Teens Delivering Important Messages, Peer to Peer

Teens P.A.C.T. Peer Leaders

Research supports peer education: messages have a higher likelihood of getting through—and changing attitudes and behaviors—when recipients believe that the messengers are similar to themselves. This phenomenon is especially prevalent among teens. Despite the fact that this is common knowledge among youth providers, it’s not often that teens are provided with the platform to create and deliver important messages to their peers.

At Community Healthcare Network’s Teens P.A.C.T. (Positive Actions and Choices for Teens) program in New York City, we provide teens with the tools to do exactly that. Recently, we released five public service announcements (PSAs) as part of our “More Than Just Sex” campaign, a unique initiative that addresses a range of sexual health issues. The campaign is just one of many initiatives of a broad adolescent pregnancy prevention program.

At Teens P.A.C.T., we employ best practices in youth development to train youth Peer Leaders extensively in comprehensive sexuality education, social and behavioral learning theories, and best practices in public health. Learning is then applied to the development of their PSA to create an effective message. While adult partners provide guidance in project tasks, an important fact to keep in mind is all Teens P.A.C.T. PSAs are created by teens, for teens. Peer Leaders are responsible for completing all components of PSA development including writing the script, casting, pre-production, and production on the day of the shoot. As an ongoing project, more than 20 Peer Leaders produce 10-12 PSA’s each year.

“We worked on the PSA for months before we shot them. A good idea is only half the battle,” said one of the Peer Leaders. “The trainings that we attended really taught us how to deliver important messages to our peers in a powerful way. We knew we wanted to deliver our message about the complex issues teen face every day in a unique way that hadn’t been done before.”

One new PSA in particular, The Importance of Condoms, received a great deal of national attention shortly after its release. While the public response has been overwhelmingly positive, some media outlets focused negative attention on the language used in The Importance of Condoms. The specific language that has been criticized was carefully and purposefully crafted, as the Peer Leaders believed it would allow their message to better resonate with their target audience.

“We wrote scripts using scenarios and language that we knew would be familiar to other teens,” one of the Peer Leaders explained. “We wanted to make sure they were interesting so teens would really listen to our message, so we used humor, sarcasm, and fear to mix it up and make it entertaining.”

As the Project Director of the Teens P.A.C.T. program, I can attest to the dedication and professionalism that was required from the Peer Leaders. This is peer leadership at its best. In addition to creating effective messages and making a difference in their communities, youth participants fostered positive relationships with one another, gained knowledge and self-confidence, and learned skills that are applicable in multiple settings.

Upon completing the latest PSAs, one Peer Leader had this to say: “Seeing the final PSAs is empowering because they turned out exactly how we wanted them to. It felt like we did the impossible and accomplished something great. Working on the PSAs taught us the importance of planning and looking at issues from different angles to make sure you can give a strong message to improve your community in the right way. We feel like we can do anything.”

Check out the PSAs here!

Michele Perlman is the Teens P.A.C.T. Project Director at Community Healthcare Network.

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