9 Tips to Create a Safe Space for Teachable Moments

Gina Desiderio

Gina Desiderio

A teachable moment is a situation where opportunity knocks—a time at which a person, especially a child, is likely to be particularly disposed to learn something or to be particularly responsive to being taught or made aware of something. Teachable moments can make initiating conversation about sex and contraception easier and more comfortable for everyone involved.

With accurate information and adequate support, young people can make healthy and responsible decisions about having sex and using contraception. Adults can be most effective by providing the information and support needed to promote responsible decision-making in youth and help ensure transition to adulthood is safe and healthy.

Parents, caregivers, and youth-supporting professionals can take advantage of teachable moments to discuss sex and the use of contraception with young people. National Talk to Your Teen About Sex Month–observed every March–is the perfect time to get the conversation started.

Youth can sometimes be hesitant to talk with adults about sex. When young people are willing to discuss this topic, adults must be prepared to help by providing information and resources. When the interaction is positive, it is more likely that the youth will return to the adult in the future.

Confidentiality is the first step in creating a safe space, but you’ll want to try to build a safe space, to help build an ongoing relationship, in other ways, too.

9 Tips To Create a Safe Space for Teachable Moments

  1. Clarify what is being asked.
  2. Determine why the young person is asking the question.
  3. Affirm the young person for asking. It’s okay to talk about sex!
  4. Be aware of your own boundaries.
  5. Give direct responses.
  6. Use positive body language
  7. Be accessible for future opportunities to interact
  8. Bring it up! Open the door to conversation.
  9. Keep it private: Depending on the situation, a one-on-one conversation may be best.

Opportunity Knocks: Using Teachable Moments to Convey Safer Sex Messages to Young People is a Healthy Teen Network publication provided to help adults use teachable moments to talk to young people about safe sex. In addition to this resource, Healthy Teen Network has made available all the materials you need to conduct your own Opportunity Knocks presentation. The goal of this presentation is to educate and empower youth workers, unfamiliar with the field of sexual and reproductive health, to make the most of teachable moments with the young people they serve regarding safer sex and contraceptive choices.

In your experience, what has been helpful in creating a safe space to foster teachable moments with youth?

What opportunities, such as current events or pop culture, have you found to foster teachable moments with young people?

Supporting Change through Motivational Interviewing

Deb Chilcoat

Deb Chilcoat

Motivational interviewing (a.k.a. MI) is gaining a robust evidence-base and practitioners are enthusiastically integrating it in program implementation.

According to Miller and Rollnick (2013) “Motivational interviewing is a collaborative conversation style for strengthening a person’s own motivation and commitment to change.” (Miller W. R. & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change, 3rd Ed. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.)

What’s the “flow of motivational interviewing?” (Miller and Rollnick, 2013, p. 26) How can it be used to support behavior change?

Well, it is not a one-two-punch and Voila! the behavior is changed (Miller and Rollnick, 2013). Changing behavior takes time, persistence, practice, and support. This is true for the person desiring to change his/her behavior, and it is true of practitioners of motivational interviewing. If you have never integrated MI into your work, you, too, are on a journey to change behavior.

Miller and Rollnick identify the four processes as engaging, focusing, evoking, and planning.


So how does it work, to go through these four processes, in the real world? How can you use motivational interviewing to support and engage with the others?

Sign up for the Healthy Teen Network webinar on March 4 at 3pm ET, A Journey to Change Behavior: Using Motivational Interviewing to Enhance Programs, with presenters Deborah Chilcoat, MEd, and Mousumi Banikya-Leaseburg, MD, MPH, CPH.

Deborah Chilcoat, MEd, is a Senior Training and Technical Assistance Manager at Healthy Teen Network.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Deb Chilcoat

Deborah Chilcoat

Well, it’s just about that time of year again: Valentine’s Day.  Everywhere I turn, I am bombarded by sappy love songs, ruby hearts, and images of smitten couples. Even one of the nation’s most respected news networks entices me to click a link so I can ponder if the movie “The Notebook” causes breakups. And let’s not forget the 18 bazillion relationship self-tests, my favorite being Heinous or Harmless?. And what is with those provocative headlines included in this month’s magazines? “Ways to Make Your Relationship Stronger, More Passionate, and Everlasting!” Arrrggghhh, there’s no escape

Another thing I can’t escape is the sinking feeling I get when I think about the young men and women struggling in unhealthy, destructive, and dead end relationships. Maybe they don’t want to strengthen their relationship, or make it more passionate, or last forever! Maybe they want to get out of the relationship, but just don’t know how. What’s worse, just when they need the courage, self-efficacy, and opportunity to end the relationship, they are subjected to constant reminders about the romance (and absurdity) of Valentine’s Day.

