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Take 10 minutes and pretend you are a 10-year-old looking for information online about your body, sex or relationships. Would you check social media? YouTube? Google? What do you think you might find?
AMAZE aims to produce animated videos to provide honest and engaging information to normalize sexual development and help very young adolescents (ages 10 to 14) develop the health promoting attitudes, knowledge and behaviors needed to navigate the critical transition between childhood and older adolescence. Through short, animated videos, we strive to gain the interest and trust of very young adolescents (VYAs) and to counter misinformation about puberty, sex and sexuality. These short videos and other materials will provide accurate information about puberty, body image, healthy relationships and sexual health that is both age appropriate and medically accurate.
AMAZE is also a resource for parents and educators to build their comfort, knowledge and skill to more effectively engage young adolescents with the age-appropriate, fact-based information they need at this critical time in their development. Young adolescents see parents as a primary source of information and support, but parents can feel ill equipped to address issues related to puberty, reproduction, sexual health and gender roles. Further, school and community-based sexuality education often starts later, if at all, and there are few up-to-date resources to engage early adolescents in understanding sexual development.
Young people between the ages of 10 and 14 make up half of the 1.2 billion adolescents worldwide. Globally, a few organizations have begun to invest in programs to promote sexual and reproductive health among this age group. Most interventions, though, continue to focus on older adolescents, especially in the U.S. Since early adolescence marks a critical transition between childhood and older adolescence and adulthood, programs and campaigns targeted at very young adolescents are imperative to help set the stage for future health-related attitudes and behaviors. Parents, schools and community organizations play a crucial role in influencing young people’s behaviors and relationships. However, these individuals and institutions often face barriers, including politics, gender and cultural norms, that may impede their potential positive influence. Further, according to the Guttmacher Institute, more than half (55 percent) of adolescents report searching the internet for sexual health information. Yet, there is a large amount of inappropriate or inaccurate information as well as pornography online. In fact, Guttmacher reports in a recent study of 177 websites that 46 percent of the sites addressing contraception included inaccurate information. Further, according to a 2011 study by UNICEF, around 11 percent of girls and 6 percent of boys age 15 to 19 report having sex before turning 15.
Given rapidly expanding global access among young adolescents to internet and social media, there is potential to reach a global audience of young people through media programs that reinforce positive messages. Various observational studies have demonstrated that videos can be powerful instruments for education. Engaging and high quality videos can be a powerful way to reach young adolescents with critical information about puberty, body image, healthy relationships and other sexual health topics.
Our primary audience is 10-to 14-year-olds who have access to devices and networks to watch online videos. In the initial phase, the videos will target U.S. audiences, but the goal is to scale globally.
The AMAZE project partners—Advocates for Youth, Answer and YTH—conducted discussions with groups of 10-to 14-year-old girls and boys in New Jersey, Virginia and California. The key findings confirmed that the young people are social media savvy, and almost all of them owned smart phones. They use social media to stay in touch with friends and family, for entertainment, and for assistance with schoolwork. They use a wide range of platforms, including Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+, Kik, iFunny and ooVoo. The social media platform they use depends on what they are using it for at the moment. These findings confirmed what other local and national research has found about young people’s use of the internet and social media.
Once this project is underway domestically, the partners will explore adaptability and replication of the model for a global audience of very young adolescents. The project envisions a similar process of assessment and development for expansion to global audiences that will be informed by lessons learned during the initial phases of the project in addition to consultative processes within target regions and/or countries yet to be determined. Much like in the United States, if not more so, very young adolescents face barriers to accurate, age-appropriate, and self-affirming information about sexuality. Meanwhile parents also find themselves at a loss for how to discuss sexuality issues with their children, and educators lack materials that support life skills and sexuality education. Given high-level commitments to sexuality education in regions such as Latin America, the Caribbean, and East and Southern Africa, the availability of such a resource holds great potential to complement existing efforts already underway.
Advocates for Youth: Advocates for Youth is a national nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. that advocates for policies and champions programs that recognize young people’s rights to honest sexual health information, confidential and affordable sexual health services, and the resources and opportunities necessary to create sexual health equity for all youth. The organization works in partnership with schools, government agencies, community-based organizations and health care providers to build their capacity to implement effective, youth-friendly sexual health strategies and to better engage youth as partners in their work.
Answer: Answer, a national program based at Rutgers University, provides and promotes comprehensive sex education for young people and the adults who teach them. For 35 years, Answer has offered exceptional resources and training in support of medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education. Answer fulfills its mission of providing and promoting comprehensive sex education through two primary programs: Sex, Etc.—its teen-written sexual health magazine and website—and its sex education training initiative. Through the Sex, Etc. website and magazine, Answer reaches over two million teens every year with honest, accurate sexual health information and resources. Each year, Answer’s trainings provide more approximately 3,000 professionals with the tools they need to teach comprehensive sex education, effectively respond to students’ questions and create meaningful classroom experiences for young people learning about sexuality.
YTH: Youth Technology Health uses technology to advance youth health and wellness has built a number of resources, including Unete Latina Health and Circle of 6, that use technology to engage youth in health interventions. YTH partners with organizations to discover what works, pilot innovative solutions and disseminate what’s truly effective in the technology sector.
Articles of interest. This is a link to 11 articles and research studies that strongly support the case for healthy and accurate information to be available to young adolescents.
*McCarthy, Katharine, Martha Brady, and Kelly Hallman. 2016. “Investing when it counts: Reviewing the evidence and charting a course of research and action for very young adolescents.” New York: Population Council.