Safety: The Foundation of Positive Youth Development

Posted: October 7, 2011 in Monday Morning Message


They called him “Raver Dave”. He was a 15 year old guy who hung out under the Douglas Fudge Pavillion in Wildwood, New Jersey. I met him when our youth group started doing our summer programming right around where he hung out. Dave had gotten his nickname from spinning records around town and he was quite good. He, like many kids was basically a good guy who just didn’t have a lot of support around him and made some very poor choices. Unfortunately most people never took advantage of the privilege of getting to know Dave, they wrote him off based on his behavior or his appearance.

Dave showed up at one of our events for the first time because he was invited by a friend of his who was a part of our program but Dave kept coming back because he found a safe place where he could be loved and accepted for who he was and not what others thought he should be.

Foundational to everything that we do in working with youth is the necessity to provide an environment of safety for our young people. Usually when we think of safety, we think of the physical environment surrounding our youth programs (Safe building, fire extinguishers, etc.), these things are indeed important but if we are to promote a sense of safety in our programs, serving youth must also include providing an environment for them to be emotionally safe as well.

“The experience of emotional safety means that young people feel secure that they will be valued and accepted by the group; that they can participate fully without fear of teasing, harassment or ostracism; that racial and cultural differences between individuals are embraced. Individual differences, such as body type or differences in ability or interests are also accepted and young people know that they will be treated with respect. In an environment that promotes emotional safety, young people feel safe to try and sometimes fail because positive risk-taking is supported and ‘mistakes’ are OK.”[i]

Creating an environment of emotional and physical safety for our young people is foundational in our overall ability to provide a positive youth development experience. If we do not have safe environments, we will not be successful in coming alongside our young people.

[i] Youth Development Guide, Community Network for Youth Development, San Francisco 2001


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