Helen, ReachOut.com Youth Ambassador, recently attended the
Youth Health 2011 Conference in Sydney on behalf of ReachOut Pro.
In this article she reflects on the need for youth health
professionals and young people to collaborate, and not just
The Youth Health: It's totally
important! 2011 Conference was jam packed with amazing,
inspirational speakers ranging from young people sharing their
everyday experiences to academics and leaders in the youth health
sector. By far the most powerful theme of the conference,
especially among young people, was the
important role of the Internet in health practice with young
people. For me however, the Youth Health Conference highlighted
another aspect of youth health that impacts the way we work with
young people - the need to consider puberty, it's impact on youth
health, and it's implications for the type of work we need to be
doing online to reach out to vulnerable young people.
One young person tweeted that "while we are concerned about
mental health, we need to understand the connections between
physical development and mental health". - Hugh Stephens
Keynote speaker Kate Steinbeck presented on 'Puberty: new twists
on a timeless theme'. Steinbeck referred to various research
studies of hormones, testosterone and oestradiol, and noted the
significant effects they have on a young person's experiences of
puberty. Puberty is happening earlier in a young person's
development - which could have significant impacts on the health
experiences of young people. Mental health issues have also been
associated with the early onset of puberty, as the young people
face body image changes before the brain is ready. Personally, this
is where I see online health services should come in.
The challenges a young person faces when going through puberty
can be severe and life changing, with both positive and negative
outcomes. As more young people are turning to the internet for
information and support, health professionals could be tapping into
this medium to connect with struggling teens during such a
difficult time, targeting this topic. I find it especially
important that this happens early on because of the stigma,
embarrassment, shame and confusion of such physical changes, and
the risks of early onset psychiatric disorders.
Can you imagine a 12 year old trying to complete university
level algebraic equations? That's what puberty felt like to me; I
was out of my depth, misunderstood and fearful of asking for help.
The more services offer support for young people in the places
where they are looking, the more they are likely to respond. From a
young person's point of view, it is much easier to respond to an
offer of support that you didn't expect, rather than asking for it.
More offers need to be made.
Roshel Lenroot spoke about neuroscience and the teenage brain,
noting that "brain function and development is about a journey, not
the destination". We can't cross our fingers and hope that young
people make it through to the 'other side' of adolescence single
handed. We need to recognise and respect their difficulties and
meet them halfway.
For ideas and case studies of using technology to connect
with and support young people, try ReachOut Pro's information
resource Connection Our Worlds: Technology in