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Navigating Reaching Teens

A guide to understanding and utilizing all the resources available to you in the Reaching Teens toolkit.

Navigating Reaching Teens: Getting the Most Out of the Toolkit

Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP, FSAHM

[NOTE: A more detailed description is available in Chapter 10.]


Welcome to the Reaching Teens community. We are a group of youth-serving professionals and community members who care for and about young people and who are willing to intentionally be the kind of adults who will support all youth to thrive.

We know that, at first glance, this toolkit looks overwhelming and that it would be easier to get a pamphlet with the magic recipe for successfully working with youth. We wish it could be that simple. The truth is that caring—the most important ingredient in successfully serving youth—is not a characteristic any toolkit can instill within you. You’ve got that. It’s why you’re here.

But communication is a skill-set that requires practice to get right. That practice should be among like-minded, supportive colleagues. It should occur in an environment that conveys that it cares about staff, as well as for the youth served. Sometimes, the process of learning to implement skills takes personal reflection to consider what barriers are getting in the way of practicing in the way you’d hope to. Reaching Teens is about like-minded, supportive colleagues offering those skills, suggesting strategies for reflective practice, and building settings that are positive places for young people and the professionals who serve them.

Reaching Teens is not a new program or curriculum that you need to implement and add to your overflowing plate; rather, we like to think of this body of work as the plate itself. When adults approach youth from a top-down, risk-focused perspective, young people reject our efforts. On the other hand, when we see all that is good and right about young people and partner with them by serving as their guides, they welcome our presence in their lives. Our relationships become the scaffolding on which all other programs and initiatives rest. So take a breath, dive in, and prepare to reinforce your skill sets to serve young people from a strength-based perspective.

A Brief Overview of Reaching Teens

Is Reaching Teens a Curriculum or a Toolkit?

Reaching Teens is not a curriculum. It does not have the learning objectives and outcome measures that curricula rest on; rather, it is a comprehensive toolkit that you as an individual or agency can use for professional development (PD). If you choose, it offers you content to build a curriculum tailored to your needs.

Reaching Teens Is…

  • A comprehensive toolkit that allows youth-serving professionals to apply the principles found in 3 theoretical frameworks:

▪ Positive youth development

▪ Resilience-building strategies

▪ Trauma-sensitive practices

  • A toolkit that prepares youth-serving professionals to use strength-based communication strategies to support healthy adolescent development and facilitate positive behavioral-change processes
  • A toolkit that prepares youth-serving professionals to address a variety of behavioral risks and mental health issues from a strength-based perspective
  • Evidence-informed and theoretically driven
  • Infused with diverse, expert multidisciplinary experience and the views of youth from many cultural and sociodemographic backgrounds
  • Infused with wisdom and experience from leading positive youth development agencies
  • A multimedia toolkit that uses written chapters, hundreds of videos, and group learning discussion processes to reinforce learning
  • A continuing education product approved for credit by national organizations representing

▪ Social workers

▪ Counselors

▪ Nurses

▪ Physicians

▪ Physician assistants

▪ Health educators

(Teachers are given objectives rooted in social-emotional learning that will help them apply for local accreditation.)

  • A toolkit that was shown in an external process evaluation by the University of North Texas Health Science Center to

▪ Fortify knowledge of trauma, resilience, and strength-based approaches among human service providers.

▪ Improve organizational environments, policies, and practices.

▪ Improve system communication, collaboration, and coordination of care.

Reaching Teens Is Not…

  • A diagnostic manual. For example, it does not tell you how to diagnose depression or anxiety; rather, it tells you how to recognize these conditions and to use strength-based strategies to support youth.
  • A treatment manual. Following the same example, it does not tell you how to treat depression or anxiety; rather, it first guides you through how to interact, without shame or stigma, with youth having these conditions and then guides you how to support them in their healing processes and refer them to needed services.
  • Fully evidence based. It is evidence informed and uses the best of science when available. It leads the evidence by offering diverse expert opinions on how to apply theoretical evidence-based frameworks. (See Chapter 12, Informed by the Evidence and Leading Practice.)
  • A toolkit whose creators fully understand your unique program or population. That understanding is why the Group Learning and Discussion/Personal Reflection sections are critical to driving home the lessons.
  • A deep dive into all subject areas. Reaching Teens introduces some strategies taught independently in multiple-day certification courses. Our chapters do not substitute for the depth of material offered in certification courses.
  • Done. Reaching Teens is designed to be a living, breathing body of work that can be updated electronically as new evidence-informed strategies prove useful or local programs share their experiences.

