Empower Teens To Control Their Own Health

By Sierra Freeman

Sierra Freeman is a recent graduate from San Francisco State University, where she received her B.S. in Health Education with a minor in Women’s health issues. She is passionate about equality, social justice, and health. In her free time, she loves spending time with family and friends, being at the beach, and going to shows/concerts.

In college, I was able to gain a sense of what empowerment looked like and felt like for the first time. As a young adult, there was a time when I didn’t feel able to identify issues that bothered me or have the space to be productive in how I wanted to see things change in life. I also remember, during that same time, that was not aware of what being in control of my health, body, and life would even feel like, or if there were even issues that I felt existed in the first place.

A key factor of empowerment, I believe, is having a sense of self efficacy, which is essentially a belief in yourself to do well or succeed. Within health education courses and high school courses I think it would be really valuable if all courses/spaces/classrooms were providing this type of space for students to discuss issues that come up in their life and identify what the root of that problem stems from. When you aren’t incorporating larger social or political factors into stress or how laws affect individuals, then you aren’t getting the full picture and in my opinion, you’re limiting the ability of young people to seek empowerment and be empowered to create changes they want to see.

Teen empowerment is an important aspect of health education, as I have seen in my own life, because it has transformed not only how I interact with the world but also has allowed me to believe in myself. Education is the key to teen empowerment and with more education, the more you feel in control of your life, health, body and being able to feel like you have the ability to make changes.
Empower yourself by visiting our Legal Guide and learning about your rights to reproductive healthcare, parenting assistance, and more! 

What Can You Do When Your Friend Struggles With Mental Health?

This piece was written by Kyle C., a youth member of the University of Michigan’s Adolescent Health Initiative’s Teen Advisory Council

Before I started high school, I did not know anyone with a mental illness. In fact, I didn’t really understand what depression and anxiety were; my seventh grade health class did not cover mental health. A lot of changes took place in high school. The most prominent change I noticed among my peers was how many of them developed mental health problems. Now, going into my senior year of high school, several of my best friends and many other classmates have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

When my best friend first told me he was depressed, I wasn’t sure how to react. I tried not to act stunned, though it was hard. I told him I was there for him if he needed anything. From then on, I made an extra effort to try to make him happy. I would text him every day with funny animal pictures or embarrassing stories from my school day.

Despite my efforts and those of his therapist and doctor, he ended up in the hospital. He called me from the ER to talk to me about his suicide attempt and to tell me he was safe. Honestly, I don’t remember what I said to him because I was so shocked. I went to visit him in the hospital, bringing him friendship bracelets, books, and pictures of us when we were younger.

This was my first introduction to how scary mental illness could be. Later, when more of my peers turned to me for support with their depression, I was better prepared. I didn’t try to understand what they were going through, because I couldn’t. I didn’t push them to talk about their illness, but instead listened to them when they wanted to discuss it. I didn’t blame myself for the times when their depression got worse because I’d learned it was never anyone’s fault.

I don’t have a magical cure for my friends’ health issues. The best piece of advice I can give to other teens who have peers with similar issues is to act normal around your friends.  Being yourself is the best thing you can do to help your friends who are struggling.  Try to keep a positive outlook on life yourself to give your friends an optimistic atmosphere to help them recover. It’s crucial to have adults in your life that you trust to talk about the emotions you feel while your friends are struggling. Whether it be a teacher or parent, you must have someone you can confide in to express worry if you feel your friend is in danger.

Those scary, dark tweets posted by your friends are a cry for help: make sure you tell an adult and check on your friend.

If you have concerns about mental health or taking care of yourself, especially if you’re pregnant or parenting, you can learn more about resources available to you in our Mental Health section. If you ever feel scared that you or your friend might do something that could really harm them, get a trusted adult or call 911. 

When Getting Birth Control Becomes A Challenge

Kayla is a Cell and Molecular Biology major at San Francisco State University. She is an intern/Brand Ambassador for Nurx, an intern for ASI Women’s Center, and a Sexual Health intern for the HPW Health Promotion and Wellness Center Team at SFSU. Her hobbies include writing spoken word poetry and taking care of her two pet chinchillas.

