During a recent family crisis, I was struck by how many people came forward to support us as we rode our emotional roller coaster. Our family, with roots deep in the local community, is blessed to have a huge web of relationships here. Having been here all of our lives, and being over forty years old, my husband and I have had time (and the inclination) to interact and develop connections with many people.
This safety net of positive, supportive, relationships is what I wish for when I think of our local youth. So many young people have only a few threads of relationship that are robust. When young people are not engaged and involved in their community, they miss the opportunity to widen that net of relationship. If they have a few friends at school but no close relationships with staff, do not work or volunteer outside of the home, are not involved in clubs or sports, and have no relatives that live close by, they may have only a slender line of support if their immediate family undergoes major stress.
There are a couple of barriers that may get in the way for youth. In our mobile, fiercely independent society we may not value relationships that are not as deep as those with our close friends. But in a crisis, some of our more casual relationships may turn into the ones that sustain us. A smile or quiet word can make a big difference.
Also, our society has trained us to be suspicious of one another, especially when it comes to adults being in relationship with young people. I hope that we can move toward a community where it is normal for young people to get to know and appreciate more of the people in their towns. Where children can develop a wider, stronger web of supportive adults in their lives.
We can help build these strong webs of support for young people if we adults pay attention to youth who weave in and out of our lives, even those who are not relatives or children of our best friends. Sometimes just acknowledging that you see them, and appreciate them being there can make a big difference. Providing them with opportunities to learn new things, and recognizing their progress and contributions builds relationship and bonding. It weaves new strands in their webs of relationship.
Perhaps today you could make an extra effort to reach out to a young person in a positive way? Make eye contact, smile, and ask how their day is going...even if they don't show a reaction, it may make a difference in how they view their community and their place in it.