Connect, Create, and Cultivate: Methods for Networking at a Conference

rita_2013At our annual conference, we’ve discovered that one thing attendees come hoping to do is make the most of the networking opportunities the event affords. For many people, the word “networking” evokes hesitation and even fear. We often associate the art of networking with a forced effort to meet every person in the room through something like a speed networking exercise, or the aimless collection of business cards. However, networking is a key component to expanding our personal and professional circles and creates unbelievable opportunities.

What does it take to have a successful networking experience at your annual conference or meeting?

Jodi Brockington, founder of Friends of Jodi and NIARA Consulting, a full service marketing and business development company, suggests that a successful networking experience comes with a plan of action. “You MUST have a networking strategy—you cannot just wing it. Networking is an art and vital to your career success, but you must have a vision for doing it right.”

With all this in mind, here are some tips to connect, create, and cultivate new relationships at the Healthy Teen Network conference and other events.


Networking Is A Two-Way Street
When you ask “What’s in it for the other party—not just what’s in it for me,” you seek to be a useful resource to others. An effective networking relationship should be mutually beneficial to each party. The goal of networking is to make a connection, so your mission is to be a connector of people, ideas, and information. Everyone has something to give, whether it’s time, talent, or performance. You get value by giving value, so make yourself worth getting to know.

Who You DON’T Know Will Hurt You
It’s perfectly fine to step out of your comfort zone and meet other professionals from other organizations. If you believe in six degrees of separation, then you know that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world. If you’re looking to expand your network, then you’ll find that the theory holds true—even down to as few as two or three degrees sometimes. You should network laterally, vertically, and horizontally. Never underestimate the power of the grapevine. There is a wealth of information just waiting to be exchanged with people that you don’t know.

Quality Not Quantity
Networking is more than collecting business cards and contact information at a networking event. Brockington suggests that conference attendees “focus on making a few high-quality connections. People who network merely to collect business cards have completely missed the mark. You can’t meet 50 people at a three-day conference and expect to remember their names or instantly have a viable network. It takes time, but you must start and continue at it.” People want to connect on a deeper level than spending five minutes with an individual and then moving on to the next person. Take advantage of  opportunities before and after conference sessions to connect with fellow attendees. Exploring the host city on a venture out of the hotel/conference center or a chat during conference meals are a couple ways to network within the time constraints of busy conference agendas. Early-career professionals want to meet seasoned colleagues who can help them learn the ropes. Experienced professionals desire to tap and amplify their existing network. Everyone turns to events to make connections with like-minded people who will share knowledge, opportunities, and ideas that will help them do their job faster, better, and easier.


Be Likeable
Outside of being armed with business cards and a charged cellular phone/tablet, approachability and likability is key. First impressions are lasting impressions, so be certain to make eye contact, focus on remembering the other person’s name, and use it in the conversation.

Be Interesting
Be interested in what the other person is saying, but don’t be afraid to shake up the conversation. Who’s to say that the topic of conversation has to stay within the confines of work? Discover what that person’s interests are outside of the office (e.g. philanthropic work, hobbies, etc.). Why not test the six degrees of separation theory to see if you have acquaintances in common based on personal or professional backgrounds (e.g. hometown, current residence, school, fraternal organizations, etc.)?


Managing Your Connections
Having a strong network requires relationship building. Stay plugged in to your network after your conference/meeting concludes with a follow up email or a handwritten note, a gesture that is becoming a long lost art. The general rule of thumb is that any follow-up correspondence should take place no later than 48 hours after meeting someone, but never longer than a week. In addition to an email or handwritten note, the use of social media is another popular way to build relationships with colleagues (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.).

Remember that networking isn’t about being the most extroverted, or just passing out a stack of business cards, promoting yourself, or making a sales pitch. There is commonality that can be found in exchanging information and experiences. Take the time to connect, create, and cultivate opportunities for you, the other party, and your individual networks as well.

We hope to see you—and network with you—soon at the Healthy Teen Network conference!

How do you make the most of conferences and other events?

