3 Things to Remember When Working with Youth

By YLan Nguyen, MD Programs Intern

Hey everyone, it’s YLan again! I’m entering the ninth week of my internship with AALEAD and I’ve been learning a lot about youth work. Last week, I attended a training called “Structure and Clear Limits” hosted by the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality that focused on encouraging youth engagement and productivity by establishing a safe environment. Here are some of my biggest takeaways:

  1. Behavior is the language of needs. Youth behavior is often indicative of a need that needs to be met. A quote from the training was that “youth typically do things to get their needs met, not just to make our lives difficult.” Growing up, I’ve had many experiences with teachers who reprimand and dismiss youth for speaking out or disrupting class. Instead of working with youth to understand the underlying reasons for such behavior, the youth were dismissed as “trouble-makers.” Even if youth have trouble identifying their needs, their actions are what matters.
  2. Prioritize youth needs. Of course, the first priority for any program is that youth’s basic needs are met. That’s why in the beginning of programs, we make sure all AALEAD youth are fed and ready for the program. Youth cannot focus and be engaged one hundred percent on program activities when they’re hungry! Once physiological needs are met, youth naturally seek to meet more complex needs like the need to feel safe, to belong, to feel respected, and to contribute positively to society. To create a space that allows youth to meet such needs at AALEAD, we support the youth with encouragement and incorporate opportunities for youth to collaborate with one another. For instance, I led a lesson on the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange/appreciation where I had youth divide into three groups. Each group received a scenario where a character engaged cross-cultural aspects. In the small groups, the youth created an argument about whether or not the scenario was appropriation or appreciation.
  3. The classroom must be consistent and predictable. Consistency allows youth to feel like they can trust the space and feel comfortable. At Julius West Middle School, we meet the youth inside the cafeteria where they’re allowed to eat supper. Then, we walk as a group to our classroom where we start off with a warm-up activity and then dive into programs. Then, the program ends with a reflection and line-up for after school buses. Youth come to programs knowing what to expect from program coordinators. This allows youth to feel safe and minimize any anxiety of the unknown.

I walked away from the “Structure and Clear Limits” training with a clearer image of a safe, positive environment for youth. I’ll be sure to incorporate the lessons learned into my future interactions with AALEAD youth. The David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality empowers education and human service leaders to adapt and implement research-based quality improvement systems to advance child and youth development. Essentially, the youth development approach pioneered by CYPQ is based in positive youth development and the desire to create a safe, supportive, and productive environment for youth. For more information, check out their website by clicking here.

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