Reaching Us WITH Us: Utilizing Young People to Reach Their Peers

Sandy Spavone
Sandy Spavone

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“Never do anything about us, without us.”

This mantra, spoken by a young person, alludes to the passion and energy that young people have when it comes to promoting safe and healthy lifestyles among our peers. Youth and teens are faced with difficult decisions every day: “What will I eat for breakfast?” “Will I wear my seatbelt?” “Just one hit before class?” “Should I forward this picture message?” Many young people are fortunate to have communities that care about their well-being and trusted adults who offer thoughtful advice. And we use our tech-savvy-ness (yes, that is a word we use) to acquire multiple resources across the web. In this era of information-overload, it is crucial that the best resources stand out, speak “our” language and are easily accessible to youth and our peers.

Reaching youth can be tough. Textbook theories on “best practices” for communication and outreach simply cannot keep up with constantly evolving trends. If you really want to impact the actions that young people take, it is important to go straight to the source and ask young people how to best make contact with teens today.

We wish there was a “Five ways to reach young people” list we could give to every adult who was reaching out to teens today, but that list would be stale before this blog shows up on anyone’s Google Reader. Instead, here are some suggestions from the National Organizations for Youth Safety for engaging young people prior to and during the marketing of a health and safety resource:

  • Learn our lingo. Invite youth to review the print materials and ensure they are readable and cool. I don’t know what the hippocampus is, and I don’t care to learn that unless it is going to be on my Human Physiology exam. We have to be made to care. It is critical that the content is easily digestible and that it can be summarized in a few succinct phrases. How else will I share it with my friends if it doesn’t fit in 140 characters?
  • Swag! Swag! Swag! There is nothing that will catch a young person’s attention like something free. We understand that these goodies are expensive, and that’s why it is important to utilize your promotion budget on items that will be used. Car antenna topper? No thanks. No one has had a car antenna since the Brady Bunch. Consider Chapstick, pens with fun colored ink and USB key chains.
  • Let us design it. We still judge a book by its cover, and that applies to brochures and one-pagers, too. Encourage young people to design the handouts you plan to use. We love bright color, easy-to-read info and compact pamphlets that will fit in the same pocket as our cell phones.
  • Bring it to us. In our busy lives, searching for “How to stay safe and healthy?” simply isn’t as important as being fully aware the ever-changing Facebook statuses of our friends. Deliver this information in a teen-friendly way. Create social network campaigns that are where we are: on our phones (txt me plz), on Facebook, on Twitter... Online, but not on our email (that’s only for school and work, so boring)! Passing on the information in a teen-friendly way is just as important as the design.
  • TTYL (Talk to Youth Later). Follow up. Talk to teens after the delivery of the materials and get our feedback and opinions. This shows a true compassion to make the teen voice a critical cog in your messaging. It also allows you the chance to tweak your materials as you go, learning what specific tricks work with the youth audience.

This is our generation, these are our friends, and we want to keep each other safe and healthy, too. Adults have the opportunity to empower young people, to teach us, to build partnerships with us and to develop our leadership skills. We may act like we know everything, but most young people recognize that our true potential can only shine when a mentor is there to guide us. Utilizing youth in the creation of a product and its distribution plan will allow you to “speak” to young people where they are, and it will allow us to gain valuable experience that will be transferable across careers (because you know teachers keep saying, “I’ll have seven careers in my lifetime”). Be sure to invite young people to the table as you develop strategies to share health and safety information with youth. We’ll bring energy, optimism, lighthearted humor, creativity, boundless ideas and personal experiences from growing up in America today.

You bring the pizza.

This information was prepared by young adults on the Board of Directors at National Organizations for Youth Safety.

Jacqueline, from Harleysville, PA is a two-time graduate of The George Washington University where she studied public policy and currently works at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Jacqueline likes green pepper and onion on her pizza.

Leah, 26, lives in Sunnyvale, CA and attended Cal Poly where she studied nutrition. She is a Registered Dietitian at a community health center where she focuses on the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program. Mushrooms and pineapple are Leah’s pizza toppings of choice.

Ricky, 20, is from New Carlisle, OH and is attending Wittenberg University in Springfield, OH where he studies political science. Ricky is the Director of Ohio Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and loves pepperoni on his pizza.

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