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What does it mean to make a difference?

By Karyn Santl

Like me, you probably decided back in college that you wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people. I've been fortunate to work in the field of nonformal education for the past 20-plus years (and have three daughters), so I've thought a lot about this mission. And the way to make a difference in the lives of youth is pretty well defined.

Search Institute and others have shown that the number and intensity of high-quality relationships in young people’s lives is linked to a broad range of positive outcomes, including increased student engagement, improved academic motivation, better grades, higher aspirations for the future, civic engagement, more frequent participation in college-preparatory classes and activities and a variety of other individual outcomes.  Among Search Institute’s developmental assets for youth is receiving support from three or more non-parental adults.

Search Institute’s Developmental Relationships Framework describes the elements and actions of a positive relationship with a young person.  They are:
  • Express care – Show me that I matter to you
  • Challenge growth – Push me to keep getting better
  • Provide support – Help me complete tasks and achieve goals
  • Share power – Treat me with respect and give me a say
  • Expand possibilities – Connect me with people and places that broaden my world

Think about your relationships with young people: do you provide all of these elements?  Are there elements you would like to work on?  Based on the research that Search Institute has done thus far on this framework, they say that young people are least likely to experience sharing power and expanding possibilities.  Those would be the two I need to be more intentional to include in my relationships with youth.

I can remember several adults who provided caring support when I was growing up. Bernice and Jackie are caring adults from my childhood (and adulthood) who I know cared about me, challenged me in my interests and provided support.

Do you do this? With these elements and actions defined, which of them do you want to improve in your relationships with youth?  Who are your Bernices and Jackies?

-- Karyn Santl, Extension educator

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  1. Hi Karyn -

    Thanks for this post on developmental relationships. I find it to be a thought-provoking framework because it includes all relationships in a young person's life (including the relationships they have with peers).

    What are some things that you do to help youth cultivate healthy relationships?

    - jennifer skuza

  2. In thinking about your question I refer to social emotional learning skills. Helping youth get along with others by controlling emotions, learning to listen and having empathy. As adults we can role model these positive relationship skills.


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