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5 ways to measure youth - adult connections

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:

1. They include informal interactions

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?

2. They help youth reach their goals

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

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  1. Thank you so much, Betsy, for offering such concrete ways that we can measure those critical intangibles that make such a difference in young people's lives. This is a very practically useful post!

    1. Thank you Kathryn. I am very grateful for your feedback. I am hoping this is one way to make the intangible a bit more tangible and fit into how we understand they mechanisms within our program that help lead to growth and change for young people.

  2. Besty , Thank you for your insights, this is so very timely, as I am doing a lesson on "caring adults" at our fall leaders training next week. So this will be very nice to incorporate with the lesson. In fact the author of the Essential Elements states "This is without a doubt one of the most important elements in youth programs. It is through relationships with adults that all the other elements are possible" So caring adults/ youth and adult relationship are the foundation to positive outcomes as we interact with young people inside and outside the program.

    1. Hi Janet,
      What a great topic to include in your Fall Leaders Training! The importance of caring adults is a critical and powerful (and as you said, foundational) part of Minnesota 4-H programs. I hope this short list and the resources linked can help give your leaders some tangible examples of the components of their relationships with members that are critical to having an impact. I would love to hear how the training goes and please let me know if there is anyway I can help further with this piece.
      Thank you Janet!


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