Centering Adolescent Mental Health

a young person wearing a brown hat taking a selfie

This is the final part of our newsletter series focusing on mental health. Today we center the experiences of youth and young adults. Our teams are uniquely positioned to support generation after generation of young people as they navigate the critical transition of adolescence. Youth Collaboratory members specifically focus on expanding essential relationships, care, and safety that may not be available otherwise. 

The last several decades reshaped the landscape of how we organize our lives, but the changes associated with adolescent development remain the same. All of us have gone through adolescence during moments of critical social, economic, racial, and environmental pivots. And still, youth and young adults today are among the only ones to understand what it means to experience adolescent development amidst all of this.  

Block in two different 15-minute blocks to work on the following prompts throughout the week (or one 30-minute block, depending on what works best for you). The first portion challenges us to re-familiarize ourselves with adolescent development and the second portion is a tool to better support youth and young adults in our programs. 

Part 1:
Adolescent development is characterized by a flurry of changes that equip everyone with the essentials to being an adult member of our communities. Take a piece of paper and fold it to create four equal sections (that is one hot dog fold and one hamburger fold, or use this PDF). Set a 10-minute timer to draw out the changes that we can expect every adolescent to experience - full permission to be creative. Make sure to include the following four categories:

  • Mental or changes in how we think. 
  • Emotional or changes in how we feel. 
  • Physical or changes in how we look. 
  • Social or changes in how we connect with others. 

Compare your drawing with the overview in this 3-minute video

Part 2:
As youth and young adults navigate these typical changes in a drastically modern landscape it may be challenging for supporting adults to know when a behavior is associated with typical changes versus a mental health challenge. The 4Ls can help us discover a baseline of what is ‘normal’ for individual youth in our programs. Consider exploring the 4Ls with the youth you support (you can answer these for yourself too). 

  • Live: What lets them know they are well? (Include thoughts, feelings, behaviors)
  • Love: Who or what makes them feel valued? How do they let others know they value them?
  • Laugh: What brings them joy?
  • Learn/work: What stimulates their curiosity? At their best, how do they respond to mistakes?

If you’re feeling inspired, consider two more Ls:

  • Language: What language do they need/wish those around them had to engage in effective conversations that can be vulnerable? What language makes them feel able to express themselves?
  • Listen: Whose words do they trust? What helps them hear other perspectives?

And that is all for this series! As usual, feel free send your thoughts to with your responses and ideas related to this week’s focus. Thank you for joining us in this exploration of mental health as it relates to you, your place of work, your community, and the experiences of youth and young adults. 

This toolkit was released as a newsletter series in May 2023. Learn more about new training and funding opportunities, news and policy updates, and how we can collectively strengthen outcomes for youth and young adults. Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest delivered straight to your inbox.