What Is the Difference Between the Printed Version and the Electronic Version?

Many users may have only the electronic version of Reaching Teens; however, because many people prefer the look and feel of a book, we have printed a book that can be marked up, highlighted, and filled with sticky notes. All people who have the print book also have full access to the electronic version—meaning everyone benefits from the advantages of using a toolkit that has an electronic version. We have kept the print book at an (almost) reasonable length, by having certain key elements available only in the electronic version. In many cases, this addition is a convenience because direct links will be available in the electronic version that could not possibly be available in a traditional book.

  • Of the 95 chapters, 21 only have a page or two in the print book, with the full chapter being available online.
  • In some cases, the electronic version has a slightly different chapter tailored to your setting.
  • References are available only in the electronic version. This precision allows for direct links.
  • Suggested resources are available only in the electronic version. This precision allows for direct links.
  • Videos are available only in the electronic version. This precision allows for direct play.
  • Group learning and discussion/personal reflection exercises are offered only in the electronic version, to tailor cases to your setting.
  • Opportunities to earn continued education credits are offered through the electronic version. This precision allows links to access quizzes and steps for claiming credit for your discipline

Finally, the electronic version allows us to seamlessly add new materials.

Getting Oriented

Whether you are working through Reaching Teens as an individual or agency, it will be useful to first have an overview of key philosophical and practice points. Then, once you “own” these, you’ll get more out of every other chapter.

We recommend the following chapters to get started:

Focusing Your Engagement

We recognize that this toolkit is very comprehensive, or put another way, it is huge and can feel overwhelming at first. Certainly, people can choose to read it all, as they would an epic novel. But we have created multiple strategies to tailor your experience so that you can quickly get to the content most useful to you. The print book is written with the “typical youth-serving professional” in mind. This means that any professional from any setting can benefit. If you work for a youth-development program or an after-school setting, the book is written to meet your needs, as is the main electronic version of Reaching Teens. You should not need to use the guidance offered in the setting-specific portals. This introduction is designed to help you determine how to navigate Reaching Teens and focus your efforts.

Setting-Specific Pathways

If you serve in one of the specific settings in which we offer a tailored experience, you will benefit from approaching Reaching Teens from a setting-specific portal. Our assistant editors, each with substantial expertise in these settings, have recommended which chapters, topics, or videos will be most useful for you to apply in your setting. Currently, Reaching Teens has tailored experiences for the following settings. Other settings may be added in the future.

If you enter a portal specific for your setting, you will have the following tailored materials:

  • An introduction to why Reaching Teens is particularly relevant in your setting.
  • Suggested chapters and videos that will be most helpful to you.
  • Group learning and discussion cases written for the youth you interact with in your setting.
  • In some cases, the chapters in the electronic version will vary from those in the print book to be more focused for your setting.

It is critical to realize that the tailored experiences do not exclude you from any content; rather, they give you the option of focusing your experience.

National Organization Pathways

Several national organizations use Reaching Teens as a way to directly support their ongoing initiatives. This use will allow staff to access Reaching Teens content and the policies/procedures and initiative(s) of their organization simultaneously. In these cases, Reaching Teens content will be clearly aligned to the initiative(s) the organization supports. You will most likely know whether your organization has secured this relationship with Reaching Teens.

Section Descriptions

Reaching Teens is divided into 11 sections, each with several chapters. An introduction in each section lists the chapters within the section, including a brief description of each chapter’s content.

It may be helpful to think about which chapters will benefit from readers practicing among peers and those whose content can be absorbed through individual learning.

A starting point is knowing that PD sessions should draw mostly from the sections on communication, because they benefit from group interaction, pooled intelligence, and practice among peers. For these reasons, Sections 4, 5, 6, and 7 include content that benefits from group learning. The other chapters, by and large, can be navigated as needed on one’s own.

