How Do We Expand Possibilities for Young People?
“I work with 7th-grade students and they were having, at the beginning of the school year, a lot of struggles just thinking about anything past tomorrow. I’d ask them what they wanted to do with their lives or what they saw themselves doing when they grew up… I didn’t get some very good answers. So, now they’re actually thinking about college, they’re thinking about their futures.” -– School program staff member
Expanding horizons and building new relationships help young people envision a positive future. Through connecting with other people, places, and experiences, they:
- Explore new possibilities and find new opportunities.
- Learn about how the world works and how to make their way. This includes education, work, housing, health services, and civic life.
- Learn how to hold meaningful, responsible roles in society.
- Discover more about themselves and what matters. They do this by interacting with new people and places.
- Develop allies who look out for them, particularly if they run into crises, prejudice, or other barriers.
- Learn to respectfully engage with new cultures and nationalities. This is good for kids and society.
Looking at new possibilities involves trying new things, going new places, and meeting new people. Expanding possibilities involves three actions in the developmental relationships framework:
- Broaden horizons—Expose me to new ideas, experiences, and places.
- Inspire—Inspire me to see possibilities for my future.
- Connect—Introduce me to people who can help me grow.
Connections with trustworthy, caring adults do not happen for many kids. Often young people have no positive contact with caring adults beyond their parents and teachers. Parents, teachers, program leaders, and others can help kids connect with other caring adults who can broaden horizons for them.
Expanding possibilities means we respect the “loose ties” we have with people and places beyond the “close ties” we have with immediate family and friends.
Which Adults can Expand Possibilities?
The specific role of these trustworthy, caring adults is not as important as the kind of relationship they form with kids. These non-parenting adults can include:
- Extended family members and neighbors
- Teachers—When kids have strong relationships with their teachers, they are more likely to adjust well in school, take part in learning, and do well in school
- Religious leaders, youth program staff and volunteers, and friends’ parents
- Coaches, employers, mentors, and other non-family adults
The Value of Expanding Possibilities
Young people who have positive non-parent connections in their lives are more likely to:
- Be more engaged in school
- Complete high school and go to college
- Be more satisfied in life
- Engage in good health behaviors
- Engage in fewer high-risk behaviors, including drug use and violence
“We were fortunate enough to have mentors that were there for us and helped us realize that we are capable of doing whatever we want, as long as we work hard.” – Young person in a mentorship program
The Importance of Roots and Wings
Expanding possibilities is part of a broader relationship that includes expressing care and providing support. As illustrated by the diagram below, the combination of those provides a secure base where they can explore who they are and develop the autonomy they need for life.
Sometimes things don’t go well when a young person tries new things. The new activity doesn’t go well and they experience disappointment. In those cases, the connections with caring adults can be a safe haven to help the young person regroup and try something else. Providing a secure base from which the young person can explore the world calls on parents and other adult leaders to be encouraging, available, and not to interfere as young people try new things. Providing a safe haven when things don’t go well requires being available, reassuring, and providing comfort as needed.
8 Ideas for Expanding Possibilities
- Listen for things young people are curious about, and then weave those topics into group or classroom discussions, informal conversations, or future activities.
- When young people seem curious about an activity, topic, or issue, ask questions such as, “What strikes you about this?”
- Introduce young people to a wide range of people, places, ideas, cultures, and vocations. Start with ones they’re curious about.
- Broaden the web of relationships. Connect young people to people who share their interests or can expand their world.
- Encourage young people to try things they might be interested in. Adults can perhaps try it with them.
- Demonstrate how the things that young people are learning or working on relate to their interests and to future successes.
- Connect young people with educators, other students, and community members who can explore areas of personal interest and strength with them.
- Model being a curious learner by asking questions and sharing what you’re learning in your own life.
How do you expand possibilities for the young people in your life? Leave a comment below to share with us!