This is a timely editorial, and one that reminds us nurses will play a vital role in child and adolescent health in the future. This is clearly a growing element of nursing, as practice encompasses preventative and health promotion work with this, often vulnerable, group. Cross (2009) highlights well the myriad social and psychological issues affecting the health of young people and also covers the range of problems nurses will encounter. However, I was surprised at the absence of sexual and reproductive health in this editorial and feel that this issue warrants addition to the picture presented by Cross of the challenges facing nurses working with young people and their families.
Sexual health problems are growing in young people around the world. Teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections are rising globally (Kirby et al. 2007), and sexual relationship difficulties often contribute to, or are compounded by, substance misuse, eating disorders, body dysmorphia and other mental health problems. The roles nurses can play in addressing these issues are varied and numerous. School nurses can, and often do, make a significant contribution in both educating young people about sex (Hayter & Harrison 2008) and also working in community services targeted at young people (Hayter 2005). Nurses also play a key role in the identification of sexual abuse within families and can also contribute to the management of sexual bullying and harassment in the school or college setting.
The challenge for nurses working in this contentious area are numerous and involve developing the clinical skills and strategies to help young people develop relationships that are healthy and safe within a social setting that so often provides young people with confusing mixed messages about sex. Therefore, in addition to the areas identified by Cross (2009), the future for nurses also requires that practitioners face the challenges of parental, school and social anxieties around providing young people with accurate sexual health information and conducting safe, appropriate and responsible sexual relationships. Nurses must also address and challenge their own attitudes to the emotionally charged issues of sex, sexuality, contraception, abortion and explore innovative ways by which they can intervene successfully to address one of the most significant threats to the health of young people.