Informal social support networks with non-related adults are important resources for young people working through the good times and the difficulties of life. Positive connections to adult volunteers, staff and mentors result in positive outcomes for youth. But how can we measure this? I have suggestions for how to measure strong connections between youth and the caring adults in their lives, based on the benefits of positive youth-adult connections:
Similar to our expectations for friends we expect adults that care about youth to be interested in them beyond the formal connection they have through the youth program. So for example if a girl is connected to an adult because that adult is her soccer coach, that coach must be interested in the details of her life beyond soccer. The coach must be interested in the girl on a personal level, her life, family, or school work. Checking in on a young person’s day engaging in informal conversations is an important part of building a connection.
What you might measure: Can youth talk with an adult about their lives? Do youth workers talk about things other than the program, things that relate to young people’s lives?
When youth believe they are accomplishing their goals, they build self-confidence and are more willing to work toward further goals. Young people who help others are more likely to meet their own goals and build strong bonds.
What you might measure: Do youth have an opportunity to build, improve or develop skills? Do adults help them to build, improve or develop your skills?
3. They respect and encourage a young person’s point of view
Adults who are truly interested in what young people think easily connect with youth. Actively listening and considering a young person’s point of view is critical to developing the respect needed for an authentic connection.
What you might measure: “Adults respect what I have to say. Adults encourage me to voice what I think.”
4. Adults listen to and “try on” the youth perspective
Young people need to feel like their perspective is valued and that adults are willing to consider or “try on” their perspective. Youth should have a sense a voice in the relationship and feel that the adult is willing to try out their suggestions.
What you might measure: Are youth workers basing their choices on what the young person wants? How often are they based on what the adult wants?
5. They have durable and trustworthy relationships
Mentoring research has consistently shown that frequency that mentors meet with their mentees is not nearly as important as the durability of that mentorship relationship. A connection that youth can count on and trust to be there for the long-term is vital to ensuring that youth experience positive outcomes from that relationship.
What you might measure: Document the timeline of a young person’s connection to a caring adult.
What challenges have you faced in trying to measure youth-adult connections? What are the key components of your program’s relationship building between young people and adults?
-- Betsy Olson, Extension educator