I know from personal experience that obtaining birth control can be daunting and aggravating.

Nearing the end of my senior year of high school, I wanted to get birth control before I entered college. Things were getting more serious with my boyfriend and I also wanted to be protected before entering the college scene. But I had one major roadblock: strict parents.

I began to devise a plan for when I could drive to Planned Parenthood to get birth control without my parents knowing. I used the classic excuse, “I’m hanging out with Danielle today”, which was pretty much the truth since she did come with me for support. I remember feeling so uncomfortable and awkward sitting in the seats in the waiting room surrounded by other people. Why did I feel like everyone was staring at me and judging me? Or was that just paranoia? Why was this so nerve wrecking?

I remember not knowing how to answer some of the questions the woman asked me about my insurance, so I just told her I did not have any. She put me under Family Pact, which allowed the birth control to be free. I left Planned Parenthood with a year’s supply of birth control pills, feeling like I had won the jackpot. Danielle and I giggled in awe at the goodie bag filled health products, including a variety of brightly colored condoms. I felt sneaky and accomplished because I’d succeeded in independently getting birth control without my parent’s knowledge.

A week into taking my pills daily, my parents found out. I wasn’t as sly as I thought I was. My dad found my pills in my purse and became outraged, taking the pills away. My parents shamed me and told me I was not ready. But I knew that was my decision to make.

I went back to Planned Parenthood to get more birth control. But I was unable to get more for free since they already gave me a year’s supply. This time I would have to pay. I paid $30 for only three months, only to go home and have my father steal my birth control for a second time.

I felt helpless and wondered what options were available for girls in situations like me. I faced many difficulties just to obtain my birth control. I felt powerless to protect my body. I felt like no one had any resources to assist me.

It wasn’t until I finally got away from my house that I was able to take control of my reproductive health. As a college student, I discovered there were services out there that would deliver my pills directly to me at school. One of these, the one I found, was Nurx. Using Nurx, I was able to get my birth control delivered to me at college, a safe place where I could receive them and not worry about my parents confiscating them. While I still had to hide the pills from my parents on visits home, I knew that I could, and would, always have a delivery waiting for me at school when I needed it.

While birth control delivery services are great, they won’t do you much good if you live in a super strict household or if your parents check the mail. But they might be a good option for you if you leave home, or if you’re able to get the delivery somewhere that isn’t your house, like a school or work mailbox.

For girls in the same situation as me, it can be a struggle to protect yourself and ensure you get the birth control you need. If you struggle with overly strict parents who think you’re not ready, try to get them on your page by asking your parents to speak with you calmly. Explain that you’re the one making the decision, that it’s your body, and your right to access birth control when you need it. Explain that taking away birth control won’t prevent you from the activities you’re engaging in, and that you’re making a smart, responsible choice by even seeking out birth control in the first place.

If your parents still refuse to let you get the pill on your own, or continue to confiscate your pills when you get them, you can seek out help from another trusted adult, like a school counselor or nurse. You can also look into other birth control options, such as the IUD, patch, injection, or ring, which last longer and don’t require you to take a pill every day. Ultimately it’s your body and your right to choose.

Getting my birth control delivered by Nurx at school was the best solution for me. Once I moved away and figured out an easy way to get birth control delivered to me at school, I finally was able to have the responsibility of controlling my own sexual health. I felt free. I was in control.

You can learn about ways you can prevent pregnancy, and resource you can use to access birth control in California, by visiting our Birth Control section.

On Love, Relationships, Sex, and Protection

This piece was written by Juli K. a youth member of the University of Michigan’s Adolescent Health Initiative’s Teen Advisory Council.  Juli attends Eastern Michigan University and is pursuing a career in social work. Since she was 17, she’s worked for adolescent sexual health under organizations such as Michigan Youth (MY) Voice and Teen Adolescent Championship Teen Advisory Council (TAC TAC). She plans to continue working with adolescent sexual health as part of her social work career. 