What networking tips would you share with a colleague?

Rita Lassiter is the Meeting and Event Planner at Healthy Teen Network.

Evaluation on the Cheap

Genevieve and Valerie

Genevieve Martínez-García & Valerie Sedivy

Conducting, managing, and reporting your evaluation efforts has become easier and more affordable thanks to many online tools available at low or no cost. Here is a list of useful online resources to help you manage your research resources, collect and analyze your data, and create beautiful diagrams to share your results with the world. This is not an exhaustive list;there are many more online tools like the ones listed below.

Need to chart your project and ideas? is a free, web-based design software that helps you create any type of diagram you need. There’s no need to struggle with text boxes and arrows getting out of control in your Word document. You can select from hundreds of icons and textbox styles, draw different types of arrows that align automatically, and change the color or font of any text box. It’s collaborative, so your peers can access your diagram and make modifications as well. You can export your chart in various formats to insert it into your document. Just create a free account and get charting! I’ve used LucidChart to create research study designs and flowcharts. You can also use it to create logic models, design a project diagram for proposals, and to visualize your programmatic efforts.

Need to conduct a literature review in minutes?
GoogleScholar, a member of the extensive Google family of products, helps you search for journal articles published in journals, books, and reports from all disciplines. Just type a key word and GoogleScholar does the rest. It also provides links to journal articles available free. Use multiple filters to focus your search and create libraries of favorite articles. It even helps you format your references by providing the citation for the article in three different formats. It also provides the Bibtex data needed to import the reference in any reference manager. You can also stay on top of the field by creating publication alerts delivered to your email.

Getting lost in research articles? is one (of many) web based resource managers, similar to the famous EndNote or RefManager. You no longer have to read the title of hundreds of PDF articles saved on your computer to try to figure which one was the one that dealt with runaway youth. Qiqqa automatically organizes all of your PDFs in their cloud so you can access them anytime and anywhere. Just import the PDF into a free web account and the “sniffer” will search and enter the metadata for you (e.g., title, author, journal, etc.).  Then search by key words and find your article in seconds. It also allows you to highlight, make notes and then retrieve them; create in-text citations while you write your proposal; have an offline account for your tablet or phone; and create multiple libraries, although you need an upgraded account to get these features. There are others out there that do a good job with similar tasks as well, such as Mendeley and Zotero.

Need a cheap and fast way to collect data? is well known online survey platform that allows you to collect survey data. But why stop at surveys? Many evaluators are using SurveyMonkey, or similar platforms, such as, to collect fidelity monitoring data. Go mobile and take it with you on the road to enter data and visualize it immediately. You can administer their surveys through social media, gather and analyze qualitative data, and you can download it as a CSV or straight into SPSS for further analysis.

Drowning in interview data? is a web-based qualitative data analysis software that allows you to analyze all those focus group and interview data you are still trying to code by hand. Dedoose is available for a very low monthly fee, but you only pay during the month you use it. If you don’t need it, just stop paying. When you use it again, pay one month and regain access to your account and data. It’s easy to use and have many instructional videos online. It is a good alternative to much more expensive software like NUD*IST or MaxQDA.

Need to quickly visualize qualitative data? is a word cloud generator on steroids. Sometime you just need a graphic to illustrate all the wonderful things people are saying about your program. Why rely on a boring table when a word cloud is more impactful? There are many free word cloud generators out there. What I like about Tagxedo is that you can customize fonts, colors and even the shape of the cloud. Below is a word cloud of this blog in the shape of a hand!


Feeling statistically adventurous?
R analysis software from the is a free software for statistical computing and graphics generator. It is an open software, meaning that many people collaborated to create it and now they are sharing it with the world. I have personally not used it, but I have seen it make its way through the research community. It may not look as fancy as some other well known programs like SPSS or SAS, but it gets the job done, it’s free, and it has tons of tutorials online.