As a professional working with teens, I encourage them to be civil, express how they feel, and use “I statements.” But more often than not, I find that these young people need to learn the skills to break up with a partner when there is no way to improve or sustain the relationship. A few years ago, I added to my standard repertoire of lessons about the qualities and characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships (since most teens already know what those are), how to construct and deliver an effective break-up statement. This decision was inspired by an activity in the Circle of Friends program by Planned Parenthood of Western New York. I found that young people needed to connect with—and honor—their feelings and experiences so that they could learn the skills and practice how to manage conflict, regulate their own behavior, and cope with the loss of the relationship—no matter how unhealthy it is.

Although it is excruciating to watch a young person endure an unhealthy relationship, it is doubly painful thinking about the consequences of ignoring or shying-away from what happens to most us at some point in our lives—needing to end a relationship.

So, as I muddle through yet another hopelessly romantic Valentine’s Day, I encourage all professionals working with teens to include lessons and skill-building activities (e.g. role-plays) that give them the confidence, language, and courage to call it quits on a relationship that is unhealthy. Sometimes, breaking up is the hardest AND healthiest option!

Deborah Chilcoat is a Senior Manager of Training & Technical Assistance at Healthy Teen Network.

Full Circle, Youth 360°: An Inclusive Approach to Achieve Better Outcomes for Youth

Pat Paluzzi, DrPH

Pat Paluzzi

A few years ago, Healthy Teen Network interviewed several teen parents. Hearing their experiences highlights the complexity of factors and situations that affect their health and well-being.

Uniqwa speaks on education, sharing how support services that helped her find child care and transportation allowed her to successfully complete school.

Lisette recognizes the importance of supporting teen parents because of the potential impact not just for the parent, but for the child as well.

These brief interview clips bring to life the reality that how and where we live, learn, and play matters. These factors affect every one of us—our health and well-being, even our life span.

Elements such as

  • Geographic location,
  • Shelter,
  • Food,
  • Security,
  • Socioeconomic status,
  • Education and employment opportunities,
  • Health services,
  • Relationships,
  • Recreational opportunities,
  • The media,
  • And so much more,

Shape our long-term physical, mental, emotional, and social health and well-being.

If we want to achieve better outcomes for youth across diverse populations, we must consider this range of elements—or, social determinants of health—for the individual, in our society, communities, and relationships. A 360°, inclusive approach allows us to do just that…Youth 360°.

Addressing the social determinants of health is not a new concept. Probably, many of you are already incorporating these ideas into your work. The Youth 360° Frame brings to light these complex, interrelated elements, and it supports innovative ways of thinking about what we do, and what youth need to thrive.

Whether you are already using this approach, or you are ready to start learning more, Healthy Teen Network offers a variety of capacity-building assistance and resources.

  • View the Youth 360° online presentation, through Prezi.
  • Meet professionals from around the country to network and share innovative strategies and research using the Youth 360° Frame and social determinants of health. Save the Date for Healthy Teen Network’s 2014 Conference, Synergy: Achieving More Together, in Austin, Texas, October 21-24, 2014.
  • Coming soon: a multimedia presentation of case studies with real life examples of an inclusive, collaborative approach, where professionals bring theory to life to support and empower youth. Also in development are fact sheets on the social determinants of health. But you can download the first fact sheet now, an overview, on our website, along with many other resources.


The Youth 360° frame allows us to increase our impact, building collaboration beyond the adolescent sexual and reproductive health field and achieving better outcomes for youth across diverse populations, including marginalized youth and pregnant and parenting teens. Read more about Healthy Teen Network’s strategic plan to promote the use of the Youth 360° frame.

How do you work to provide an inclusive approach for programs and services for youth?

Have you found ways to establish partnerships, to address some of the elements that are relevant to the youth you serve, but are beyond your organization’s capacity to address (e.g., housing)?

Pat Paluzzi is the President/CEO of Healthy Teen Network.

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