Tag, You're It!: 50 Easy Ways to Connect with Young Peopleby Kathleen Kimball-Baker
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Providing 50 commonsense ways to connect and build assets, this resource gives parents, caregivers, teachers, childcare workers, and youth workers practical ways to connect with young people. Each inspirational idea contains a reference to a supportive research study or expert opinion and includes action items for straightforward advice.
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Tag, You're It!
50 Easy Ways to Connect with Young People
By Kathleen Kimball-Baker, Kathryn (Kay) L. Hong
Search Institute PressCopyright © 2003 Search Institute
All rights reserved.
Yes, you! Remember playing tag when you were a kid? Everyone was running around, and the person who was "it" had to chase and catch someone else and tag that person to be "it." Once you became "it," you knew just what to do, right? You had to connect with someone else.
That's what this book is about — connecting. But the kind of "tag" I'm talking about isn't just for little children and it doesn't involve running away from anyone; it's played by adults on behalf of young people, it's both fun and rewarding, and you can't lose — unless you don't play, and then everybody loses. Are you curious enough to read a little further?
Then consider yourself tagged!
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE "IT"?!
Let me explain what I mean.
If you're like me, most likely you're an everyday, average kind of person. Someone trying to make a living, enjoy life a little, keep things moving. Maybe you've got kids of your own. Maybe you don't. Doesn't matter. Because if you're like many of us, you're pretty sure the kids you know are good kids, no matter what fashion trends they follow or music they listen to.
But what about those other kids? You know, the ones on the next block, the ones you don't know, even the ones talking loudly outside the cinema or hanging out looking tough at the entrance to the mall — what about them? Do you look the other way when they look at you? Do you cross the street to avoid them? Do you lock the car door when they approach? What can be done about them, or for them, or with them? Lots of us have asked those questions.
There are answers out there. In fact, study after study in the fields of youth development and resilience has made it clear that the single most important thing that can make a positive difference in the life of a young person — in the lives of "your" kids and "those other kids" — is the presence of a caring adult. But here's the reality: Research shows that most young people don't have enough caring adults in their lives. Why is that? Why aren't more adults realizing and acting on the idea that, for at least one young person, they could really be "it"?
Could it be that we are afraid of those teens? That's what I was starting to wonder, and that is the question I asked one afternoon in 1998 when, as part of a magazine assignment, I cruised the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, interviewing young people and adults.
The Mall of America attracts a multihued lot of people, from international tourists to city and suburban teens looking for a place to hang out. I interviewed both adults and young people. I spoke with maintenance workers, grandparents, business executives, shoppers, Muslim youth, Christian teens, truants, security people, shopkeepers, youth with spiked hair and tattoos, clean-cut kids, youth chain smoking, mothers and fathers strolling with their toddlers.
What I learned that day changed me irrevocably.
The adults by and large said yes, adults are afraid of teens — the ones they don't know. But these same interviewees said they felt warm and protective about the teens with whom they had relationships — their grandchildren, their sons, their nieces, their stepchildren, their daughters. How strange that the feelings these adults had toward the teens they knew morphed into fear when it came to "other" teens. What was so different about the teens these adults didn't know that would cause them to be fearful? Negative media images? Their clothes, hair, facial expressions? Was it simple stranger anxiety? Or a sense that the young people wouldn't want them around anyway? The difference intrigued and troubled me.
But what ultimately inspired me to write this book — what surprised me and touched me — were the words spoken by the teens I interviewed.
"I need more adult friends in my life."
"I don't understand why adults are afraid of me. Is it because of how I dress or look? I'm really a nice person if they'd just get to know me."
"Why do adults cross to the other side of the street rather than walk near me? I wouldn't hurt anyone."
"Why do adults frown at me? Why won't they even look me in the eye?"
"I wish adults would just be my friend."
When you're standing in a megamall with a 6-foot, 6-inch teenage boy dressed in what some people might consider gang attire and he tells you he needs, wants, and would welcome more caring adults in his life, it's hard to remain unmoved.
ECHOES FROM THE RESEARCH
What is equally compelling is the ever-growing body of research that supports what that young man told me.
The organization I work for, Search Institute, has been conducting research about youth for more than 40 years. We're a national nonprofit organization with a mission to advance the well-being of adolescents and children by generating knowledge about their development and promoting its use in everyday life. In pursuing this mission, we have accumulated powerful evidence that it is through relationships with caring adults that youth build the strengths, resilience, and skills they need to thrive as adults. Not just connections with relatives, but connections with many caring adults in the community.