Still think that managing research and evaluation efforts on your own is a bit daunting? At Healthy Teen Network we will be happy to provide training, technical assistance, or evaluation support to help you design an evaluation plan suitable for your project. Healthy Teen Network research and evaluation staff have the capacity to conduct, and provide technical assistance on the broad scope of evaluation needs for adolescent health professionals:

  • needs and resource assessments using multiple data collection methods and approaches (i.e., secondary analysis, collecting new data);
  • qualitative data analysis;
  • design and implementation of evaluation plans;
  • design and implementation of quantitative and qualitative data collection tools and methods;
  • design and implementation of participant assessment and instructor observation protocols and tools;
  • data analysis including multivariate analysis and reporting; and
  • continuous quality improvement analysis and implementation.

Submit a service request form today to find out more about how we can support you to build your evaluation capacity.

Genevieve Martínez García, PhD, is a Senior Researcher and Valerie Sedivy, PhD, is a Senior Program Manager at Healthy Teen Network.

Using a Logic Model to Support Your Programs

Have you ever wondered, “Why do I need to develop and use a logic model?”

Logic models should be a clear and concise “10,000 foot view” of the work you’re doing  and relevant for various stakeholders involved in your work. The trick is to think about  how you’ll use it, what you have to do to make it user-friendly, and who can benefit from  working with it ahead of time—a logic model is only as useful as you make it!

Logic models can work for you to…



Find out more about how to make your logic model work for you with this quick one-page resource by Healthy Teen Network.

As an example, Healthy Teen Network developed a logic model for working with pregnant and parenting teens and their families. The BDI Logic Model for Working with Young Families Resource Kit identifies the critical social determinants relevant for supporting pregnant and parenting teens to achieve self-sufficiency and positive outcomes for themselves and their children.

When working in the primary prevention field, the program goal is more straightforward—the sole focus of the program is usually to reduce teen pregnancy, STIs, and/or HIV. However, when working with young families, while one of many goals is usually preventing (or delaying) subsequent pregnancies and reducing STIs/HIV, this is usually or often times not the sole focus of the program.

This sample logic model provides the map for the sometimes complicated linkages to care, referrals to services, and various supports essential to achieve diverse program objectives, organized into three goal areas:


Uniquely, the BDI Logic Model focuses first on the goal or intended outcomes, in order to make sure that the intervention activities are strategically and purposefully designed to reach the goal or outcomes. Second, the BDI Logic Model focuses on the behavior(s) of the individual—something practitioners can influence within the context of programs. The third focus is on determinants, or risk and protective factors, that influence decisions and choices about behaviors. Lastly, the BDI Logic Model focuses on the specific intervention strategy, or set of intervention activities, that impact selected determinants that influence behaviors.

The graphic below displays a “thread,” or a piece of a logic model, demonstrating this relationship between the goal, behaviors, determinants, and intervention activities:


The sample logic model in the Resource Kit may serve as a guide for you in the program planning, design, and/or selection of services for pregnant and parenting teens. It may be used as the foundation for a program and then modified based on the relevant priority population, behaviors, determinants, and intervention activities. By using the logic model as an evidence-based approach, programs may be more strategic, more purposeful, and ultimately, more effective.

To find out more about using a logic model to support your work, complete a Service Request Form today, or contact Mila Garrido at

Gina Desiderio is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Healthy Teen Network.

YRBS: Big Decreases over Last 12 Years

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) monitors six types of health-risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults, including behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence, sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (including HIV infection), alcohol and other drug use, tobacco use, unhealthy dietary behaviors, and inadequate physical activity. The system includes a national school-based survey conducted by CDC, as well as state, territorial, tribal, and local surveys.

The most recent report, released June 13, shows significant decreases in a number of sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and STIs between 1991 and 2013:





One significant increase of note: condom use! Among currently sexually active students, 59% reported that either they or their partner used a condom during the last time they had sexual intercourse. That’s a big jump from 1991, when just 46% reported the same.


The YRBS is a valuable source of important information. If you use it in you work, please let us know how in the comment section!


