Let’s Play TAG

TAG, you’re it!

Think, Act, Grow (TAG) is the Department of Health and Human Services Adolescent Health national call to action to improve adolescent health.

We hear a lot about rescuing trafficking victims. For many of us, that one sentence is enough to create pictures in our minds and trigger adrenaline flow in readiness for that front-lines fight. What we don’t hear a lot about is the immeasurable work of prevention. Tag offers videos and discussion guides to engage teens in understanding their own brain development and the link to risk for substance abuse that leads to addiction.

A graphic image of a little girl being pulled down the seedy looking hallway of an old motel by a 50 year old man stirs emotion, and let’s be honest, raises money. An image of an after-school program doesn’t trigger much emotion, if any, and certainly isn’t the key to an effective fundraiser. But wouldn’t we all rather prevent the tragedy of kids being victims of violent crimes multiple times every day than rescuing and trying to restore a young person who will never be able to un-feel all he or she has been forced to endure?

When we look into the lives of kids who are being sold for sex, especially those who entered foster care because they were mistreated in their home of origin, we can easily see the place in their lives where intervention could have changed the trajectory of that young person’s life. Of course, it’s not one simple thing, it’s a series of events that build up to that young person feeling worthless and hopeless.

We know that ONE PERSON can give a young person dignity, worth, and consequently, hope. So it would follow that the point at which we can prevent the tragedy of CSEC would be to facilitate connections with people who can do exactly that. These powerful connections that tether kids to safety and keep them on a path toward healthy lives can be established at school, in sports, in extra curricular activities, in church, in clubs, in after-school programs, in the homes of friends and neighbors, and any other place where the kid can interact with an adult who’s willing to give them eye contact and the dignity that accompanies it.

The TAG initiative encourages these powerful, life-saving connections that can keep kids from medicating their pain with drugs, alcohol, and all the other ways that kids distract and medicate. Healthy connections literally save lives.

“This multi-sector approach challenges organizations and professionals to improve adolescent health through a strengths-based, positive youth development approach that emphasizes youth engagement.”

We would all agree that to be healthy, adolescents need:

  1. Positive connections with supportive people

  2. Safe and secure places to live, learn and play

  3. Access to high-quality, teen-friendly health care

  4. Opportunities for teens to engage as learners, leaders, team members and workers

  5. Coordinated, adolescent-and family-centered services

You can jump onto the prevention side of the commercial sexual exploitation of children TODAY. There are some valuable tools here: https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/sites/default/files/tag_toolkit.pdf. The issue of establishing connection with boys is especially important since there are often fewer opportunities for them to connect with healthy adults. Here is a great discussion guide that is helpful for all kids, with emphasis on boys: https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/sites/default/files/ash/oah/resources-and-publications/multimedia/assets/way-webcast-discussion-guide-for-families.pdf

Understanding adolescent brain development can be extremely helpful in dealing with the impulsive behaviors, risk taking, self-esteem deficits, and the myriad issues that can create conflict, diminish healthy relationships, and ultimately create the gaps that can lead to kids being vulnerable to traffickers. A huge aspect of helping teens become healthy adults is in helping them choose against mind altering substances. Here is a great discussion guide for families to broach this subject: https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/sites/default/files/jensen-discussionguide-families.pdf.

Every one of us can do something to help prevent tragedy in the lives of the young people within our influence. Prevention doesn’t carry nearly as much “sizzle” as the work of rescue and restoration of trafficking victims. But despite the subtlety of prevention, to the young people saved from a life of being a rape victim multiple times every day, prevention is priceless.