Reframing newsletter

FrameWorks Institute Offers New Perspectives on Adolescent Development

February 21, 2019

Our friends at the FrameWorks Institute recently released extensive new research on adolescent development. “To help build public understanding and create demand for necessary policies and programs, FrameWorks studied how Americans understand the changes that occur during adolescence, the factors that influence it, and what supports it.” Sponsored by Funders for Adolescent Science Translation, the research aims to close the gap between scientific understanding of adolescent development and the public’s thinking.

In three reports issued at the end of 2018, FrameWorks outlines the dominant media and public narratives for adolescent development, shows the divergence of opinion between how the American public thinks about youth development and experts’ knowledge on the subject, and provides recommendations on how communicators can take advantage of opportunities in public thinking and avoid challenges. FrameWorks also offers an Executive Summary of the three reports’ findings.

  • Building Opportunity into Adolescence: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understandings of Adolescent Development” – As we mentioned in a recent newsletter, we all rely on “cultural models,” which are shared understandings or patterns of thinking, to help us process and make sense of new information. While cultural models allow us to be quick and efficient thinkers, they can backfire when based on incomplete and erroneous perceptions. In this report, FrameWorks catalogues and compares the dominant ways that the public and experts in the field think about adolescence. FrameWorks identified a number of productive overlaps in thinking between the two groups, as well as some important differences that experts will need to navigate going forward. For example, the public and experts agree that adolescence is an important period of development, but the public is missing critical information about how adolescents develop and what can be done to support development. As FrameWorks notes, “The role of a strategic communicator is to be aware of the way in which the public thinks and reasons so that he or she can activate and promote cultural models that open up productive dialogue and engagement with ideas and actions required to better support adolescents in their development.”
  • One Half of the Story – In this report, FrameWorks examines how the media covers young people and the period of adolescence. The dominant stories told by the media include teens being in crisis, threatened by dangerous influences, and as the victims or perpetrators of crime. The media stories echo and reinforce some of the more problematic public views identified in the “Building Opportunity into Adolescence” report and can depress public engagement in efforts to support policies and programs designed to foster healthy adolescent development.
  • Amplifying Positive Frames – Based on a review of how organizations communicate about adolescents, FrameWorks offers recommendations for how advocates can convey a more complete, accurate, and productive story of adolescent development. Recommendations include explaining the process of development, offering more complete explanations of how programs and policies foster healthy development, and articulating the collective, societal benefits of supporting adolescent development.

In future newsletters, we’ll take a deeper look at the challenges and opportunities FrameWorks identified and will offer suggestions for weaving FrameWorks’ recommendations for adolescent development into the broader story of human services.