Do you ever think about your first love? I often think about mine from high school. Despite how things ended between us, if I had not gone through some of those experiences then I don’t think I would be the person I am today.

When I was 14, being in love was never something I would have imagined happening to me. I would watch The Notebook and The Titanic, silently protesting because I just knew that someone loving me as much as Noah loved Allie or Jack loved Rose wasn’t possible. But if you have seen these classic romance movies, you would know that despite all of the love being given and received, relationships have their consequences. I learned this firsthand with my first loving relationship.

My boyfriend at the time was a few years older than me and had already engaged in sexual activity with previous partners. Although I was always very conscious about taking care of myself, I let my guard down when it came to him. We eventually started engaging in sexual activity ourselves.

When I was 15, we had a condom break. My periods were never regular, so when my period was a few days late I didn’t really worry about it. But after that incident all I could think about was how I wanted my period to come to ease my mind. After a few weeks had passed and I still did not have a period, I sat down and questioned the possibility that I could actually be pregnant. My mom was a teen mom, and I saw how that affected me and my sisters’ lives growing up.

All of a sudden I had to think about things I never dreamed of imagining myself thinking of at 15. How would I tell my mom if I was pregnant? Would I be able to terminate the pregnancy? What if my mom and boyfriend pressured me to keep the child? What would people at school think? All the over-thinking made me nauseous.

A friend of mine picked me up one afternoon and took me to Walmart where I did my pregnancy test in the bathroom. I would not have dared to take it at home; what if my mom found it in my garbage?! So there I was, in a Walmart bathroom, peeing on a stick. I patiently waited while the lines showed up, very clearly showing that I wasn’t pregnant! I was so happy I nearly cried. It was then and there that I decided getting on birth control was something I had to do to protect myself even more if incidents like this did happen again.

Deciding to engage in sexual activity with someone is quite a big decision. It’s important to protect yourself and your partner because unfortunately, being caught in the heat of the moment can actually take a toll on your future. I’m sharing my experience not to scare people from having sex, but to raise awareness about how important it is to have protection and communication between you and your partner. Even if things feel good and right, they can still have long-term consequences that could affect your future.

For more information about your questions around sex and relationships, your rights to birth control and emergency contraception, and information about pregnancy, visit our Youth Legal Guide.

We Spend All Day In School. We Should Get Our Health Education There Too

By Sierra Freeman

My experience with health education, like most people, is very relative to where I grew up and my personal background. With the Internet, many teens today have access to any information they need at their fingertips. I think this is an important tool to take advantage of. Although the Internet is really crucial in being able to reach teens, there is still a lack of education as a whole of inclusive, culturally competent, and comprehensive health education.

There are schools that have incorporated this comprehensive care into their curriculum, but why aren’t all schools doing so?

Why aren’t we providing legitimate care and health resources to students before college? Most young adults are dependent on their parents for this information, but this doesn’t happen in every home and can be biased. In my opinion, this is why it’s crucial for schools to step in to provide accurate, unbiased information regarding overall health that allows students to connect to health resources and take control of their own health and boundaries.

I’m not saying that parents can’t provide this accurate information; there can just be barriers that stand in the way if this isn’t done in the right way. There can be fear, shame, or lack of knowledge wrapped into information being presented or maybe even not discussed at all. If we have an institution in place where young adults are required to spend the majority of their life (school), then we need to make sure we are utilizing this space and time in a way that actually benefits the health of young adults.

If we don’t have this set in place, this information can be very distorted. For example, what if a young woman’s entire idea on sexuality comes from the media, where women are constantly over-sexualized? We need to put more of a priority on health education, regardless of where we live and what our community’s and/or family’s personal beliefs are.


In January 2016, California’s California Healthy Youth Act (CHYA) went into effect.  This new set of laws will help ensure that California students receive instruction in school that includes comprehensive and accurate prevention information for sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy, as well as information about healthy relationships and local health resources.    The California Department of Education has a website about California’s comprehensive health education laws. http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/se/

Learn more about your health rights in school by visiting our guide here.

