Relationships: The Pathway to Thriving

Posted: November 10, 2011 in Monday Morning Message
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Suspended again, and now facing expulsion, Chris (not his real name) was disappointed and frustrated with himself.   In addition, Chris’s mom, a single mother was at her wits end and questioning her ability as a parent.  Chris’ story is not all that uncommon, a 13 year old boy who is desperately trying to fit in and has a lot of unexpressed pain in his life makes poor choices to fit in and deal with the pain.  I knew right away that Chris’ chances of thriving as a youth and successfully transitioning into adulthood were going to be greatly influenced by the quality of his relationships with others.

Research tells us that the presence of supportive and caring adults in a young person’s life is the leading indicator of his/her future success.  Building these types of relationships with the youth we serve and encouraging positive relationships among young people is critical to the success of our youth development programs.

As youth workers, we must take the time to develop one-on-one relationships with our young people.  By treating them as individuals with their own unique set of needs and experiences, we establish ourselves as a source of information and support.  When we provide opportunities for sharing that are based on trust, honesty and mutual respect, a young person will feel confident processing challenging experiences with us.

We also have the responsibility to engage young people in positive experiences that build healthy relationships among their peers.  We must structure the environment in such a way that allows for empathetic listening and effective communication.  As a result, young people will feel connected to their community of peers and be more involved in the program.

What does that mean for us in 4-H?  It means that relationships are a critical piece to helping young people thrive.   Whether you are a club leader, project leader, staff person or another caring adult, creating opportunities to build healthy relationships   between adults and youth and   peer-to-peer, are crucial to the development of an environment of positive youth development.

I would be pleased to say that since I have been involved in Chris’ life that things have gotten tons better for him—they haven’t.  Chris has had some great opportunities to connect with other caring peers through the Sacramento Youth Leadership Project and we have been able to spend some time together, but he is still making poor choices.  This leads me to my final comment:  Relationships take time and change doesn’t happen overnight!  I believe in the research and I am committed to Chris, he has a mother who loves him and he now has a great group of peers who care deeply about him.  I am confident that he is on the pathway to thriving.

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