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How Well Do You Know the Young People around You?

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How Well Do You Know the Young People around You?

Do you know someone who could use a rock? The story goes: “A fifteen-year old girl has a nasty fight with her mother, slams the door shut, and cries herself to sleep. She wakes up in the morning to discover a small package outside her bedroom door.

It’s a rock wrapped in a piece of paper on which 20 words were written. It took less than a minute to read, but she’ll have a lifetime to bask in its meaning. The note read: ‘This rock is 30 million years old. That’s how long it will be before I ever give up on you.’”

This story is just one example of how a simple action can have a positive impact in the life of a child. Studies in the fields of youth development and resiliency repeatedly point out how the presence of caring adults is the single most important factor that can make a difference in the life of a young person.

But research also continues to show that most young people state that they don’t have enough caring adults in their lives. While the research is compelling, that voice inside your head may be asking, what’s in it for me? You may be thinking that you don’t have time for “one more thing” -- or that you are not a professional youth worker so how are you supposed to engage with youth?

But think about this. We are talking about our future employees, teachers, politicians and parents. We have the power now to influence their lives and build healthier communities for everyone. And the great part is that it doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated.

Intrigued, but not sure you can really make a difference? Take a minute and think back to people who supported and nurtured you in the past: Maybe it was a teacher who believed in your abilities; maybe it was a neighbor who invited you over for cocoa; maybe it was a coach or music instructor who encouraged you to keep practicing; or maybe it was a babysitter who took the time to play with you.

While these actions all may seem small, you still remember them and what they mean to you. You can create that same kind of impact with a young person today. By simply taking an interest or saying hello you can make a difference and help a young person succeed. Talk to the adults you know and ask them about getting involved with their children.

Start slow, introduce yourself, and offer your friendship. Begin to discover the uniqueness of the young people around you, and know that you are playing a role in making your community a better place for everyone. Here’s a list of ten simple ideas that can connect you with a young person:

1. Introduce Yourself
2. Go to His Play
3. Share Your Favorite Music
4. Be the First to Smile.
5. Lend Your Favorite Book and Borrow Hers
6. Send a Card
7. Tell Him What Makes Life Meaningful to You
8. Listen
9. Go to the Polls Together
10. Meet their Friends.

Want to know more about this concept of connecting with young people? Take a look at the new book “Tag, You’re It! 50 Easy Ways to Connect with Young People,” published by Search Institute and written by Kathleen Kimball-Baker, mother of three teenagers and the institute’s director of publishing.

Offering simple yet inspirational ways for how adults can get more involved with young people, “Tag, You’re It!” addresses head on what research shows young people need most. The practical tips resonate as common sense once you’ve begun reading the book and the ideas unfold. According to a review in ForeWord Magazine, a monthly for independent booksellers, the “author’s breezy yet authoritative style makes the book not only easy to read, but enjoyable.

Each chapter is short and concise, and they don’t have to be read in order, making this an ideal book for time-pressed but concerned adults.” Getting more involved with young people can be as simple as walking down the street and looking and smiling at a young person instead of turning away.

There’s a lot of power in a smile: you can open doors that can lead to positive relationships with youth for many years to come. It’s about relationships, it’s about friendship. According to the author, “just be a friend, that’s all, and that’s plenty.”

Search Institute is an independent, nonprofit, nonsectarian organization whose mission is to provide leadership, knowledge, and resources to promote healthy children, youth, and communities. Books are available for purchase for $7.95 at www.search-institute.org or check with your local bookseller.

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