Adolescents and young people are growing up in a complex world, with many factors influencing whether they will thrive or fail. As the global community learns more about the critical formative period of adolescence from neuroscience, psychology, sociology and global development programming, we are increasingly recognizing the need for a focus on adolescents, specifically, including for programs and policies that support them to not only survive, but to thrive.
There are many shared elements to the adolescent experience globally. Namely, adolescence is a period of development in which significant cognitive, emotional and physical changes happen, no matter where or how one lives. At the same time, however, there are important variations in the assets, needs and vulnerabilities of adolescents. Age, gender, developmental stage, sexual orientation and gender identity, relationship status, and geographic location all play a role, as well as cultural, socio-economic and environmental factors. Understanding and responding appropriately to these differences, as well as taking a positive approach to youth development — that is, seeing young people as assets, not problems–can contribute positively to improved outcomes for individuals and societies writ large. Supporting and building the competencies and skills of adolescents and youth has the potential to create both immediate and long-term positive effects on the mental and physical health, economic development, and overall well-being of adolescents, their families and communities, wherever they are.
Also critical in supporting positive youth development is understanding the importance of cross-sectoral approaches in advancing youth wellbeing. Traditionally, global development programs that reached adolescents and youth have been siloed, tied to specific sectors, such as education, employment, reproductive health, HIV and AIDS, child marriage, and violence reduction. But adolescents, like the rest of us, don’t live their lives in silos. Keeping girls in school, for example, can help prevent early marriage, early pregnancy, HIV and violence, and can also support them to be mentally healthy and to build the skills they need for fulfilling employment. Helping boys understand the importance of gender equality can contribute to reducing violent behavior and to promoting more equitable societies. And supporting program implementers, donors and policymakers to design and support gender-transformative, cross-sectoral, positive youth development-oriented programs and policies can benefit societies as a whole.
They say if you drink from the Nile, you’re destined to re
ICRW works to expand the evidence base on positive youth development (PYD), documenting and sharing with the global development community lessons learned from previous programming and identifying and developing methods and indicators for monitoring and evaluating PYD programs. ICRW advocates for increased support for gender-transformative PYD programs and policies, for meaningful youth engagement in programs and policies, and for greater attention to the comprehensive and holistic needs of adolescents and youth.
One issue we have been focused on recently is adolescent mental health, and particularly the effect that gender inequality may have on the mental health of both adolescent girls and boys. ICRW helped the world recognize that suicide is now the leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19 globally, and has spurred a conversation about the impact that inequitable gender norms may have on depression and suicide amongst adolescents. We are now working to expand global attention to this critical issue. ICRW’s depth and breadth of expertise in gender-focused research, programs and policies provides a unique understanding of the distinct mental health challenges that adolescent girls and boys face in different contexts. We hope that the findings from our research will catalyze action and advocacy that will lead to gender-transformative mental health programs and policies for adolescents globally.