There are running themes as it relates to what our youth need in order to thrive. In every sense of the word, being a teenager and young adult can be…hard. There is negative peer pressure, positive peer pressure, visible physical changes, not so visible changes, wanted and unwanted attention, changing features, strict parents, flexible parents…you get the drift. In addition to this transitory physical, mental, social, and emotional period, our youth are tasked with figuring out who they are, what they want, and what it will take for them to get there. Though a whirlwind time period to be in, our youth have the capacity to navigate this period of their lives successfully, with the tools used in positive youth development.
How often have we heard a rebellious or as some may say, a wayward, “wutless,” “druggy,” street/block, promiscuous, etc. youth say that their parent(s) supported them too much, showed up to support their extra-curricular/club activities too much, affirmed them too much, positively reinforced their behavior and performance too much, cared and loved them too much…we’d be hard pressed to find one that got all of the above and more and was not successful in their own rite.
Having worked in education for over 10 years now, through the lens of youth development, I can unreservedly say that youth development, as a theory and as a practice, works. There are a number of things I know to be true as it relates to the “teacher’s pet” youth, the “gang-affiliated” youth, the youth that is “going with the flow,” the “indifferent” youth, the “rebellious” youth, the “teenage pregnancy or fatherhood” youth, the “anti-social” youth, the “nerdy youth, and every youth in between. For a youth to really thrive, they NEED us as parents, aunties, uncles, etc. to do, at minimum, the following:
- Validation- recognize, affirm, acknowledge, and CELEBRATE them, especially when they are doing what’s right. If you do so, and focus on what they’re doing right, as opposed to the opposite (harping on what they aren’t doing), overtime I guarantee you’ll see more of the behavior that is emphasized, affirmed, and recognized. Positive affirmation, in moderation, works.
- A sense of belonging- our youth HAVE to know that you accept them as they are, that you care about and are concerned about them and their well-being, not only through your actions…you have to say it AND show it through your words- what you say and how you say it matters. Our youth NEED (though some of them may not admit it) to feel like they belong. They need to feel like they won’t go unnoticed. They need to feel like they belong as much as they need food, clothing, and shelter- yes, it is one of their basic needs. If you don’t show them that they belong through your actions and words, they WILL seek out that sense of belonging elsewhere (men, women, gangs, the street, drugs, etc).
- Safety and structure- it does not equate to being super-strict. Instead, it comes with clear expectations, boundaries (and sharing why- “bc I said so” does not suffice)…with a bit of freedom and flexibility to boot (More about the “freedom” part and how you can leverage it as a parent is forthcoming…swing by our page to learn more about what giving our youth a bit of freedom entails and why it is necessary, to ensure positive youth development. Hint- choice and voice…)
Any other areas you would suggest/highlight?