Stop! Take a moment to think back to your childhood. Can you name three or more adults (besides your parents) that you could go to for advice and support? Maybe it was a grandparent, a club leader, a neighbor, an aunt/uncle, a coach, a friend’s parents, a bus driver, someone in your congregation, or a teacher. What was it about those individuals that made you turn to them for advice, comfort and understanding? Perhaps they were trustworthy, listened to your stories, took an interest in what interested you, included you in conversations, laughed at your jokes, or helped you take a stand, then stood with you. Whatever it was that fostered that relationship, I am sure you can see the importance of their influence in your life.
As adults it is your turn to honor those special people who touched your heart and transformed your life by sharing the gift they gave you so many years ago. The beauty of this gift is it costs nothing, takes very little time or effort and yields truly amazing results. In recent years, Duke University compiled information regarding youth-adult relationships. Three interesting finding arose from their research. First, supportive relationships with non-parental adults create a protective barrier against risk behaviors such as alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drug use. Second, the longer the relationships lasts the more influential the adults seem to be in a young person’s life. Lastly, youth benefit from more than one caring adult.
According to Search Institute, the importance of Other Adult Relationships, Asset # 3 of the 40 Developmental Assets, cannot be overstated. This type of intergenerational, non-parental relationship was once natural in communities. Neighbors shared meals together, grandparents sat on porch swings and told stories of their lives, and friends sipped lemonade in their back yards while their children ran barefoot through a garden sprinkler. Today our lives seem to be on fast forward, times with family and friends never seem long enough, the connections we once knew are hurried and weak. If we are going to create the kind of connected and sustainable relationships all youth need to succeed we must become intentional in our efforts. Intentionally create an atmosphere where elders are allowed to become teachers, guides and mentors, learn the names of youth in your community, hire a young person to work for you, share your talents, send a card…most importantly be there as a rock in good times and bad.
The intentionality I speak of is clearly shown in a public service announcement that aired in Kansas. It is the story of a young boy who waited at the school bus stop in front of an elderly women’s house. Everyday, she stood at the front window of her home and watched as he got on the bus. She waved and smiled but the two never spoke. Somehow in their silent exchanges the boy felt safe knowing she was watching. The women and boy never had the chance to meet, but to this day, he can’t pass that house without thinking about the powerful, quiet influence that woman had in his life.
Have you looked out your window lately? Who is beyond the curtain hoping for the same security that little boy felt?
“Want to know more about the 40 Developmental Assets and ideas for helping young people build them? Visit www.search-institute.org/assets.
This article was written by Allison Heidorn, ASAP Coalition Project Assistant.
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