May 31, 2018

5 tips for empowering youth this summer and beyond

Every adult can be an ‘anchor’ in a kid’s life, ultimately making a difference. Use the five tips outlined here to better connect with young people in your household, neighborhood, or elsewhere.

Adults should invite young people to get involved in their communities. Organizations like Brightways Learning in Missoula, Montana, encourage these connections. Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for We Day

Summertime means you’ll likely have more contact time with children and teens. Make the most of it by connecting with and empowering kids.

Brightways Learning, an educational nonprofit organization, helps young people reach their potential and achieve their dreams. Specifically, their Kaleidoscope Connect program’s multifaceted approach amplifies positive mindsets and resiliency.

Kaleidoscope Connect includes PHlight Club events, which bring together youth and adults for highly experiential activities to build social and emotional skills. These activities include practicing mutual relationship-building between a youth and a caring adult, who we call an “anchor,” which creates a “web of support” for the youth. Research shows that youth with strong webs of support are less likely to engage in negative behaviors (drugs/alcohol, bullying, suicidal ideation) while increasing the chances for academic, social, emotional, and behavioral success.

Building a web of support made a huge difference for Natalee from Minnesota. Growing up, Natalee was bitter about her parents’ divorce and her father’s drinking. She was getting into trouble and at risk of dropping out of high school. Freshman year, her school counselor recommended she attend a Kaleidoscope Connect training activity. She later attended her first PHlight Club. “These were life-changing events, and I learned strategies that I still use to this day,” Natalee says. “If I had one wish, it would be that every kid could learn about the web of support so they could feel like they belong.” By 11th grade, the Minnesota legislature chose Natalee to co-chair the Education Committee for their Youth Council. She then graduated and went on to college.

A continent away lives Gerald, from a small, remote Alaskan village. Gerald’s shyness and lack of self-confidence were holding him back from reaching his potential. His first PHlight Club was a major turning point, because he began to understand how to build his web of support.

By the end of the third day [at PHlight Club] I saw myself and the world around me differently. I felt optimistic and resilient. From deep inside of me, I could feel a leader emerging.

“By the end of the third day [at PHlight Club]” Gerald says, “I saw myself and the world around me differently. I felt optimistic and resilient. From deep inside of me, I could feel a leader emerging.” Eight years later, Gerald is a confident community leader with numerous leadership awards. He now co-leads PHlight Clubs to help other timid kids blossom.

Every adult can be an anchor and make a difference. You don’t have to attend a PHlight Club to get started—use the five following tips to better connect with young people in your household, neighborhood, or elsewhere:

  1. Amplify what’s right with youth. Too often, black-and-white labels focus on a kid’s weaknesses—lazy, disrespectful, messy, inattentive, etc. Instead, practice looking for their strengths; see them through a more positive “full color” lens. Are they artistic? Strong readers? Empathetic toward others? Have quick reflexes? When you see strengths, point them out—verbally or written in whatever form is meaningful to the youth. Amplifying those strengths and talents will also build self-esteem and self-worth along the way.
  2. Let youth know you will never give up on them. It’s powerful for youth to know that adults believe in them and are there for them unconditionally. Let youth know you will always be supportive of them, even when they are acting out.
  3. Be present to deepen connections. Learn about their interests and spend quality time with them. Show you truly enjoy their company and value them as people. Small acts—such as inviting them to work together on a project you both enjoy or shutting off your cell phone during a meal together—can go a long way toward helping kids feel loved and supported.
  4. Involve youth. If there are no young people on your committee, in your work environment, in your meeting, or in your midst, change that. Share your talents with them—and let them share theirs. Introduce yourself to the youth in your neighborhood, school, faith community, and youth-serving organization. Invite them in and create an environment where they want to stay.
  5. Help others see youth through a strength-based lens. Sometimes we don’t realize how focusing on weaknesses can undercut growth in youth. That’s why it’s important to encourage and support your co-workers, friends, and family members to focus on each youth’s strengths. Show other adults how easy it is to make changes in the community by “anchoring” youth.

Get the most out of summer by making a real difference. Be part of helping kids build strong webs of support, and your impact will last a lifetime.

Lisa Kerscher and Tina Hamilton

Lisa Kerscher is the education director at Brightways Learning and Tina Hamilton is a board member of the Missoula, Montana, nonprofit.