Helping Teens Stay Healthy and Safe: The Importance of Confidential Contraceptive Services for Teens

Gina Desiderio

Gina Desiderio

Confidential contraceptive services are an important component of both comprehensive health care for adolescents and teen pregnancy prevention efforts. This has been documented in the findings of research  studies, confirmed by the experience of  health care professionals, and reflected in the policies of health care professional organizations. Numerous laws at the state and federal levels help to ensure adolescents’ access to contraceptive services and provide  confidentiality protections that facilitate  access.

The Helping Teens Stay Healthy and Safe brochure series, developed by Healthy Teen Network and the Center for Adolescent Health & the Law (CAHL), offers guidance to health care providers, teens, and parents of teens about ways they can deliver, receive, and support adolescents’ access to confidential contraceptive services.

  • For Providers: Discusses rationales for providing confidential contraceptive services to teens, support that exists in the policies of health care professional organizations, and ways that state and federal laws can be useful. (Brochure and full report available.)
  • For Teens: Teaches teens about confidential services and lets teens know how and what they can access on their own.
  • For Parents: Helps parents understand why supporting teens’ access to confidential services is consistent with good parenting.

Gina Desiderio is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Healthy Teen Network.




How Would You Score? Assessing for Characteristics of Effective Curricula

Valerie Sedivy

Valerie Sedivy

If you work with schools to provide teen pregnancy, HIV, and/or STI programming, you may already know that many schools and districts use the Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (HECAT) to select and adapt curricula.

For those of you less familiar with yet another acronym for our field: The HECAT stands for Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool. It was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with help from many different experts in a wide range of fields, including public and school health education practices, health education standards and assessment, school curriculum design, classroom instruction, and health risk behavioral research and practice.

There are many benefits to using the HECAT to select and adapt curricula, but here are some of the top reasons…

  • Assess a health education curriculum you already have in place and identify strengths and weaknesses.
  • Compare various curricula with one another in a fair and systematic way, to select a curriculum.
  • Design a new curriculum and capitalize on the guidance in the HECAT.

Your efforts to work with schools are more likely to be successful if you know how to use this tool. With support from CDC-DASH*, Healthy Teen Network has developed an orientation to the HECAT through a series of pre-recorded mini-webinars, designed to help you learn at your own pace. Topics covered include:

  1. What is the HECAT, and how can it help me?
  2. Building blocks of the HECAT: The Characteristics of Effective Curricula
  3. Building blocks of the HECAT: The National Health Education Standards
  4. A walk through the HECAT
  5. Using topic-based modules to review curricula
  6. What now? The HECAT review process and use of results

(Click on each topic above to view the mini-webinars.)

Healthy Teen Network also offers in-person training on the HECAT, to help you gain hands-on experience using this tool. You can request a training online through our Service Request Form.

*The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Adolescent and School Health, cooperative agreement 1U87PS004175-01.

Valerie Sedivy is a Senior Program Manager at Healthy Teen Network.

Spotlight on Young Fathers

Father Reading to ChildrenWhen it comes to teen parenting, too often young fathers are left out of the conversation. Any time is the right time to make sure that teen fathers’ rights, needs, and roles are considered, but with Father’s Day right around the corner, the time is ideal to shine a spotlight on these resources from Healthy Teen Network, which were created specifically with the needs of young fathers in mind.

Advocacy Resource Guide: Supporting Young Fathers
This guide explores how professionals who work with young fathers can help them to be there for their new families by first helping them to develop as individuals. This includes providing support to continue with their education, assistance with obtaining employment, as well as fostering their emotional development with the goal of adopting a positive, male parent identity. This guide also includes opportunities for health care providers and some key focus areas for young fathers’ programs to address.

Fast Facts: Unique Needs of Young Fathers
While teen fatherhood appears to be associated with similar consequences to those observed for teen mothers, most national programs serving low-income families focus on mothers rather than fathers. Recently, attempts to include young fathers in services have increased, but relatively few programs for young fathers exist. This fact sheet includes statistics and other information on young fathers, including the research gap on the subject and risk factors related to this population. 

