Early adolescence marks a critical time of development for young people including intense physical, hormonal, cognitive, and social changes, and the formation of one's identity. Very young adolescents (VYAs), those between the ages of 10 and 14, are acquiring information, developing attitudes, and experimenting with behaviors that will affect their present and future well-being. Both boys and girls are internalizing cultural messages of what it means to be a man or a woman, and how they process these messages will affect their behaviors and health outcomes for decades to come. Yet, at a time when correct and gender equitable information is so important, studies show that most VYAs lack the knowledge and skills to reduce associated risks of puberty including unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
VYAs face additional unique challenges such as early marriage, the increased danger of pregnancy, and high vulnerability to sexual violence and coercion. Programs that provide VYAs with information and build gender awareness and skills in areas such as self-advocacy, while concurrently addressing adults and community institutions, can be a highly effective approach to changing and sustaining health-related behaviors. Most VYAs are not yet sexually active and have not solidified harmful behaviors or norms; thus, intervening with youth at this stage provides a window of opportunity not available later on. Despite the unique challenges and opportunities VYAs face, most research and programs addressing youth reproductive health and HIV issues are geared toward older adolescents (ages 15 to 19) or young adults (ages 20 to 24). As a result, VYA’s remain a neglected and forgotten population in much of the programming on sexual and reproductive health.
This article makes the case for investing in very young adolescents (VYAs) through a detailed description of the specific challenges this age group faces, a review of existing evidence about the efficacy of programming efforts focused on VYAs (2014).
This report reviews the state of the knowledge on the situation and needs of very young adolescents (VYAs) globally, the key social and contextual influences in their lives, the impact of programs working with VYAs, and develops recommendations for further research and programming with this especially vulnerable group (2016).
In 2009, Save the Children International Nepal developed the CHOICES intervention, which targeted very young adolescents (VYAs) with the goal of changing gender norms, attitudes, and behaviors and increasing support for more egalitarian relationships between boys and girls. Evaluation results indicated significant improvements for those participating, leading to the development of a further curriculum, PROMISES, which began implementation in 2011. In contract to CHOICES, PROMISES targeted the general community where CHOICES was implemented with the goal of influencing the broader environment. The positive impact of both programs led to the development of VOICES, an approach that uses the voices of mothers and fathers through testimonials to influence change in other parents in the community. Information on each of the pieces of this integrated program can be found through the links below.
This paper reviews and describes research practices and program interventions addressing the sexual and reproductive health needs of VYAs and identifies promising program components and research/evaluation practices (2010).