Teaching Adolescent Development is Program Development

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As I prepare for the coming semester, I am thinking again about how the course structure can help students recognize the utility of what they are learning.  So, I am thinking about youth, parent, and family education programs with which many have experiences but few have evaluated.  In class, when we discuss drug and alcohol use among adolescents, I present relatively unchanged usage statistics (see my October 2011 post) but also mention the failings of DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education).  Students often recall fondly their DARE experience and some assert their experience that the program was effective for them personally in resisting drugs.  Unfortunately, curricular demands don’t allow us to delve into the research evaluating DARE’s (in)effectiveness, but perhaps, reviewing research on adolescent-focused programs should be a regular part of a course on adolescent development.

 In the past, I had an assignment where I had pulled articles that specifically evaluated teen-directed programs addressing issues like sexuality, drug use, relationships, pregnancy, gangs, etc.  I moved away from that assignment because students were too unfamiliar with the breadth of programs (aside from DARE or sometimes Every 15 Minutes).  But, I’m circling back.

For the most part, I want students to use the information they’ve learned in a practical way, and so, I’m increasingly itching for them to start thinking about creating programs directed towards teens and their families.  Given the students’ general chronological proximity to adolescence, I think they may be in good position to develop effective means of prevention and intervention.

My thinking has been prompted by two issues:  the sentencing of Brandon McInerney and social media.  Brandon McInerney, a 14-year -old middle schooler, shot classmate Larry King at school because Larry was openly gay and flirted with other boys (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.O._Green_School_shooting).  The whole incident is a tragedy, inclusive of the boys’ backgrounds leading up to the shooting.  However, I started to wonder about the sexuality education that takes place in schools.  Often, boys are told about being respectful of girls and to accept that “no means no.”  At the same time, girls are told about how to say no and how to avoid acquaintance rape.  In discussing the issue with friends, we wondered if sexuality education now includes what to do or how to handle interest or advances from someone of the same sex.  The truth is:  I don’t know.  My gut instinct says that most sexuality and relationship education programs do not include this component.  But, they should.

 Social media continues to fascinate me in its potential utility for prevention and intervention.  Some success has been reported on supportive text messages for smoking cessation and for parents in a child abuse prevention program.  At the start of the year, many individuals focus on health and weight loss and use online calorie and exercise counters to guide their behavior change.  One app even allows you to photograph your food and get a rough calorie count.  More recently, a study in Journal of Urban Health reported on the utility of cell phones for homeless youth to stay connected to their families and case managers.  Videoconferencing (e.g., Skype) has emerged as a medium for therapy.  With so many of us immersed in technology, and even more so among adolescents, it would seem that more programs need to access technology as a tool for program delivery.

 In the classroom, I’d like to see my students think about the needs of adolescents.  What message would students have liked to hear about drugs, relationships, sexuality, gangs, money, etc. when they were in middle and high school?  How can technology, in which adolescents immerse themselves, help to get the message out?

 As I write this, I am convincing myself to experiment this semester and give students an option to develop a program (or at least a session) to see if they can use what they’ve learned about adolescent development.  Anyone else willing to try?

 Rob Weisskirch, MSW, Ph.D.
California State University, Monterey Bay
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Program Development

In my class on adolescent psychology, I have a paper assignment in which students are asked to design a prevention, intervention, or enrichment program for adolescents and justify it using research and theory about adolescents. I've gotten papers designing programs to address bullying in schools (as well as papers specifically addressing LGBT specific bullying), dropping out of high school (as well as specifically addressing the issue within the context of a specific racial/ethnic group, sex education, mentoring, and many others. I'd love to hear about what kind of assignment you're thinking about for your class...

Program development ideas


I'm actually thinking of having them write a reaction paper to a program evaluation research article or an evaluation of programs.

For example, Barnett, J. E. (2006). Evaluating 'baby think it over' infant simulators: A comparison group study. Adolescence, 41(161), 103-110.

And, maybe get the students' response to the evaluation?

I like your idea as a larger project, though.

Rob Weisskirch