Relationships that make a difference
Because building relationships is fundamental in working with young people, John Allan scans the web to help you reflect on the subject.
A long-term relationship with a caring adult can change a young person’s life.’ That was the conclusion of a famous American government report in 1988. Friendships really matter to teenagers as nothing else does: they’re in the middle of trying to work out who they really are, and as part of that they become super-sensitive to how they’re treated and valued by others.
No wonder so much of youth work is about building relationships, healing them, challenging and extending them. In fact, you could say that one gigantically important measure of the youth work you do is the kind of relationships you nurture.
So have you done much thinking about the subject recently? I imagine most of us spend so much time doing the job that we don’t have a lot of time to reflect on it. But sometimes it’s good to look at the insights of others and ask: how does my practice match up?
For example, on the Web you’ll find all sorts of stimulating and provoking ideas. The Freechild Project is dedicated to developing the leadership of young people, and on their website there are stacks of articles analysing how adults patronise kids, and what they should do instead. John Bell’s Understanding Adultism is a good place to start.
The American National Collaboration for Youth has put together a training manual for ‘Developing Positive Relationships with Youth’: topics include ‘Clicking with Youth’, ‘Active Listening’, ‘Defining Relationships’, ‘Promoting Positive Peer Relationships’. Some useful ideas here for training games and exercises with your team.
A lot of good thinking comes from America, so it’s no surprise to see the University of Minnesota
producing materials on Eight Keys to Quality Youth Development – one of which is ‘Youth Develop Quality Relationships with Peers and Adults’. Some of it’s a bit obvious and even cheesy, but you’re brought up short every so often by a searching question, a telling quotation, or an unexpected nugget of wisdom. Well worth a skim.
WikiHow is an interactive, editable how-to manual on everything under the sun, written and corrected by thousands of volunteers. Its ‘Youth’ section is written exclusively by young people themselves; so it’s an absorbing trip into what teenagers themselves make of the key relationships in their lives. There’s an article on everything: from ‘Being popular at a British school’ to ‘Being tough yet feminine’ to ‘Dealing with conflict with parents’. Great group discussion starters, too, if you read some of it out to your own kids.
Suite101 is ‘the world’s most comprehensive online magazine’, with over 230,000 monthly articles. Not surprisingly, there’s a section on parents and teenagers too, which contains brief but thought-provoking stabs at topics as varied as cyberbullying, wisdom teeth removal, discipline, and what Goths are really about. Each article won’t take you long, but the whole thing might: the links from article to article keep you clicking around for quite a while. And it’s time well spent. The more reflective wisdom you accumulate, the more likely you are to become the caring adult that changes a young person’s life.