Building Strong Relationships With Youth


The Most Important Thing

No matter what your youth program is doing, how you’re engaging youth or what your youth development model and plan are, there is one thing that will make or break your program. If you want to make a difference in the lives of youth, it all starts from the foundation of a strong friendship. This is key. Youth don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Youth don’t care about your qualifications, how snazzy your dressing is, how knowledgeable you are about the issues they’re facing, how funny your jokes are, how interesting your third nipple is (well maybe). The fact is, even if you think you’re the most uncool, lame, boring youth worker, if you have a heart for youth and genuinely care for them, that’s going to outshine everything else you’re doing in your program. Remember that youth are people and if you really want to impact them, you have to focus on people above programs. Don’t ever forget: youth don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Starting your youth program from that foundation will revolutionize the way you think, the way you talk to and the way you work with youth.

More is Caught than Taught

Many people who work with youth make the mistake of starting out the relationship with their youth with the motive of wanting them to change for the better. Sadly, what happens is they end up feeling guilty or less worthy and inevitably, the relationship breaks down. Rather, start the relationship with your youth out with the motive of wanting to be a supportive friend, giving them room to grow and develop. Let your own life and values speak louder than your words. Don’t preach or enforce your value system onto the youth, rather, be a role model and lead by example. Then you’ll start to see real change and have a lasting impact in their lives. More is caught than taught.

You may ask, “Josh, then what do we DO? There’s got to be some curriculum or lesson plan or some tools we can use to build character.” Youth will grow depending on their environment. It’s like putting fertilizer in a plant in a musty apartment with hardly any sunlight and using the best fertilizer as opposed to placing it in good sunlight ample ventilation with no fertilizer. Your curriculum is like the fertilizer. Granted, you may have the best curriculum or tool kit in the world, but without the relationship and the love, it’s unlikely you’ll expect growth. On the flip side, if you have a great relationship with your youth, given time, there’s no question you’ll see growth. Sure, curriculums and tools and great lessons can help the growth but they don’t mean squat without the relationship. Key learning point: more is caught than taught.

Spending Time

So how do you show that you love and care for this younger person you hope to impact? There’s got to be something practical and concrete you can do. Simply put, youth spell L-O-V-E as T-I-M-E. The time you take, the special moments you share, all that hanging out with them speaks volumes. They are not looking for another parent or another teacher, they’re looking for friends, someone they can talk to, someone they can trust, someone to just be there. We will continue this series with our next step to Building a Strong Relationship With Youth with some simple things you can do with youth.

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