The Core Components of Supportive Housing for Pregnant & Parenting Teens
The identification of the core components provides guidance for supportive housing programs to meet the needs of pregnant and parenting teens by providing the supports and resources needed to help them succeed. 

A BDI Logic Model for Working with Young Families Resource Kit
In response to a need voiced by professionals working with young families, Healthy Teen Network designed a Behavior-Determinant-Intervention (BDI) Logic Model for Working with Young Families in collaboration with various professionals in the field.

Fast Facts: Supporting Young Male Involvement in Pregnancy Prevention & Parenting
This fact sheet explores the benefits of targeting boys and young men specifically in order to reduce teen pregnancy and early, unintended fatherhood and to promote the development of positive relationships between young fathers and their children.



Empowering Youth: Barbara Huberman

bhubermanHealthy Teen Network mourns the loss of a true advocate for youth, Barbara Huberman. Saturday, May 17, 2014, Barbara passed away peacefully, with her family by her side, after battling cancer. A legend in the field of adolescent sexual and reproductive health, Barbara dedicated her career, over a 50-year span, to empowering youth to lead healthy sexual and reproductive lives.

Barbara was a nurse, certified sexuality educator and counselor, and one of the first Lamaze childbirth instructors and trainers in the U.S. She was an accomplished author, publishing books, curricula, and tools on topics such as organizational sustainability, adolescent sexual and reproductive health, parent-child communication about sex, state councils on teen pregnancy prevention, and European approaches to adolescent sexuality. Well-known for founding the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina (APPCNC) in the late 80s, Barbara also served as invaluable resource for Healthy Teen Network (then, the National Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Parenting, and Prevention, or NOAPPP) Board of Directors from 1987 to 1990.

Barbara played many other founding roles, as a board member for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, as well as initiating two public education campaigns, National Month to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, held in May, and Let’s Talk Month—an international campaign held each October to support parents and families in their roles as sexuality educators of their children. Barbara worked tirelessly with many states to found coalitions on teen pregnancy prevention, building their capacity to better support youth. Barbara closed her career as the National Director of Education and Outreach for Advocates for Youth and the coordinator of the Rights. Respect. Responsibility. national campaign, based on the lessons learned from conducting annual study tours to Western Europe. In homage to her vast contributions to improving youth health and well-being, Healthy Teen Network recognized Barbara with the 2013 Carol Mendez Cassell Award for Excellence in Sexuality Education.

It is with sadness but also awe that we remember Barbara. Listing her accomplishments fails to illustrate the tremendous impact she has made on our field. Barbara was a real personality, whether sharing her famous condom bag, or teaching others to knit. Barbara always had a smile and a helping hand to give. It is her warmth, as well as her wisdom, that we will miss.


Parking & Metro: Street parking is available on Wisconsin Avenue, Porter Street, and 38th Street. In addition, parking will be available after 5:30 p.m. at Sidwell Friends School, in the lower level of the parking garage. The entrance to the garage is at the intersection of Rodman and Wisconsin Avenue, NW. There is a traffic light at that intersection. The closest Metro station is Tenleytown on the Red Line, approximately a one-mile walk.
RSVP: Kindly RSVP if possible by 11 p.m. Thursday, May 29, 2014, to Please call Advocates for Youth at 202-419-3420 if you have questions.

#NoTeenShame: A Universal Goal

Natasha with her daughter Nelly

Natasha with her daughter Nelly

#NoTeenShame is a movement and a campaign serving as the public voice on the issue of teen pregnancy and the unnecessary stigmatization of teen parents. Created by a group of seven young mothers across the country—some of whom have never met in person–#NoTeenShame believes no young person should be shamed for his or her reproductive choices. Our goal this May is to continue highlighting successful relationships with organizations within our communities who are working in safe, inclusive ways.

Our progress on this movement may have started in 2013 when we initially launched a counter-campaign against #NoTeenPreg, but the truth is that our growth on the issue started long before we knew we were advocates. We had already spent years reflecting on our experiences and trying to make sense of the way teen pregnancy prevention has been framed.

