In January, Philadelphia celebrated the first annual Pennsylvania Teen Health Week.
Spearheaded by Dr. Laura Offutt, this initiative began with the idea of helping schools and other teen-oriented organizations teach teenagers more about their health and their identities in a fun, stress-free way. Initially, Dr. Offutt’s teen advisory group sought to earn a statewide proclamation, but the amount of support for the idea grew immensely, even earning a seal of approval from Gov. Tom Wolf.
When we spoke with Dr. Offutt, she told us about how she originally began helping teens through her website “Real Talk with Dr. Offutt,” an online resource designed to start a conversation with adolescents about their health. From this popular resource, she later pulled together a group of Pennsylvania teenagers who gave feedback and offered advice based on the initiative.
“They liked the idea and thought clubs might run such a thing in schools, or we could try to get interest on social media,” Dr. Offutt said.
Another great feature produced by the Teen Health Week were the “toolkits” circulated for use by schools and local organizations.
“These toolkits were intended to be a menu of different activities and social-media posts that could be used as desired, or could simply be a take-off point for groups to make their own,” she said.
Topics covered at the event and in the toolkit include substance abuse, mental health, STDs and violence. Many of these resources are especially useful for LGBT youth.
When asked about how the event could benefit these youth, Dr. Offutt responded, “Certain health issues do affect LGBTQ+ youth in specific ways, and this week can be an opportunity to provide focused education in these areas, like bullying of LGBTQ+ youth, how eating disorders might be different in some teens or the risk of depression or addiction in teens that are not accepted for who they are.”
In this age where social media has such a large impact on society, having such a resource where teens can interact with their peers and certified professionals about health and identity is paramount.
It can create an outlet for support and learning without bias or judgment.