Love = Time
Sometimes we as youth leaders in our quest to “Save the World’s Youth” may think that having fun and hanging out with youth may seem like a waste of time in the light of all the issues our youth have are dealing with: teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, smoking, poor academic performance, and the like. We forget that unless we spend time with youth, we will never get to really deal with the core issues at stake. We may not understand what our youth might be going through at home or in school. Life is tough nowadays. He or she might be experiencing a tense home situation or a stressful time with studies. It is important to remember that fun, despite the connotation, is not trivial—for youth, having fun and sharing it with an adult carry great weight and a meaning. It is more than a recreational outlet, a chance to “blow off steam, ” or an opportunity to play. Spending time having fun and hanging out is the best and simplest way to express your love and concern for them. And if you don’t spend time with your youth, it won’t matter how many times you tell them you care, they’re not going to believe it—youth spell L-O-V-E as T-I-M-E.
Trust Takes Time
They need to feel that they trust you and feel safe around you and building that kind of trust takes time. One youth leader says it best, “To get kids to where they know that you really care and can be trusted, you just have to spend time with them and do things that they like to do. ” For the analytical among us, studies have shown that youth experience a growing sense of self-worth when an adult not only pays persistent, positive attention to them, but also willingly joins them in activities the youth describe as fun (parents among us, time to take notes). As your youth come to see you as a friend, he or she is likely to be far more receptive to spending some of your time together in activities that are less obviously fun, such as working on school-related assignments or dealing with issues. We encourage you to always, at every opportunity, to weave educational moments into the most “fun” activities. This is the kind of learning that youth tend to enjoy and they often don’t even realize that they are learning! Youth learn best when they aren’t in class. You will remember we said last time that more is caught than taught. For example, working out the amount for a tip together, bowling to teach addition (counting the pins and adding the scores), or talking about issues that come up while watching the news or a movie together.
Things to Do
The particular activities can be almost anything. Here are a few suggestions:
Voice and Choice
Be sure that your youth play a part in deciding what activities you will do together. Giving them a voice and choice about activities will help to build your friendship. Nothing builds a relationship like showing that your youth’s ideas and opinions matter; it shows that you care about and respect them. It’s going to also help your youth develop decision-making and negotiation skills. Youth don’t ever want to feel like they’re forced into doing something (look at how they view most teachers and parents for a clue). When you give them a choice, you come off more as a friend. Also, if you don’t give them the choice, look at it this way, they might go along with it for a while but it’ll get to a point when it’s easier to get a rope through the eye of a needle than getting them to participate.
Although youth want to have freedom of choice, often times, they will agree to anything you suggest simply because (1) they don’t want to impose – they’re used to going along with what other adults tell them to do anyway; (2) decision-making is tough – part of decision making is taking responsibility for that decision and most youth don’t want to deal with that; or (3) it’s not easy to come up with ideas of things to do. (Isn’t leading youth filled with exciting challenges like that? We love it!)
Here’s what you can do: (i) Give them a range of choices; (ii) Brainstorm with your youth a list of activities that they want to do in the future and compile that into a list; (iii) Show them that their enjoyment is important to you – doesn’t hurt to tell them that too; and (iv) Listen and observe – you can pick up much from the conversations with your youth about what they really enjoy doing. This is key.
Key Learning Points:
Joshua has more than 10 years of experience working with youths and currently works for PromiseWorks as their Head of Mentorship and co-created an online resource site, http://www.YouthDevelopmentResources.com . He has a unique perspective from that of a young person who is both a protégé in a mentoring relationship and also responsible for promoting mentoring for PromiseWorks. His primary passion in life is to create awareness about mentoring within Singapore, develop mentorship programs including content development, working with mentors as volunteers, and ensuring that PromiseWorks’s mentoring program remains relevant to youth in Singapore. Realizing he was spending more time searching for or developing effective youth resources than he was spending time with the youth, he and his mentor Ken Sapp co-created Youth Development Resources, http://www.YouthDevelopmentResources.com to cater to this need.