“How involved are you in the lives of young people?” This question came up as part of a recent dinner conversation. Those of us with grown children tended to say we were when our children were at home, but not so much since then. We talked about children who were friends with our kids and if we influenced them in a positive way. I was reminded of Callie, a beautifully spirited young girl whose home life was chaotic. I remember sharing with her our house rules along with the news that when she was at our home, she became part of the group expected to follow the rules. She seemed pleased to be a part of it and was willing to follow the rules. I remember being struck by her reaction – she liked having some structure in which to operate.
But what about “since then”? All of us have ongoing opportunities to be positive influences and there is good reason to do so. The Search Institute has lots of research on the building blocks for healthy development of children and youth. They have arrived at 40 Developmental Assets that help children become productive, healthy adults. (Go to www.search-institute.org for more details.)
1. Start in your own neighborhood
I’m asking myself these questions about young people in my neighborhood: Do I know them? Do I acknowledge their existence? Do I ask them to help me with a task or ask how they are doing in school? If young people know that neighbors take an interest in them, they feel supported.
2. Let them know you are watching
Another point is whether I monitor their actions. Do I let them know if I see them doing something I don’t approve of? My boundaries can range from riding bikes through my yard to littering or hitting another person. If young people know that their neighbors are not only watching their behavior, but care about their well-being, they have a clearer sense of boundaries and expectations.
3. Be a worthy role model
Similarly, we all need to set good examples for children. If I imagine a young person watching me, would I be proud of my conduct? Our actions tell our truth and in my experience, young people can quickly catch the inconsistency or insincerity in the adult world.
It takes a group effort to develop responsible young people. Parents, teachers, relatives, neighbors, etc. all make a huge difference – good or bad. We need to pay attention to how our actions and words influence children and strive to be responsible adults ourselves.
And don’t forget to smile and say hello to the young people walking up your street – it just might make your day as well as theirs.