For too long, our children have been dehumanized as public health issues and epidemics on the same list as all the other consequences of practicing unsafe sex, like AIDS, HIV, and STIs. There has been this narrow description of teen pregnancy force-fed into our culture that claimed teen pregnancy had a simple solution: shame teen moms and use them to scare teens. But missing from this discussion was the structural framework and institutional inequities that perpetuate the dichotomy between teen parenthood and success.

As young moms and self-determined advocates, we search through sites and teen pregnancy prevention campaigns and review connected strategic messaging materials for constructive and deconstructive frames—exactly in the way the Healthy Teen Network so amazingly put it—with  the focus on finding a solution.

We’re young moms and we know what the research says. The statistics may point to our likeliness of failing, but we recognize that there aren’t many researchers pursuing new questions and data sources that work to create new frames. How many researchers are collecting data on how the birth of a child can sometimes improve a teen’s life, prompting him/her to go back to school or push harder? How many researchers are asking whether or not an at-risk youth may be more likely to succeed after having a child and sense of new purpose? How many researchers are collecting data on the harmful effects on entire communities when shame-based approaches are used?

If we had more of those kinds of data, we wouldn’t have to constantly turn to our own individual stories, sometimes exploiting the most traumatic moments of our life, for the news and media, in hopes of shifting this negative dialogue to an already often disapproving society. The negative statistics and data realistically set up the dichotomy between teen pregnancy and success. When a teen parent does reach any level of society’s driven definition of success, he or she is “otherized” and perceived as the exception from parenting peers. And the same negative data continue to otherize teen parents from their non-parenting peers, who prior to being exposed to negative messaging, may have been more supportive of teen parents.

Harassment, bullying, discrimination—it’s against Title IX regulations to treat an expectant and parenting student in these ways, but it continues to happen on a daily basis. (In fact, just less than a month ago, Massachusetts revised the state’s Bullying Bill to include expectant and parenting students within the language of targeted youth.) And while bullying and harassment is often expected only from student peers, we know teen parents are often shamed, stigmatized, otherized, bullied, and harassed by adults within the school’s administration.

In my own story, three of my teachers and a guidance counselor made it their mission to ensure my experiences in school weren’t easy. One teacher would use my growing belly as an example of making irresponsible choices; another would compare other struggling teen parents to my ability to balance schoolwork “better than them.” I remember my guidance counselor telling me it would have been a waste of our time to apply to colleges because “statistics say…,” and another teacher reprimanding me in front of my class for “using my sick child as an excuse” to miss class.

#NoTeenShame subscribes to the belief that our culture is capable of doing better. It takes leaders within organizations to step up and acknowledge that language needs to change. It takes allies who listen to us and develop their own strategies for improving their work. It takes those with privilege and power to continue putting tools and frameworks together to spark the change our culture so desperately needs. And it takes strong young mothers across the country to help shift the way our culture perceives and defines motherhood for others.

Change happens at the edge of the system, at the very rim of impossible. And it’s through connectivity, activism, and collective impact that makes things like #NoTeenShame a universal goal.

Natasha Vianna is an advocate for young families and member of #NoTeenShame, a movement led by seven young mothers, Natasha Vianna, Gloria Malone, Lisette Orellana, Marylouise Kuti-Schubert, Jasmin Colon, Christina Martinez, and Consuela Greene, to improve strategic messaging campaigns and conversation around young parenting to a non-stigmatizing and non-shaming approach.

The Importance of an Inclusive Youth 360° Message for Adolescent Health and Well-Being: Statement from Healthy Teen Network on the Observance of the National Month to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Positive News

Pat Paluzzi, DrPH

Pat Paluzzi, DrPH

As Healthy Teen Network participates in the 13th annual observance of the National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, we are encouraged by the news that rates of pregnancies and births to United States youth below age 20 have declined over the past two decades.[1] Landmark research by John Santelli and others suggests that this decline is entirely attributable to increased contraceptive use among older youth (18 and 19 years old) and primarily attributable to improved contraceptive use among 15- to 17-year olds.[2] This evidence implies that further reductions in teen pregnancies and births will occur when more youth can gain access to contraceptives and, associated with that access, education and skills about using contraceptives—such as negotiating contraceptive use between sex partners. Thus we are encouraged by the recent release of new recommendations outlining how to provide quality family planning services by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Office of Population Affairs of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.[3]We hope these recommendations will spark continued improvements in family planning services to adolescents.

