Welcome back! I love seeing you at the doorstep of our blog. Come on in, no need to wipe your feet.
This post contains advice for working with young people. I’ve spent a significant amount of time with youth and have grown to recognize patterns from the noise that I want to offer you. Leave a comment at the bottom about which tips you find most helpful or your own advice you want to share with the SCTF community.
Let’s dive right in:
Always bring food. Half the reason people attend our meetings at the Youth House is because there is always lunch or dinner waiting for them as they arrive. For some people this is their only meal of the day, others are so busy they forget to listen to their stomachs. Others simply love eating (many have listed eating as their favorite hobby).
Establish rituals. This is open ended and entirely up to you (or your youth) how it looks. Some examples are:
- Start and end your meetings in a special way
- Offer a unique greeting when you open the door
- Celebrate certain values or accomplishments with special recognition
- Do important activities at the same time each year
- Find a consistent and meaningful location to meet
Be honest. Youth are the greatest lie detectors in the universe and they will never trust you again if they find out you lied to them. Additionally, you shouldn’t hide things to “protect” them. Information is power and part of our purpose is offering empowerment to people who often feel they don’t have any.
Dress somewhat casually. In a workshop on building relationships with law enforcement one youth said to me, “Uniforms are a huge barrier. We see the uniform and not the officer.” Believe it or not, clothing can build barriers. If you show up to a youth meeting dressed in a suit you instantly create a power differential between you and everyone else. Depending on your role this may be valuable, but if you are trying to build connection with kids you should dress comfortably (while still appearing clean and professional).
Be real. It’s hard to explain what being real means. Whenever I ask a kid why they are turned off by someone, it’s almost always “They aren’t being real.” I have asked many youth to explain it and they have a hard time ellaborating as well. In essence:
- Be yourself (while also maintaining professionalism)
- Don’t try and impress people
- Let youth come to you
- Have open body language
- Let down your guard a bit
- Tell youth how nervous you are
- Add a personal touch to your program
Lastly, reassure people. Another quote from one of our youth is, “Kids don’t know that (people) like being involved with youth. We don’t know and are never told that they actually enjoy being around us. Tell us more about their personal lives and why they volunteer to work with us.” In my experience being forward about your desire to work with someone and being frank about why you enjoy working with them earns you major brownie points and credibility.
I hope you found this helpful. Check back in a few weeks for Tips for Working with Teens part 2, where we’ll offer advice for planning/facilitating meetings with youth. I appreciate you sticking with us! Again, feel free to interact with this post by leaving a comment.
Sending my best,
Christopher Belisle at SCTF