Adolescence, this period in everyone’s life when so much is happening. It is very easy to observe physical changes such as voices and growth spurts but changes also happen socially and mentally. Teens are no longer children and yet not adults. They are seeking for independence. They want to voice their points of view on politics, environment, society.
Teens with hearing loss, like other adolescents, want to be heard, understood and feel accepted and integrated in society. Many of them also have a strong determination to advocate for the hard of hearing community and become role models for other children and teens with hearing loss. They take each opportunity when asked about their hearing aids and cochlear implants to educate people on the topic. Moreover, many of them are proud of having a hearing loss as they say that being hard of hearing made them who they are today.
Giving teens a voice
With the goal to empower these teenagers to become role models to other children and teens with hearing loss and also better understand their wishes and needs, Phonak launched the first Teen Advisory Board in 2018. Eight teens from the US and Canada with different degrees of hearing loss were chosen to be part of the board for two years. In exchange of their valuable input, Phonak provided them with the latest technology and had regular virtual meetings with special guest presenters. They also participated in different internal and external events, representing the Board, talking about their experience growing with hearing loss, discussing their projects with other teens with hearing loss.
I can still remember the meeting when my former manager and Head of Pediatrics, Angela Pelosi, explained the idea of creating a teen advisory board and asking who would like to take the lead. It was one of the wisest decisions of my work life as this project became my true passion. I started with the very first tasks: setting up the selection contest, coordinating the voting and co-organizing the kick-off meeting with the teens and their parents in Chicago area, where Phonak US is headquartered. Throughout these past two years I also had regular exchanges with the teens individually, oversaw their content creation (social media posts, blog posts, videos) and managed projects they were put in charge of. The support of my colleagues from Phonak US, Phonak Canada and our Hearing Like Me editor-in-chief were a great asset and support for the project.
Over the past two years, I have witnessed a number of benefits of establishing an online community for teens. Here are some of them:
- Providing teens with an additional platform to exchange information regarding technology
We know that as technology natives, teens search online to find out about the latest products, newest remote microphones in the market, etc. It was not surprising that once our TAB advisors were selected and had online presence, they immediately got queries from other teens and adults on their hearing technology. As experienced users, their peer-to-peer advice on hearing aids and Roger technology was highly appreciated and trusted. We got many stories of teenagers and even adults who purchased Marvel hearing aids after watching testimonial videos from one of our teens who is a musician (in the video he explained how the Marvel sound was so much better than any hearing aid he used before) or teens who purchased a Roger microphone after reading testimonials from TAB advisors on how it helps them hear better in noisy situations. They became relatable experts on hearing technology and online counselors for other teens.
- Enhancing interaction with the community
We noticed from the beginning that the online content created by our Phonak Teen Advisors was very well received. Teens and hearing care professionals from around the world are now following the hashtag #phonakteens on social media. Followers enjoy watching videos we produce on how these teens with very different personalities and hobbies live their daily lives, and how each of them are pursuing their passions. Giving them the virtual space to talk about everyday life has also provided the opportunity to generate many more interactions, even in their own private channels.
- Generating teen-relevant documents in the words of a teen
One of our primary aims was to offer resources specifically created for teens (by teens!) that are easy to find, useful in their daily lives and written in teen language. These resources are now available on our new teen dedicated webpage. Here, teens, parents and hearing care professionals can find a variety of tools, including: what academic accommodations, resources and scholarships are available for teens with hearing loss; what questions teens can ask their audiologist; as well as guidance on understanding their audiogram and explaining their hearing loss to others.
- Increasing engagement during COVID
When Covid-19 became a world problem, reducing teen isolation with online communities for teens with hearing loss became even more important. Online platforms also allowed teens to exchange information and experiences when classes first went online. For example, they shared how microphone technology such as Roger™ made it possible to stream online classes and discussions directly into their hearing aids so they could fully participate. For many teens, this online community has been invaluable to their well-being and academic success during the pandemic.
How you can make a difference for your teens
You as a hearing care professional can also play an important role and create a change in the lives of teenagers with hearing loss. If you see teens in your clinic, share these new teen resources with them. They are accessible to everyone and will help them in so many areas. Inform these teens of the Phonak Teen Advisors and advise them to search for blogs written by them on HearingLikeMe.com or watch their videos in our YouTube channels.
Look for ways to connect with and support them also remotely. They enjoy making use of digital technologies. Ultimately, let them speak out, address their concerns on their hearing loss and do share your learnings that will empower them throughout their hearing journey. You will surely play an important role in their lives.
If you would like to learn more about the Phonak Teen Advisory Board, I invite you to the Phonak Teens webpage.