At the same time, there are counterforces, such as how teens are viewed by much of the public and policymakers, the stigma associated with mental illness, the focus in healthcare financing on diagnosable disorders as a basis for payment, and the relative proportions spent on social versus health services.
This report identifies promising findings and policy recommendations to guide the development, implementation, and testing of strategies to promote positive mental health and prevent psychological distress for our teens. The report is based on a detailed and stepwise approach that included a review of systematic reviews 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).
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.”