Research indicates that young adults (18- to 25-years-old) experience the highest rates of tobacco use (38.1%) and illicit drug use (21.3%) when compared to other age groups. To reduce these rates, practitioners working at the community level must engage young adults in prevention efforts. But mobilizing this young adults—particularly those young adults not attending college—can be challenging.
Some challenges unique to mobilizing young adults who are not in college include the following:
- Social norms in workplace and community settings that support substance use and abuse among young adults (for example, young adults working in the accommodations and food service industries have higher rates of illicit drug use, but the social norm in the construction profession is more centered around binge drinking. )
- Lack of resources, such as inconsistent funding to support young adult involvement in workplace- and community-based prevention programs, as well as insufficient supervision and staff support to implement these programs.
- Low levels of readiness (among young people) to engage in prevention efforts, including lack of awareness or experience of negative consequences related to substance use.
- Low levels of readiness (among adults) to engage young adults as valued partners. For example, ageism/adultism often results in adults discounting the contributions that young adults can make and/or creating an environment where young adults do not feel valued.
- Differences in language/culture. The best place to reach young people is online using language familiar to young adults from social media—but to do so effectively, prevention programming has to stay abreast of an extremely fluid medium that is often at the center of young adult culture. Five years ago the best way to reach young adults was on Facebook; today it’s via Twitter or SnapChat. Who know where it will be tomorrow!
- Competing interests, needs, and priorities, such as limited time, scheduling conflicts, and difficulty capturing the attention of young adults in an increasingly over-saturated media landscape.
Some strategies for overcoming these challenges include the following:
- Do your homework! Learn as much as you can about the specific groups you’re trying to reach and target your outreach efforts to meet their needs. Find out about the cultural norms of their workplaces and social groups, as well as how they get their information and which sources they trust.
- Identify gatekeepers. This is particularly important in the workplace. Identify key workplace stakeholders and allies, such as representatives from the human resources and community relations departments.
- Build on existing prevention efforts. For example, integrate prevention messages into general health promotion efforts targeting young people. In the workplace, promote opportunities for involvement in prevention activities at worksite meetings, trainings, and orientations.
- Be strategic. Young adults are highly selective about what they pay attention to—and they are already over-saturated with media messages. So be judicious in what you ask of them and what you expect them to pay attention to.
- Create meaningful opportunities that produce concrete benefits for the people involved—be it work experience, a concrete skills (e.g., public speaking, community organization), mentoring support, or professional development.
- Be organized. Be concrete and transparent about your expectations for involvement, provide young people with the supports they need to fulfill their responsibilities, and be respectful of schedules.
- Provide incentives. Recognize that young people have many competing priorities so make the time they spend with you worth their while.
- Make it easy for people to get involved. Meet in settings and at times convenient to this age group.
- Listen and appreciate! Provide regular opportunities for eliciting feedback, and respond to what you hear. Show them how their input will be applied to your prevention efforts, and publicly appreciate the time and effort they gave.
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Developed under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies contract (Reference #HHSS277200800004C).