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Encouraging Healthy Choices for Teens. The Why | What | Who Method.

Updated: Feb 22

Please tell me you've seen the scene in Mean Girls, where Coach Carr, the health teacher, gives his classic sex education lecture. If you haven't, well, here it is...

It's funny because part of it is true. Not the dying part, but the, this is how many of us experienced health class part. Health education, especially around topics like sex education and drug awareness, often are taught with fear and worst case scenarios. But how effective is this strategy for most teens? Is fear really a strong enough motivating factor in prevention? Or are there more effective ways to promote healthy behavior?

Re-evaluating Health Curriculum

If you ask me, there are better ways. I tried the doom and gloom approach and felt like a walking caution sign that students were ready to roll their eyes at. So, after much thought about what would have been effective for me as a teen (which wasn't that long ago, to be honest), I came up with a method that I use as the basis for most of my health curriculum. I like to call it the Why, What, Who Method.

Understanding Behavior

Every choice we make has an underlying need or desire. Most people turn to unhealthy choices not because they want the negative consequences or even that they didn't know about the consequences; it's that their need in that moment seems bigger than the potential risk. Say hello to the teenage brain.

We need to address the desire and need first and fill that desire with a healthier choice.

Introducing the Why, What, Who Method.. tahh dahh!

Let's start with the need.

The WHY is about asking why someone might turn to risky/unhealthy behaviors. WHY do some people stay behind a screen all day? WHY do some turn to smoking? WHY do some participate in promiscuous activities? Well, it could be a bunch of things - maybe they're feeling lonely and want some friends, they want to be seen, or they're just anxious and looking for a way to chill. There's a whole lot going on beneath the surface of our actions.

Once they really understand the WHY behind those choices, it's then crucial to help them understand how the risky/unhealthy choice will not in reality fill that need successfully (beyond a moment maybe). You need to explore other decisions that could fill that need in a better way with less risk.

That leads to the WHAT. WHAT other choices could meet this need fully? If you're lonely, maybe you need to join a club even if that makes you a bit nervous at first. Or if you want to be seen, how about you start a TikTok account that features your poetry and find other people who share similar interests. There are endless choices we can make, and many are better than others at meeting our deepest needs.

Now, this part is SO important. That is the WHO part. WHO do you need to surround yourself with to support you in this choice? We are who we spend our time with, and if we want to make lasting healthy choices, we need to be picky with who we are with.

In summary

Why, What, Who in Action

Okay, so now that I've explained the basics of this method, let's see this in action. Which of these approaches is more likely to be effective at encouraging healthy behavior?

"Don't eat junk food; it is not good for your body for many reasons... like X, Y, Z."


"Why do you crave junk food?" it's yummy plus I'm stressed out and like to distract myself with food.

"What other choices could you make that will help you feel less stressed?" I could write out my feelings in my notebook.

"Who could you surround yourself with who can help this behavior?" My friends who are open about emotions and I can talk to them after.

Which do you think is more effective?

Now, obviously, they still need to know the negative effects of junk food, and of other risky choices, but that consequence is only one part of the whole process.

Effective Health Education

Let's focus on replacing unhealthy behaviors and meeting our needs effectively! I hope the Why | What | Who method can bring up some important conversations in your classroom. If you're looking for some resources that specifically address this method and healthy decision making, keep your eyes open, they are coming soon. If you want to try a simulation based on this method that explores healthy/risk choices in a simulation check out my Drugs & Alcohol Simulation.

If you're looking for a full DEEP DIVE into decision making with this method then my CHOICES WORKBOOK will be your new friend. Check it out HERE or on my TPT Shop. (pssst... it's cheaper on my site than on my TPT shop)

Teach On!



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