Youth Promoting Safe and Healthy Environments

For more than a decade, the federal government has funded a campaign targeted at curbing adolescent drug use - the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign5. Although research deemed the campaign unsuccessful in the early years, recent studies have noted the impact it has had on national rates of youth drug use1, 6. One of the changes to the campaign, which led in part to this recent success, is the focus on involving youth in program and content development. The campaign is now inspired by what youth share about their lives and how they deal with certain situations7. This campaign, which is ultimately led by youth, is partially responsible for a decrease in adolescent drug use. Efforts such as this highlight the importance of involving and empowering youth in our communities to promote safe and healthy environments.

When youth feel as if their opinions matter, they tend to be more committed to the activity and overarching message of a program

Students working together

The Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) believes that youth can influence positive change and flourish into natural leaders. Therefore, the TxSSC provides opportunities, through two programs, where youth can develop skills, empower their communities, and be leaders in facilitating change. Both programs are designed and delivered using a youth-led, adult assisted process. A youth-led, adult assisted model is one where students are essentially the decision makers and the adults act in a supportive role4. For example, program content or messaging is created and/or delivered by youth for youth. Adults monitor the development and delivery process by giving their input, suggestions, or responding to a student's request for assistance2. Youth, as much as possible, are in charge. The goal is to allow youth to be creative and think outside the box. Often times they have great ideas that adults may never have considered. When youth feel as if their opinions matter, they tend to be more committed to the activity and overarching message of a program3. Students are often viewed as "leaders of tomorrow," when in reality we need to prepare them to lead their peers and others today.

Often times, youth have great ideas which adults may never have considered

First, the TxSSC Youth Preparedness Camp (YPC) is a statewide approach to emphasize youth preparedness and educate the whole community in disaster preparedness. Through the delivery of a youth summer camp that includes emergency response training, community specific action planning, and leadership development, the TxSSC prepares teams of youth to lead preparedness efforts in their local communities and schools. Specifically, throughout the week, participants receive a 20-hour Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training that includes a certification, develop a community action plan as a team, and acquire the leadership skills needed to address emergency preparedness in their schools and/or communities when they return home.

The TxSSC's youth preparedness program is directly aimed at middle and high school students, but is designed in a way that indirectly involves the whole community. Through community-based action planning and relationship building between youth and local/regional first responders, the impact of the TxSSC's programs goes far beyond the youth participants. The intent is to provide skills and training that are transferable to local communities through their youth. These youth then have the ability to initiate a culture of preparedness by training and educating their peers, families, and communities. Follow @TXYouthPrepared on Twitter and "Like" the Texas Youth Preparedness Facebook page to stay informed about camp and other youth preparedness efforts of the TxSSC. For more information, visit the Youth Preparedness Camp webpage or contact Joe McKenna, Youth Preparedness Coordinator, at jmm272@txstate.edu.

Through community-based action planning and relationship building between youth and local first responders, the impact of the TxSSC's programs goes far beyond the youth participants

The second opportunity, provided by the TxSSC, involves youth developing their skills to empower their communities and become leaders is the Youth Tobacco Prevention program. The effort to empower students throughout Texas to collaboratively create and lead youth tobacco prevention began in 2000. Subsequently, in 2010 the Texas Department of State Health Services called on the TxSSC to develop and maintain a youth advocacy movement that connects the efforts of various groups throughout the state to unify messaging and provide access to training and resources to enhance those efforts. Say What! stands for "Students, Adults and Youth Working Hard Against Tobacco" and represents the statewide movement in Texas to connect people who are passionate about tobacco prevention with three key tools: people, resources, and events.

Say What! connects people to people using social media and TxSayWhat.com, showing both youth and adults that they are not alone in their fight against the harmful effects of tobacco. People are also connected to resources including current facts and research, project ideas, promotional marketing tools, and funding. Finally, various regional and statewide training events are held throughout the year that foster a youth-led, adult-assisted approach and feature the Say What! Teen Ambassadors. This group of youth is comprised of hand-selected high school students from across Texas who are passionate about tobacco prevention and trained to lead other students at these events through team-building, project planning and encouraging them to live a tobacco-free lifestyle.

Say What! connects people to people using social media and TxSayWhat.com, showing both youth and adults that they are not alone in their fight against the harmful effects of tobacco

Over the last few years, the Say What! Texas Tobacco-Free Conference has provided middle school and high school students from Texas and beyond opportunities to choose and create their own tobacco prevention projects that they can take back and implement locally. Last year students were provided the opportunity to take courses based on their personal skills and interests that would support their projects, including videography, graphic design and social media. Registration is open for the conference, which will be held July 27-30 at the Woodlands Resort and Conference Center. For more information on the Youth Tobacco Prevention program, contact Program Manager, Reggie Cajayon, at rc54@txstate.edu.

References

1Carpenter, C. & Pechmann, C. (2011). Exposure to the Above the Influence antidrug advertisements and adolescent marijuana use in the United States, 2006-2008. American Journal of Public Health, 101(5), 948-954.

2Carroll, G., Hebert, D., & Roy, J. (1999). Youth action strategies in violence prevention. The Journal of Adolescent Health, 25, 6-13.

3Kervin, D., & Obinna, J. (2010). Youth action strategies in the primary prevention of teen dating violence. Journal of Family Social Work, 13, 362-374.

4Marko, T., & Watt, T. (2011). Employing a youth-led adult-guided framework: Why drive high social marketing campaign. Family Community Health, 34(4), 319-330.

5Office of National Drug Control Policy. (2014). National youth anti-drug campaign. Retrieved on April 4, 2014 from http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/anti-drug-media-campaign.

6Slater, M., Kelly, K., Lawrence, F., Stanley, L., & Comello, M. (2011). Assessing media campaigns linking marijuana non-use with autonomy and aspirations: "Be under your own influence: and ONDCP's "Above the Influence". Prevention Science, 12(1), 12-22.

7The Partnership at Drugfree.org. (2014). Above the influence. Retrieved on April 4, 2014 from http://abovetheinfluence.com/about/.