Positive news notwithstanding, teen pregnancies and births continue to occur in high rates. Contributing to this condition are believed to be factors such as low sexual health literacy and discomfort among some adult family members in discussing matters of sexuality with their children; lack of universal school-based comprehensive sexuality education; inability to implement teen pregnancy prevention (TPP) evidence-based interventions (EBIs) on a widespread basis due to cost and complexity and low levels of public funding; unavailability of TPP EBIs tailored to some marginalized subpopulations; policies and practices that prevent youth from accessing contraceptives; and behavior messages from media that glamorize sexual activity. And then there are the constellation of social determinants, including poverty and intimate partner violence, which compound the problem. Clearly, teen pregnancy is not a single issue focus or fix, but one that requires collaboration from multiple agencies and individuals, and especially youth.

A Month to Educate, Energize, and Empower

Like many others working in the adolescent sexual and reproductive health field, Healthy Teen Network uses the opportunity presented by the National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month to educate the public, press, and policymakers of the work that remains to be done to reduce teen pregnancy rates in the United States. We also utilize the Month to energize our field and validate its excellent work. And certainly, the Month provides an opportunity to empower and showcase young people who are leading efforts in their schools and communities to educate peers about sexual and reproductive health, or who are simply taking a moment to educate themselves about the risk factors and protective factors of teen pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the Month also becomes the season when negative messages around teen pregnancy crop up. Most harmful are messages that teen parents are “bad girls making bad choices.”  Healthy Teen Network opposes such shaming. We refuse to assign negative value to any young person due to his or her parenting status. Nor do we forget that pregnancy among and births to teens (and adults for that matter) is not always a choice. We congratulate the young mothers who have persisted in a messaging campaign and movement, #NoTeenShame, to raise awareness regarding the unnecessary exploitation and stigmatization of teen mothers.[4]

Furthermore, negative messages about teen parents exclude them from important sub-messaging around pregnancy prevention: the delaying and spacing of subsequent childbearing. Healthy Teen Network asserts that with support and resources, adolescents who are parents can be effective parents. For us, there cannot be an inclusive National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month without including teen parents in the conversation and the solution.

Also of concern are messages that suggest teen parenting is costly to the public[5]—another form of shaming, but in a public policy context. We recognize the surface attractiveness of this message. It can be an effective tactic to engage those who are unpersuaded by explanations of the social-ecological causes of teen pregnancy and parenting and more prone to assign blame to teen parents for personal failings. But we must be cautious and strategic in its use, or we risk damage to teen families.

Moreover, cost arguments about teen parenting have their own set of pitfalls. These arguments operate on a disease prevention theory. Healthy Teen Network does not ascribe to this theory, as we do not consider teen pregnancy or parenting to be a disease in need of treatment. Rather, it is a fact of life affecting a small number of U.S. youth and their families annually. Yes, in order to be prepared to fully participate in modern life, adolescents and young adults need generous opportunities to pursue education and other enrichments—opportunities which are enhanced by delaying and spacing childbearing. Prevention is a priority for Healthy Teen Network. But so is supporting those young people with children

Investing in Our Youth and Families

Public costs associated with raising and supporting children and families are not unique or isolated to teen families. Having children is costly to society, regardless of the age of the parent. We have reached an obvious conclusion that children are good for a society (minimally for the society’s self-preservation), and that the benefits outweigh the costs—the costs are, truly, investments.

