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Youth Health Education – Conversations During Let’s Talk Month

November 3, 2014

20 award winner picToday’s guest post comes comes from Yamani Hernandez and is the first in our National Leaders Spotlight blog series profiling AmeriCorps Alums National Leadership Award Winners honored for their lifetime of service. Yamani Hernandez is the Executive Director of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health. She earned a B.S. at Cornell University and an M.A at University of Washington, focusing on public participation in the design and development of urban communities. She is a staunch advocate for youth empowerment and self-determination and has over a decade of experience working from an asset-based approach in program design, implementation, management and evaluation in youth serving organizations and institutions in Chicago.

Yamani at Let's Talk event

Yamani at Let’s Talk event

Over the years, I’ve learned that in the field of youth health education, some of the most crucial moments for learning or healthy decision-making don’t happen through “regularly scheduled programming” like lectures, presentations, printed sheets of information, or Facebook posts. Life-changing moments happen during unexpected conversations that grow out of trust built over months and years. They happen during moments of group dialogue when assumptions and ideas change and grow.

Safe, trusting, and accurate conversations can change everything. And not just for a young person—for adults too.That’s why I look forward to every October, also known as Let’s Talk Month.

Tips from Youth on Lets talkOctober brings a celebration of comfortable and trusting conversations that can happen between youth and adult family members. At the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health where I serve as Executive Director, we celebrate by opening spaces for conversation and providing tools that parents and family can use.

A good conversation begins with trusting youth—as decision-makers and experts of their own lives. Young people are perfectly clear about what they need, and don’t need, to have better conversations about health, particularly sexual health and sexuality. The young people I work with show the dos and don’ts for talking with them with us on Facebook. They’ve shared pictures of what adult family members have said to open or slam the door on these conversations.

Here’s a few tips in their own words:

When we talk about sex, don’t make assumptions.

When we talk about sex, make it a conversation, not a lecture.

When we talk about sex, offer to help find information and resources.

When we talk about sex, show me you care.

It’s ok to talk in a sex-positive way.

Safe spaceWe know these conversations aren’t restricted to family settings. Sometimes conversations about health, sex, and sexuality happen in school or at the doctor’s office too. Setting up a safe space to talk isn’t difficult with the help of these examples from youth.

Any adult that works with and cares about you can take these tips to heart. We can approach conversations more openly. We can come prepared with helpful information. We can offer assistance to find resources. We can offer a space for a young person to practice asking for what they need. We can speak in an affirming way that doesn’t shame or judge but honors a young person’s need to make decisions for themselves. We can listen instead of lecture. We can express care and concern. We can encourage others to do the same.

Check out icah.org for tools, tips, and tricks like our “Talk the Talk” card game and youth-friendly flashcards and let’s keep talking long after October.

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