There is a fine line between meeting a youth where they are at, accommodating their emotional and behavioral needs and challenging them to meet expectations. I’ve made mistakes of pushing too many expectations and not giving support, and the opposite of not challenging youth to strive for greater success than they could imagine.
This past week we had a youth retreat. Some of the youth needed to take frequent breaks during one of the sessions. The trouble wasn’t the breaks themselves, but during their breaks they would distract other youth and became disruptive. I needed to get these youth on board. Over time I have learned that having empathy towards youth, creating a challenge together for them to meet, supporting them in the endeavor and following up with youth is important.
Understanding, and genuinely caring, about where our youth come from, the problems they are going through and understanding where they are developmentally is important when working with youth. Norms and expectations that might fit a general age group may not fit for youth who other concerns, whether it be mental health concerns, immaturity or are simply “going through some stuff.” Building a positive relationship with these youth for who they are, understanding their story and showing up for them allows you an opportunity to go into the next phase.
I am consistently amazed at how youth step up to meet challenges. When working with youth that may not be engaging with a program or becoming disruptive give them a challenge. Maybe it is a role to play in the bigger picture, a job to help supervise or even have them create something to get other youth to come along with them. Challenge them in their ability to lead other youth, lead an activity or process their own situations. Trust them to come through for you, they will.
Support a youth in the process. Ask how you can help and what they might need. Don’t hover over them, that isn’t trust. Just give them a reminder that you’re there, ask them how they came to a solution or why they made a certain decision and help them to process it all with them. Equip them with enough resources and skills to help them succeed. Then, simply cheer them on as they meet a challenge.
Follow up is crucial. Plan a time to talk about the entire situation, ask good questions of youth and their perspective, hear them out, talk about expectations and how praise them for how they were able to meet a challenge. Ask them what you, as the leader, could’ve done differently to help them best. The follow up helps bring closure, awareness and allows you to continue to speak into their lives.
Working with youth is always tricky. There is a need for meeting real world expectations and helping youth to figure out how to get there themselves. Explaining to youth the why of a situation, what your thought process is and giving them a say helps them to mature and learn skills along the way.