Is marijuana harmful to our health?
How do you help a suicidal friend?
What is Zika?
Those are just three of a slew of questions that teens asked during a Teen Health Twitter chat that Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre (KPET) held last month at Youth Radio’s offices in downtown Oakland.
For one hour, performer/educators from KPET’s Nightmare on Puberty St. show and Kaiser Permanente Pediatrics Resident Benjamin Deters, DO, answered teen questions on Twitter, using text and video.
A Twitter chat is a live Twitter event that is usually moderated and focused on a particular topic. Twitter chat producers use a dedicated hashtag so that participants can easily follow the conversation.
The teen health chat was peppered with questions from a table full of Youth Radio journalism interns, including Amanda Agustin, who recently graduated from high school.
“Teenagers are already comfortable with Twitter and with communicating on social media, so it’s a really good way to access teenagers,” Agustin explained.
Trying New Ways to Reach Youth
Kaiser Permanente’s Nightmare on Puberty St. is a free one-hour show that has toured hundreds of Northern California middle schools. It aims to help young people deal with the often overwhelming pressures and confusing changes that come with adolescence.
The show’s performer/educators are extensively trained by Kaiser Permanente physicians, therapists, and health educators on topics that may come up in the question and answer session with students after each show. The show’s program coordinator, Hannah Cordero, said she thought Twitter would be a good way to reach even more teens.
“Our performer/educators are amazingly knowledgeable and they communicate so well with students. We’re really good at getting teens the information they need when we’re on campus, but now we need to be better at meeting them where they’re at.”
Kaiser Permanente External & Community Affairs Communications Manager Denice Alexander worked to bring KPET together with Youth Radio, a long-time Kaiser Permanente grantee and award-winning media production company that trains diverse young people in digital media and technology.
KPET’s Administrative Services Manager Jennifer Oliver said the nonprofit’s help was indispensable.
“Youth Radio provided the knowledge and support to make it happen. Plus, they gave us the space to grow and learn about how to better reach youth,” she said.
Making Accurate Health Information Accessible Online
Because the Teen Health chat took place on Twitter, answers to questions by text had to be 140 characters or fewer, and answers by video had to be 30 seconds or under.
A wide range of topics came up, including questions about binge drinking, LGBTQ issues, consent, sleep, and sleep deprivation. KPET staff triaged the questions, giving questions that come up regularly at school performances to the performer/educators and others to Dr. Deters.
It was Dr. Deters first Twitter chat, but he seemed comfortable with the questions and the format for answering them.
“Having this conversation online makes it more accessible to kids who might not feel comfortable asking a question in person,” he said. “And we know that if one kid has a question, there are usually a lot of other kids who’d like to know the answer, too.”
While the actual number of people who signed in to participate and ask questions during the chat was low, Oliver said the chat received over 6,000 impressions, which are the delivery of tweets to a person’s Twitter stream.
“I think the chat went great,” she said. “It was actually easier than we thought, and we’ll definitely do it again.”
Check out the Teen Health chat on twitter.com/kpetncal, and scroll down to the May 26 tweets.