Our Top Teen Parent Resolutions for 2016

The New Year is fast approaching, so we asked some teen parents: what are your goals and resolutions for the next year?

“My goal is to be a great mom and be healthier. Since I had my child I have been feeling less active and need to change my health. I also need to be more organized and have a good routine.”

“My goal is to get my baby to grow up healthy. I want to spend a lot of time with her and manage how to deal with school.”

“My goal is to have better relationships with my friends and family. I want to be able to control my mood swings and make changes to keep myself healthier both mentally and physically.”

“My goal is to spend as much time with my daughter as possible so she can know that I will always have time for her no matter how tired I am.”

Do you have similar goals? What are some ways you can make these goals come true? Share your resolutions and goals in the comments below!

What does a healthy relationship look like?

*This piece was written by Brandon R., a youth member of the University of Michigan’s Adolescent Health Initiative’s Teen Advisory Council*

Relationships with others have a big impact on who we are. Healthy relationships between friends, partners, family members or significant others all have a few important traits.

All relationships involve tolerance, patience, and understanding. But despite our best efforts, everyone makes mistakes. No relationship is going to be that perfect Cinderella-esque tale of romance and love. Arguments and disagreements happen.

But sometimes, those rough patches can go too far. Then, a relationship can go from healthy to unhealthy. Here are some warning signs to take note of, so you can recognize if you’re in an unhealthy relationship. (Remember, “your partner” can refer to anyone with whom you have a relationship, including friends, family, and significant others.)

  • Your partner has physically harmed you out of anger or frustration, either on purpose or accidentally.
  • Your partner has verbally harmed you—he or she has used words to make you feel hurt or depressed
  • Your partner forces you to cut off relationships with other friends or family members
  • Your partner makes you change an aspect of yourself in order to be with them. They may pressure you to wear different clothes, get new hobbies, or change your beliefs.

If you find yourself in one of these situations, you can (and should) try to get help. You can talk to a counselor at school, speak with a trusted adult, or even seek out therapy with you and the other person where you both sit down and discussing what challenges you face.

Sometimes, these problems can’t be fixed. Unfortunately, breaking up or ending relationships is sometimes the best option for relationships that just aren’t working out. Everyone has the right to end a relationship that they no longer want to continue. If you’re having trouble ending a relationship, talk to a parent or trusted adult.

If you’re in an unhealthy relationship, there are ways to address the challenges you’re facing. The most important part of a healthy relationship is communication. One of the biggest reasons relationships fail is because of people not expressing their problems. And it makes sense—it’s sometimes difficult and awkward to talk about personal things, even with somebody really close.

Similarly, it is important for two people in a relationship to be open-minded and tolerant. Friends and partners never intentionally hurt each other (and if they do, it’s likely that they aren’t truly a friend or partner) so a compassionate attitude is essential to a long-lasting relationship. When communicating with your partner, have compassion and try to imagine yourself in their position. It may be challenging at first, but it’s a good first step towards working to keep your relationship healthy and strong.

What is mental health counseling?

Mental health counseling involves speaking with therapists (or counselors), who are people who are trained to listen to and help a person work through problems or questions he or she may have in life.  People choose to talk to a therapist for a lot of reasons.


Will anyone find out if I have an STI?

Generally, no one can find out if you have an STI unless you want them to, because that information must be kept confidential unless you give permission for it to be shared. But some STIs are “reportable diseases.” That means the state health system wants to keep track of them and control their spread.


Is HIV different from other STIs?

HIV is an Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) but unlike most STIs, it does not have a cure. HIV can cause a person to get AIDS, which people can die from. Although HIV/AIDS does not currently have a cure, it can be treated.


Do I have to get tested for HIV?

No. In most cases, you decide whether to get tested for HIV. If you decide not to get tested, it is against the law for a health care provider to test you without your permission.