Meeting Teens Where They Are

Jacqueline Dougé

As a pediatrician and public health practitioner who works with teens, I’m always looking for innovative ways to educate my patients. A few years ago at my job at a local public health department, we were discussing effective ways to provide health information to teens in our county when we had a breakthrough: Why not meet them where they are, on their smartphones?

Close to 95% of teens—across all racial and ethnic groups1—have access to a smartphone, and research has shown that teens use the internet to search for information on topics ranging from sexual health and nutrition to mental health and stress. This same research also indicated that teens sometimes found it hard to determine what sources of information were credible.2 As a local health department, we were certain that we’d be a trusted and credible source of information.

So in partnership with a local teen organization, Voices for Change, my colleagues and I developed, a mobile-accessible health website with credible health information and resources. The website was developed for and by racially and ethnically diverse teens in middle and high school to ensure the site would reflect the needs of that population and appeal to peers in the community. We covered topics including mental health and suicide prevention, stress management, sexual health, and physical health as well as drugs, alcohol, and vaping.

Over the last couple years, TeenHealth Matters has added a blog and podcast, with many episodes devoted to mental health. To make sure teen voices continued to be included, high school interns were recruited to develop relevant blog posts and serve as consultants and co-hosts on the development of podcast episodes, social media posts, and a suicide prevention campaign. TeenHealth Matters has become a vital resource for our community and has been incorporated into the local school system’s health education curriculum as a resource.

With so many children and teens using the internet, social media, and their smartphones, there is an opportunity to address the digital divides that many teens of color experience. These are some lessons learned:

  • We need to incorporate diverse and inclusive voices to ensure equitable access to vital health information and resources.
  • Teens are important stakeholders in their health and well-being.
  • Teens are looking for ways to contribute.
  • Partnerships with schools and local organizations serving teens are great sources to gather feedback and find young volunteers.
  • Projects and programs serving teens should include them in planning, implementation, and evaluation.

Jacqueline Dougé, M.D., is a pediatrician and co-author of the AAP policy statement on racism. 

This essay was written as part of the Common Sense research report Tweens, Teens, Tech, and Mental Health: Coming of Age in an Increasingly Digital, Uncertain, and Unequal World. Learn more about the report.

1 Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. (2018). Teens, social media & technology 2018. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center.

2 Wartella, E., Rideout, V., Montague, H., Beaudoin-Ryan, L., & Lauricella, A. (2016). Teens, health, and technology: A national survey. Media and Communication, 4(3), 13–23.