Our surveys of hundreds of thousands of young people in North America have told us one thing loud and clear: They both need and want you in their lives. That's right — you. Neighbor, shopkeeper, bus driver, grocery bagger, bank teller, investor, student, cab driver, mechanic, librarian, executive, rock star, retiree, councilperson, golfer, clerk, journalist — everyone!
So we published this book to show you just how easy — and important — it is to connect with youth right now. It's time for you to become an asset builder. And that's what I mean by saying, "Tag, you're it!"
A WHAT? AN ASSET BUILDER?
An asset builder is someone who makes a positive difference in the life of a young person by doing good things with and for them — on purpose. When Search Institute uses the word "assets," we're not talking about money or property. We're talking about human capital, the kind of developmental assets that make people strong, resilient, and happy. Over the years, researchers have identified 40 developmental assets that pack tremendous power for youth, important things like support, empowerment, constructive use of time, and positive values. Think of them as "building blocks" for healthy growth, many of which young people experience through their positive relationships with adults. The more developmental assets young people tell us they experience, the more good choices they make — and the fewer risky activities they engage in. (Learn more about the developmental assets in the charts at the end of this book.)
What's more, our research has also shown us that most adults actually share a commitment to raising healthy children, even kids who are not their own, according to a 2000 national poll of 1,425 American adults about their relationships with young people. But many adults doubt that they personally have what it takes to help a young person, especially if they aren't parents themselves. This gap between what people say they believe and what they do echoes the contradiction I heard during my interviews in the Mall of America. The poll revealed that many caring adults just don't know how to go about engaging in young people's lives; they often worry that they'll tread on someone else's turf or they'll be rejected. I can hear refrains of fear in the poll's findings, fear that furthers the disconnection between youth and adults.
But we know, from our research, the research of others, and our own experiences, that each human being does have incredible capacity to make a difference in the lives of young people. We've seen and heard about it over and over again from the tens of thousands of people in more than 600 communities who have given asset building a try.
A New York school bus driver knows every one of her riders by name.
A mayor successfully campaigns for teenagers to become voting members on all city commissions and boards in Idaho.
A fast-food restaurant manager in Michigan includes training on peer leadership as part of new-employee orientation.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of British Columbia expand their focus beyond programs to emphasize asset-building relationships among young people and staff.
Across North America and in a growing number of other countries, people are trying simple ways to connect with young people; some of the ideas in this book are inspired by their actions. If you choose to be an asset builder, you will definitely not be alone!
WHAT ARE THE REWARDS?
The research is compelling. But what's in it for you, you may be asking? Why should you bother to take the time and make the effort to get to know young people?
I can tell you why I did, and why it's been richly rewarding for me.
What appeals to me is this: asset building is about hope, about finding the goodness in people. While news reports may carry stories of despair and misery, asset building grounds me in what's right with the world. I like that I can work to build assets one on one, or I can join with others, and I can see results. Every single teen I've met has changed me in some way, always for the better. When I witness their vulnerability, I'm reminded of how far I've come in my own life. When I witness their strength during turbulent times, I'm reminded of how resilient the human spirit is, even when it's very young.
Young people have inspired me with their artistry, honesty, and flexibility. They've taught me about myself, made me laugh till I cried, introduced me to poetry, art, movies, comedians, and sports that I might never have found on my own. My friendships with young people have helped me experience in new ways what's been around for ages. Case in point: I've heard the songs from West Side Story for years; I know them by heart. But when I saw the musical performed by high school friends who had lived through the violent deaths of five of their peers in one year, the music resonated with meaning beyond anything I could have imagined. And it was as unforgettable for me as it was for everyone else in the standing-room-only auditorium: we were all moved to tears. That leads to me another reward I've experienced — connection to many, many others who put the same premium on valuing young people.
What's in it for you when you connect with young people depends on you. I'm going to assume that if you're reading this book, someone thinks you mattered enough to give it to you — someone cares about you. Or you picked the book up on your own out of curiosity about how to help young people; maybe your kind heart needs some company. If you decide to embark on building a relationship with a young person, for starters you can expect to experience fun, friendship, laughter, a renewed sense of wonder and purpose, and an improved sense of well-being. But the benefits are even bigger, especially if you join others in supporting teens. Building connections with young people and other caring adults also strengthens your community and builds a healthier future for all of us.
