Take tangible steps to support youths’ interests, goals, and needs. In addition to following through on your commitments, do your own research to learn more. Help to ensure that basic needs are met through providing or connecting youth to critical services.
Background and Strategies
Centering and responding to youths’ unique interests, goals, and needs is an integral part of Youth Voice. When youth request and receive tailored support from adults, they are able to learn and grow with increased confidence and stability. This process also helps to foster trusting relationships between youth and adults.
Listening is a critical first step in providing support. Oftentimes youth will request specific forms of support, and other times adults may need to make their own suggestions based on information youth themselves share. Sometimes young people may want to confide in a trusted adult, but they aren’t seeking feedback or follow-up from that adult. It is important to be respectful of a youths’ desires while also using good personal judgment. In a variety of contexts, it may be helpful to ask directly, “Do you want help with this? If so, what kind of support can I offer?”
If support is requested, set an action plan, either together or independently. Research and resource connections may be follow-up steps. Follow through on the plan outlined.
This kind of tailored support can provide a strong foundation for youth leadership. The Heinz Endowments brief describes support, “in the form of relationships and networks that provide nurturing, standards and guidance, as well as opportunities for trying new roles and contributing to family and community (Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing, & Movement Strategy Center, 2012, p.8). Developmental theorist Lev Vygotsky refers to this type of support as the Zone of Proximal Development, in his Sociocultural Theory of Cognitive Development. This is the idea that youth are capable of many tasks, and with the proper support from a more knowledgeable other, can reach the highest of their capabilities (McLeod, 2019). In this way, adults are providing support by transmitting their knowledge and skills as group participants, leaders, and change makers through simply working alongside youth.