Working with Youth to Help Move Youth

Engaging youth is a wonderfully educational process for everyone involved. Interestingly, while we might think that youth will interact with concepts and information in a way that is different from adults, when asked to brainstorm what they need to encourage physical activity in students, sometimes the answers are more of a return to basics and do not differ that much from key messages developed by adults. Whether this is because in some cases those traditional key messages are the ones that resonate most, or because we have become acclimated to seeing the same messages on physical activity over and over again is part of what makes this process so interesting.

Recently, PARC had the opportunity to engage youth in the development of physical activity resources for youth. This process had two stages: a focus group and a young decision-makers conference.

In the focus group, youth were asked to reflect on and discuss the following questions:

  1. Why is it important to you to be active every day? What are the benefits of being active?
  2. What activities could you do during the school day to be active? Consider before, during, and after school.
  3. How do you feel when you’ve been active versus days where you’re not?
  4. How can the school setting (adults, space, time, equipment) support you in being active?
  5. What messages or images do you see or hear in the media (social media as well) that get you thinking about being active or inspire you to be active?

At the conference, youth that chose the physical activity stream had four days to explore the topic, brainstorm key messages related to physical activity for youth in the school setting, and develop 1-2 products based on the messages they developed – the format of the messages was up to them. The format of the conference followed the Young Decision Makers Model – allowing youth to research the topic, reflect on their own experiences, and engage in small and large group discussions before developing the products.

While a departure from more traditional health promotion materials might have been anticipated, the reality was both unexpected and yet affirming of PARC’s own previous techniques and offerings.

The Final Products

Physical Activity Infographic: Easy Ways to Get Active.
Physical Activity Poster: Good for the Mind, Body and Spirt.

As can be seen in the finished products, it came down to simple reminders to ride a bike to school, to get involved in their communities, to enjoy the activity they choose, and to consider the whole person: mind, body, spirit, and heart.

What PARC heard from students is that they don’t necessarily require or desire a new app, website, or viral campaign to encourage physical activity. Sometimes, they just need to be reminded that it is important and even encouraged to get active in any safe way that works for them.

Engaging The Whole Audience

Of note, the products developed by this vibrant group of youth incorporated feedback from a diverse range of youth representing all sections of the student body.

Acknowledgements

PARC is very grateful for the time and effort that The Students Commission put into the process - it was highly educational and enlightening in a different way from what was anticipated. This project really brought to light the complexity of physical activity messaging and the need to engage all stakeholders in meaningful discussions on what messages resonate in a positive way. We are encouraged by the relationship and knowledge we built during the process to promote diverse forms of physical activity in diverse settings and to engage youth and draw on their knowledge and experiences in these activities.