These cost arguments tend to characterize public expenditures for supporting teen families as “burdens.” Granted, there may be higher costs to raising children born to teens because this population tends to need additional supports due to the economic status and developmental stage of the teen parent. Healthy Teen Network suggests instead that these costs also are investments. A classic illustration is that studies report high public health insurance (i.e., Medicaid) costs associated with teen families. We would counter-argue: isn’t it more cost-efficient to health insure a family than not? And would we deny publicly-funded health insurance to families simply because of the age of the parent?  The reality is that some of our nation’s families are fragile due to all manner of causes, and that fragility does not discriminate by parental age. The American people do not want any of our nation’s families to fail.  Healthy Teen Network asserts that teen families should not be allowed to fail either.

Like most parents, pregnant and parenting teens are extremely motivated to offer their children a good life. They quickly realize that an education and a career are necessary, and with the right supports, they will complete high school and eagerly seek further education or training. With help from their families, other caring adults, and public and private asset-building resources and services, they can avoid some of the challenges they might otherwise face. Healthy Teen Network’s new infographic, “Picture Perfect: A Snapshot of What Helps Teen Families Grow & Thrive,” illustrates these opportunities.[6]

An Inclusive, Youth 360° Approach

In fact, what helps teen families grow and thrive is not so very different from what helps all families thrive. To improve outcomes (that is, to reduce teen pregnancies and births), we need to recognize the complex interrelated factors, or social determinants—such as access to quality education and health services, life goals and aspirations for the future, or healthy relationships—that influence individual behavior and health outcomes. How and where we live, learn, and play affects every one of us—our health and well-being, even our life span. And so, Healthy Teen Network uses an inclusive, Youth 360° approach to achieve better outcomes for youth across diverse populations, including, most certainly, pregnant and parenting teens.

Not only as we observe the National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, but every day, let’s indeed keep our attention on the important work already done and that must continue to support adolescent sexual and reproductive health. But let’s also be sure not to punish teen families, either by shaming them for their life circumstances or by depriving them (or even suggesting to deprive them) of the publicly-funded resources and services they require—just as do older adult-led families—to thrive as contributing members of our American community. A Youth 360° approach to not just prevention, but overall adolescent sexual and reproductive health, is the inclusive and positive messaging we must model to educate, to energize, and to empower not only our field, but the youth, the public, the press, and the policymakers as well.

About Healthy Teen Network

Healthy Teen Network is the only national membership organization with an inclusive, integrated focus on the sexual and reproductive health and well-being of adolescents and young adults, including pregnant and parenting teens. We provide capacity-building assistance for professionals and youth-serving organizations to ensure they have the resources and training to support youth. We believe society has an obligation to empower all adolescents and young adults, including teen parents, to have the opportunity to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

President and CEO, Patricia Paluzzi, DrPH, CNM, has been active in the fields of reproductive and maternal and child health for over 30 years, as a clinician, researcher, administrator, and advocate. She has served as the visionary leader for Healthy Teen Network since 2003, building momentum for inclusive, integrated adolescent sexual and reproductive health care and services. 


[1] Office of Adolescent Health. (n.d.). Trends in Teen Pregnancy and Childbearing. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Retrieved from

[2] Santelli, J., Duberstein Lindberg, L, Finer, L. & Susheela, S. (2007). Explaining Recent Declines in Adolescent Pregnancy in the United States: The Contribution of Abstinence and Improved Contraceptive Use. American Journal of Public Health; 97(1): 150–156.

[3]Gavin, L, Moskosky, S., Carter, M., et al. Providing Quality Family Planning Services: Recommendations of CDC and the U.S. Office of Population Affairs. MMWR 2014;63(No. 4). Retrieved from

[4] Vianna, N., Malone, G., Orellana, L., Colon, J., Martinez, C, Kuti-Schubert, M., Green, C. (2013). #NoTeenShame. Retrieved from

[5] The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. (2013). Counting It Up: Key data. Washington, DC. Retrieved from

[6] Gilmore, C., Eisler, A. (2014). Picture Perfect: A Snapshot of what helps teen families grow & thrive. Baltimore, Maryland: Healthy Teen Network. Retrieved from


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