Broader Topics and Overarching Themes

The sections are one way to organize Reaching Teens; however, as you use Reaching Teens to develop your own PD sessions, you will most likely hope to teach overarching themes or broader topics. In some cases, a single chapter will suffice to teach a topic (eg, depression). In most cases, however, you’ll want to teach topics such as “how to remain calm amidst chaos” or “how to transform to a trauma-sensitive setting.” In these cases, you’ll want to draw key elements from a group of chapters to develop your PD sessions. For further details on this approach to creating a tailored experience, see the next section, Using Reaching Teens as a Toolkit to Support Professional Development.

Using Reaching Teens as a Toolkit to Support Professional Development

It is beyond the scope of this work to offer the specifics of creating sessions for PD or curriculum development. You may find Chapter 9, "Reaching Adults So That They Can Reach Teens", helpful. The goal here is to help you better understand the enormity of material available to you as you select materials to include in the PD sessions you design.

Welcoming New Staff

Professional-development sessions are generally offered in an annual or biannual cycle. Therefore, new staff may not be exposed to key information until the next time the topic is offered. This delay leaves them unprepared to join your organizational culture and could lead to their making unnecessary errors in serving youth. In addition, staff coming from programs that do not use a strength-based perspective will need extra guidance to shift to this approach.

Many agencies using the first edition found these chapters helpful in orienting new staff before their contact with youth.

Champion Model

It is important that a couple of “site champions” in each agency take primary responsibility for implementing Reaching Teens with fidelity. In most of our settings, crises arrive regularly and it is very easy to direct our efforts at “putting out fires.” Even PD sessions can be driven with a reactive crisis mentality. It is hard to implement the sessions that prevent the crises in the first place unless a person in leadership sets the tone that prioritizes building effective relationships with young people. In programs that run at a feverish pace, people can lack insight that training is translating into improved practice. For this reason, leadership creating opportunities for reflection can solidify gains and increase buy-in.

There should also be “topic champions,” ideally drawn from frontline staff, to take responsibility of reading all the materials offered in the broader topic or overarching theme and perform the following tasks:

  • Preassign readings before the PD sessions. Readings can be whole chapters or sections drawn from multiple chapters.
  • Determine the number of PD sessions devoted to a topic.
  • Get conversations started in PD sessions by using videos or cases.
  • Select cases to be used for discussion. They can be drawn from Reaching Teens or from the setting (actual cases).
  • Recommend further reading or videos.
  • Collect feedback.
  • Serve as resident experts on the topic to support staff learning and reinforce gains.

Building Professional-Development Sessions Around Broader Topics and Overarching Themes

In many cases, the chapters can stand alone as the focus of a PD session. However, in some cases, your goal will be to build larger skill sets. This section is about how to find the variety of resources within Reaching Teens that will support you to do so. Bear in mind that each chapter has written content, videos, and direct links to respected resources.

Each of the following “units” are provided to reveal chapters that intersect to support the topic. Following are some topics that we know, because of feedback and experience, the Reaching Teens community have been interested in. Others may be added as we gain feedback from the second edition.

  • Transforming to a Strength-Based Approach
  • Helping Communities and Youth-Serving Professionals See Youth Through a Strength-Based Lens
  • Honoring Diversity and Practicing Cultural Humility
  • The Basics of Effective Communication With Youth
  • Adolescent Development 101
  • Adolescent Resilience 101
  • Instituting Trauma-Sensitive Practices
  • Helping Young People Learn Self-regulation Both to Calm Their Minds and to Improve Their Behavior
  • Stress Management
  • Building a Sense of Control Within Youth
  • Maintaining Your Cool Amidst Chaos So You Can Better Co-regulate With Youth and Settle Their Behaviors
  • Supporting Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Health
  • Meeting the Needs of Youth Who Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer/Questioning
  • Creating Effective Professional Boundaries
  • Preventing Professional Burnout
  • Self-care for Youth-Serving Professionals

We Want Your Feedback!

Again, welcome to the Reaching Teens community! We are first and foremost a group of youth-serving professionals and community members who care for and about young people and who are willing to intentionally be the kind of adults who will support all youth to thrive. We are also advocates for all young people. Because we are advocates, your wisdom and experience can be shared with people throughout this community.

Reaching Teens itself is a toolkit that is a growing body of work. Your feedback will help us improve it for others. Your experience with applying the toolkit can be shared with others through video or the written word. If you’d like to share your thoughts and experiences to build a stronger group of global professionals committed to this work, your first step is to contact Reachingteensfeedback@aap.org.

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