The obstacles we face in keeping our teenage students safe can often seem overwhelming. Though we wish we could cover everything here, this post will focus on three of the most sensitive issues facing today’s teens – substance abuse, STD and AIDS awareness and prevention, and personal relationships – with the core idea that development of personal values and healthy relationships are indispensable to navigating difficult situations and making positive decisions.
First, a look on the bright side: in the US, consumption of alcohol has decreased by an average of 11 percentage points among high school students since 2011, and daily use of nicotine has decreased by 20 percentage points since 1997. Globally, Iceland has developed a particularly effective program based primarily on providing stipends to families for children’s sports and activities, joint community and school efforts, and surveys used by teens to self-report alcohol and drug use; Lithuania, South Korea, Spain, and Nairobi have begun to develop similar systems, and results are beginning to show.
On the other end of the statistics spectrum, reported STD rates in the US reached the highest numbers ever recorded in 2015. Cases of primary and secondary syphilis increased by 19% from 2014 to 2015, and cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia increased by 12.8% and 5.9%, respectively. Though these diseases are treatable with antibiotics, the stigma associated with treatment is so pervasive that the majority of cases go untreated. From 2011 to 2015, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS globally increased from 34 million to 36.7 million; perhaps most critically, 1 in 8 people infected with HIV do not know it.
YLA believes that awareness and education around these issues are of utmost importance. YLA’s curricula, recognized by Harvard University and the Ford Foundation, have served over 450,000 students and include three modules specific to personal relationships, substance abuse, and STD/AIDS awareness.
YLA’s Personal Relationships module teaches students to recognize their personal values and future goals; to develop healthy relationships with others who share similar values and goals; and to examine attitudes about sex, gender stereotypes, and communication styles. With these skills teens are better equipped to navigate difficult situations involving peer pressure or bullying, and have the means to assess their personal relationships and better understand what makes them uncomfortable.
Our Substance Abuse Prevention module focuses on recognizing the long-term effects of drug use, becoming involved in community activities rather than drugs or alcohol, and finding resources to help with drug addiction or alcoholism. Using the skills acquired in the Personal Relationships module, students will have a stronger sense of their own goals and values and a more concrete idea of the extent to which substance abuse will impede them.
Building further on students’ strength and development of personal values, the STD/AIDS Awareness module teaches teens about the different types of STDs as well as the differences between HIV and AIDS, and the barrier to prevention and treatment deriving from the stigma associated with STDs. Additionally, the module helps students understand the importance of safety in sexual activity and each person’s responsibility in controlling the spread of STDs.
Together, these modules emphasize students’ agency and active thought in the face of difficult personal situations, while raising awareness around options for assistance and support. This allows students to strengthen personal values in a safe environment, and feel more confident applying them to real-life situations. Find more information on these modules and our Teen Health Bundle here.