INTRIGUED, BUT NOT SURE YOU CAN REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Then think back to your own childhood and ask yourself, who was there for you? Who made a difference for you? When we ask these questions at trainings and workshops, we find that almost everyone remembers at least one or two special adults whose attention, caring, and belief in them was very important in helping them recognize a talent, get through a tough time, or see things in a new way. Maybe it was a teacher, the one who told you the truth when no one else did or who challenged you to do your best when others were letting you slide. Maybe it was a neighbor who saw how much you liked his dog and who let you play with it and go on walks together. Maybe it was a teenager who took the time to play with you when you were small, who played her records and curled your hair and didn't dismiss you as just a little kid.
Are you thinking that those things don't sound very hard or very meaningful? Well, they aren't very hard to do; think how easy it would be for you, when you're outside working on the yard or waiting for the bus, to just say hello to the young people in the vicinity. You can introduce yourself, start slow, get to know one or two, and offer your friendship; you can start by using some of the ideas in this book.
These little things can be so meaningful to a young person. Want an example? You can find lots of them, in your own life, in your friends' lives, and probably in almost every autobiography ever written. But here's one to inspire you. Imagine a small, sensitive girl growing up in the southern United States in the early part of the century, amid poverty and prejudice. Her home life is unsettled, and she and her brother live at various times with their mother, grandmother, or father. The girl's relationship with her brother is one of the good things in her life, as is her love of reading. But when she is harmed and exploited by the mother's boyfriend, her life becomes almost unbearable; she stops talking, for the most part, and suffers silently through the days. Then, she says in her autobiography of that childhood, "I met, or rather got to know, the lady who threw me my first life line."
This "life line" was a thin, graceful, dignified neighbor named Mrs. Flowers, who one day invited the silent girl to her home for tea. She spoke to the girl about her love of reading, and told her that she knew she was having trouble in school because she wouldn't talk. So she had decided she would lend her books, including books of poetry, and ask that the little girl read aloud to her. Then they had tea, during which, incidentally, the girl learned some lessons of etiquette as well as experiencing the care and interest of a kind adult. How formative and important that "life line" was is apparent when you know that the sensitive, hurting child grew up to become a strong, successful woman who truly found and celebrated her voice — the poet Maya Angelou.
Maybe not all your actions will be so dramatic or have such a lasting, deep effect on each child you encounter. But if you can still remember the small acts of a few special adults, be assured that young people nowadays will remember the gestures you make on their behalf. You may never know just which young person really benefits from your attention, but you'll have the satisfaction of reaching out and doing what you can, and you can trust the experiences of yourself and so many others that some of those simple actions are going to matter.
It's time for you to be that teacher, that neighbor, that older friend to one or more of today's young people. And we know you can do it!
HOW ABOUT THIS FOR A TRIAL RUN?
Scan the Table of Contents, pick one of the actions that catches your attention, then read it (the simpler ones are at the front). Each action is backed by solid numbers, research, or an expert opinion. If you're interested, but feel a little hesitation before you try something, check out the FSWs (frequently stated worries) on page 120 and the description of the developmental assets that begins on page 130. Then, give it a whirl. In fact, try out a couple of actions. After all, you might feel a little awkward at first, or catch a young person you want to connect with at a bad time or when he or she is preoccupied. (The way things are in our age-segregated society, the young person you approach at first may be so surprised that he or she won't say anything at all!) But persevere, try it a few more times, and it's likely you'll be successful in making a young person's day with your sincere interest and caring.
We're convinced that the more people who know about and act on their own power to build assets, the better off all young people will be — and ultimately the rest of us, too! So on your mark, get set, and go! Because ... tag, you're it!
New to a neighborhood, apartment complex, or town?
Introduce yourself to one young person, parent, or adult a week. Even if you get a few strange looks at first, know that you're doing your part to make the area friendlier — for yourself, young people, their parents, anyone.
Or are you one of the settled, long-time residents of your neighborhood? Revive the old custom of welcoming newcomers with a kind word, an exchange of names, and perhaps even some home-baked cookies.
Added bonus: Neighbors who know each other can keep their neighborhood safer.
Excerpted from Tag, You're It! by Kathleen Kimball-Baker, Kathryn (Kay) L. Hong. Copyright © 2003 Search Institute. Excerpted by permission of Search Institute Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Kathleen Kimball-Baker is the director of publishing for Search Institute, a national nonprofit organization that provides practical research, tools, and training to individuals, initiatives, and organizations who are using a strength-based model of development to improve the lives of children and youth. During her 27 years in publishing, she has worked as a reporter, magazine writer, editor, product developer, and publisher for such organizations as the Houston Chronicle, The University of Houston System, and the McGraw-Hill Companies Healthcare Information Group.
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