In a world where parents have become increasingly concerned about the health and wellbeing of their teenagers, it’s important to ask the question – when it comes to adolescent development programs, what really works and why?
With concerns around adolescent wellbeing, it’s tempting for parents, policy makers, philanthropists & educators to look for “quick fixes” that are cleverly marketed & make big claims about the impact they have. These claims are rarely (if ever) tested and aren’t supported by evidence-based research. Sometimes what sounds appealing, may have little or no lasting impact on the overall health & wellbeing of adolescents.
When it comes to programs targeting both negative psychological outcomes (symptoms & disorders) and positive psychological outcomes – our research on meta-studies (studies of studies) has shown that there is a convergence of conclusions about what makes a program “effective”. Here is what we have found.
More is better
Weekend workshops or 1-shot lectures are not effective interventions. However, programs where adolescents spend many hours over extended periods of time are effective in reducing negative outcomes & encouraging positive outcomes. The clear message is that the greater the skill acquisition, the greater the lasting benefit. And developing real skills for life takes time.
Earlier is better
The best time to start is in childhood, not adolescence. That is why Primary School programs that are focused on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) have such an important role to play as they build a foundation preparing adolescents for the journey ahead.
Broad is better
The most effective programs target multiple systems simultaneously. For example – the student, their home and their school.
Sophisticated is better
The best programs take a person and environment approach and as a result – look at both the internal and external factors. For example, building resilience in adolescents requires a focus on the internal factors such as self-awareness, self-regulation, mindfulness, perseverance, being balanced in views and authenticity. It also requires a focus on the external factors of being connected to adults, a sense of belonging, feeling empowered enough to make differences in their life and the lives of others, feeling that people have high expectations for them, and feeling engaged at school.
So the next time you hear about a “really great program” that your son or daughter should attend you might like to ask these 5 important questions:
- How long does the program run for & is there any follow-up?
- What are the qualifications of the people running the program?
- How will I be involved as a parent?
- Does the program target multiple systems – your child, yourself & your family, their school and other aspects of their life?
- Does the program take a “person & context” approach?