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The key to quality youth development that keeps a kid coming back

By Karen Beranek

Recently families have been questioning the value of youth activities, as seen on the parent blogs and social media sites starting with "Why I don't pay for" and ending with: gymnastics, volleyball, band, basketball. Blogger Shad Martin has a good example with "Why I Don't Pay for Dance Anymore!"

Martin lists many good reasons why parents should involve their children in these learning experiences. But in my opinion, he has missed an important one - program quality.

The University of Minnesota Extension’s Keys to Quality Youth Development  is a great example of the research showing the benefits to a high-quality youth program.

Program quality refers to a set of elements that must be present in order for positive youth development to occur. Aspects of program quality are specific and enumerated. Today, I’ll focus on one – the welcoming environment.  Welcoming youth can be as simple as saying hello to each of them as they walk into the room. It may include a fun icebreaker activity where youth get to know each other. This welcoming time allows youth to feel some of those keys to quality youth development: security, belonging, and acceptance.

A simple hello is important but it’s not enough. For some youth, you’ll need to go a step beyond that. My son’s active wrestling career began five years ago. It has been amazing to watch his growth through the program. Yes, he’s getting better at take downs, staying off his back and putting his opponent on his back. But that’s not why he goes to practice twice a week. He goes because he is building a relationship with a caring adult – his coach. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is! In the first two years, he couldn't say hi to the coach because he was so shy. Coach hadn’t had a wrestler quite like that before, but he knew the importance of a welcoming environment, so he re-thought his approach: he took the time to talk to my son individually and show him how to improve on one specific technique. He asked him if he was coming to the next practice. These simple actions showed my son that coach cared about him, that he belonged to this team, and that he could be himself in the practice room.

I am so thankful the coach recognized my son’s need and took it upon himself to re-evaluate how he works with this young person. Now in year five, my son is willing to ask questions, share stories and work directly with this adult who took the time to create a welcoming environment for him, even if this willingness to speak up was years in the making.

Have you had to change how you welcome youth to meet the need of a particular group or an individual young person?  Do you use the “eight keys” in your work?

-- Karen Beranek, Extension educator

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  1. Hi Karen,

    I love this example! Sometimes it's the easiest things that we miss- like greeting youth- that really make the most difference. What I also love about your story is that it highlights that a quality program doesn't have a "One size fits all" approach. Doing quality work means that you have to be adaptive to the needs of all kids. Would you agree?

    1. Absolutely! We all can name that one youth who runs into the room full of excitement to see what they are going to do today. And we can all name a youth who we really don't know if they even want to be there. Taking the time to think about each youth individually instead of as a group definitely reflects the notion that "one size fits all" isn't a key to quality youth development work.

  2. Very very AWESOME!! Years after watching youth developed isolated from their peers we've since adopted the practice of welcoming every youth into our mentoring program daily.

    Each session begins with "each" participating youth having the opportunity to "tell us about your day" and my what we've learned and accomplished.

    Our kids now come into mentoring sessions primed to talk and listen. I truly believe this simple exercise based on responses we've received in mid-term and year end participation surveys has made a difference.

    1. What a great example of allowing youth the opportunity to build a quality relationship with both adults and peers. The youth voice concepts starts at a very young age and can contribute to the sense of self-worth. With this one part of each session, you are hitting two of the 8 keys. Do you see other keys connecting to this concept of a welcoming environment?

  3. Another important key brought out when youth are welcomed and asked about they're day is diversity and inclusion. By allowing youth the opportunity of self expression, they have the opportunity to share who they are, where they're from and how they're living.


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