Setting Goals for Youth

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Keep On Goal-ing

Where do you see this relationship with your youth going? What do you expect will change for your youth as a result of his or her relationship with you? How will life be different? How will it feel different? What are the positive things that came out of you and your youth meeting together? All this relationship building stuff is great but where is it all going?

The Chinese bamboo

Strong relationships with youth do lead to positive changes in their lives. These changes tend to occur indirectly, as a result of the close and trusting relationship, and they often occur slowly. Very slowly. It’s sort of like the story of the Chinese bamboo. You plant it in the ground, you water it, give it good fertilizer, give it just the right amount of sunlight and after one year you see… nothing. The second year, you water it again, give it even better nutrients, and still you see… nothing. The third and fourth years, you nurture it still, you even talk to it and you shower it with tender loving care and you see… that’s right you guessed it, nothing. In the fifth year, however, it springs up and the growth is phenomenal. In fact, it’s a challenge to even manage the exponential growth! The thing you don’t see in the first few years of the life of the bamboo is that it’s building an extensive root system that will support it once it springs up. That’s why bamboo can grow so strong, so high, and so fast without falling over its own weight.

Don’t expect to transform the life of your youth after six months or a year of meetings; you are going to be frustrated and sorely disappointed. Just because you don’t see any apparent change, it doesn’t mean nothing’s happening. Like caring for the Chinese bamboo, don’t give up. Yes, we know it’s tough to keep on going when you’re pouring so much time and energy into developing youth with no apparent results which is why we encourage you to set some goals or markers for your youth relationship.

Setting Goals

The very first goal you set during the first months of meetings with your youth should be to develop a consistent, trusting, and mutually satisfying relationship. If that seems a little broad to you, maybe a goal like your youth takes the initiative to call you could be another. You know, something along those lines that are relationship focused rather than results focused. You are unlikely to be able to achieve this trust if you approach the relationship with narrow, specific markers aimed at changing your youth’s behavior. We’re not saying you can’t set goals like wanting the youth to attend school more regularly and earn better grades or for him or her to improve classroom behavior or get along better with peers. However, these should not be your primary goals. If they are – and if you spend all your time together trying to direct your youth toward these goals – you will just seem like another parent or teacher.

Make your goals more general and sit down together with your youth to think about them. The goals you set should emphasize friendship over performance. Let me again emphasize the importance of the friendship. The friendship is central, and it is eventually likely to allow you to have some influence on your youth’s behavior and performance outside of the relationship. As your relationship becomes stronger and more established, your youth may begin to approach you with requests for more direct advice or help. If and when your relationship reaches this stage, be sure to maintain a balance between attempts to influence the youth’s behavior and your more primary goal of being a supportive presence. Remember to keep the focus on your friendship.

You will find that you derive a sense of meaningful accomplishment from the relationship itself, from the growing closeness and trust. When you feel a little lost as to where your relationship is going and what you’re accomplishing, go back to the markers you’ve crossed and those you’ve yet to meet and let them be the little signposts in your journey of making a difference.

Key Learning Points:

· Set some goals or markers for your relationship.

· Goals you set should emphasize friendship over performance.

· Keep the focus on your friendship.

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