Your Questions about Developmental Relationships Answered

Thank you to everyone who attended ParentFurther’s May 15th webinar The Balance of Care and Challenge: Why All Kids Need it, and How All Adults Can Provide It, presented by Search Institute’s Senior Fellow Dr. Peter Scales. If you were unable to attend the live webinar, the full video archive is available below.

There were too many great questions asked by webinar participants to answer all of them during the live broadcast, so here are Dr. Scales’ responses to some of the topics that weren’t covered during the webinar.

Q: I assist with a tutoring program. How would you suggest providing care and challenge to students to inspire them to try to achieve higher in school? Also, how can I create developmental relationships in a context where students are required to be there (rather than by choice)?

A: School is probably the best example of a place where students have to be, rather than coming by choice. And yet, creating developmental relationships there or in any “required” setting is not difficult! Whether in traditional school or a tutoring program or any program young people have to be in, try to find out a little more about the young person than what you need to know to teach the subject matter. What are their favorite things to do? What are they passionate about? What are their interests outside of your program? Just asking these kinds of questions lets young people know you care about them as people. As you do activities, or give out assignments or tasks, can you give them a choice among a couple of different activities, assignments, or tasks, each of which will help them learn what you want them to learn? That taps into the “challenge” side of things, by building their skills as well as their sense of responsibility and autonomous decision-making. And research shows that giving kids choices increases both their motivation and their performance. To the extent you can focus on their mastery and growth in your program, and not on grades, that kind of “mastery” oriented climate will also help them increase motivation and effort, even if they have to be there.

Q: I'm a caregiver of young children who would like to share the Search Institute Development Assets—support, care, and challenge—with the parents of the kids I care for. Is there a way to do that without acting as if I know better than they do?

A: If parents are allowing you to care for their children, then they already are placing a great deal of trust in you and in your wisdom and expertise. If you are a certified and accredited childcare provider, then you have already demonstrated certain levels of knowledge about child development and developmentally responsive practice. Parents will expect you to be keeping up with the latest knowledge and will appreciate it if you introduce the building of Developmental Assets as something “we are doing at XYZ Child Care Center, and here is some more information about this great approach that parents can use at home, too.” If you are not an official, licensed child care provider but are providing care more informally as a friend or neighbor, you can say quite casually in your daily report about how the day went with their child (you are doing that, aren’t you?) that you’re going to start referring to how you’re building developmental assets, “which is an approach to child development that I learned about through Search Institute that seems great for all kids.” And then you can say, “Here is their web site that I go to that tells me about assets, the research on them, and how to build them. Just so you know what I’m doing!” If you keep the tone as one of just keeping them up-to-date on the kind of environment you’re creating for their child, and why, they will take it as simply being informed about what you’re doing, and are not likely to react defensively or feel as if you are trying to put them down.

Q: Is there disparity in male versus female success with Developmental Relationships using care and challenge? Any thoughts behind that, if there is?

A: Research on gender and developmental relationships is complex. Sometimes the differences in males’ and females’ experience—and the effects of developmental relationships on them—are quite subtle, because each may interpret somewhat differently what actions are experienced as “caring” or “challenging.” Unfortunately, the research tells us that there does seem to be a disparity overall between girls and boys in their quantity and quality of developmental relationships, with girls having the edge. Girls are reported as having wider social networks with both peers and adults, and more emotionally responsive relationships. Part of the disparity might be that girls develop their own social skills better and earlier than boys do, and so can attract relationships more effectively. Part may be that adults react differently to girls and boys, even in this day and age of greater equality, and end up treating girls with more care and support, if not necessarily more challenge. Both genders lose adult relationships as they get older, but boys’ decline in those relationships is greater. We’ve found that the support 16 to 18-year-old males feel they get for developing their sparks, for example, is lower than any other gender and age combination from age 10-18. Consequently, even a little commitment of supporting their sparks is likely to be noticed by those older boys, and felt as both caring and challenging. Adults may also need to be aware of providing girls more challenge than they do—opportunities to speak out, voice opinions, take leadership roles—and boys with more care than they do currently. Boys might not seem to welcome it as much, but they do need to know as much as girls do that they are cared about and supported.

Q: Who are other positive community role models for kids who are setting expectations and providing caring relationships—other than teachers and coaches or after school programs?

A: Everyone can be! A lot of young people are in other formal settings with potential for providing developmental relationships. For example, many go to churches, synagogues, temples, mosques or other religious or spiritual organizations, and the adults there—as well as other youth in those settings—can be great role models and providers of caring and challenging relationships. Unfortunately, that potential is often unfulfilled. In one of our national studies of 15-year-olds—the Teen Voice studies—we found that less than 20 percent of young people said there was an adult at a religious organization who is either a mentor for them or simply “gets" them: likes them, spends time with them, and acts as a role model for them.

Beyond parents, teachers, coaches, after school program staff, and religious leaders, there are all the rest of us. Informally, young people have the potential for some great developmental relationships with people they see and run into frequently—their neighbors. But in the same Teen Voice study, less than 10 percent said any of their neighborhood adults were a mentor to them or really got them. Just knowing the neighborhood kids’ names is a start. Here are some more ideas:

  • Throw a ball with them.
  • Ask them what they like most at school these days.
  • Find out what their passion or spark is, and if it happens to be yours too, show them how to get better at it.
  • Ask them for ideas about how to make your neighborhood a better place, and invite them to help in neighborhood projects.

Our data show that kids really aren’t getting many developmental relationships at all in their neighborhoods, so even a little care and challenge shown to a young neighbor can make a world of difference.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

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