Teen Health: Training Teens to Help Other Teens Lead Healthy Lives

Adolescent years are critically important for so many reasons, not the least of which is that teenagers often make lifestyle choices that place their health – and future health – at serious risk. Young adults confront health and safety issues and they struggle to adopt healthy behaviors. Studies show that feeling connected to school – believing that adults and peers care about them – offers teens extra protection against the challenges they face. Young people who feel these positive connections are less likely to engage in risky behaviors; they are also more likely to do better in their classes.

The MHRC Teen Program builds on the idea of connectedness by teaching Birmingham-area teens how to encourage their fellow students to make smart lifestyle choices. The program trains high school seniors to serve as Community Health Advisors (CHAs). The teen CHAs learn about peer support, nutrition, physical activity, and prevention of violence, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, and teen pregnancy. They reach out to other high school students, delivering important health messages through Health Talking Circles, Health Clubs and Fitness Teams, which are offered as extracurricular activities for 9th-12th grade students.

Teens may not listen to their parents, but they will listen to each other; the most important advice can come from their friends. The Teen Program develops young peer volunteers into leaders who will help guide their classmates towards healthy behaviors.