When you look back at your life and remember being young, do you remember feeling understood by the adults in your life? Did you feel validated, heard, and supported? Whether you were fortunate to have pillars of support or you felt you had to figure out dating for yourself, we can agree that having adult support while navigating dating can be helpful and life-changing as a young person.
Here are some questions to consider:
- What is the best way to support youth?
- How can allies show up in ways that matter?
- What do youth expect of adult allies, and how do adults show up appropriately?
These are the questions advocates are asked repeatedly. There are plenty of trainings, webinars, and social media posts that provide insight on “how to be a better ally” or “ways to really support youth.” With so much content out there, it is important to remember that our audience should always be youth and survivors and how to help them.
Understanding what support means
Support used as a verb means to give assistance to; enable to function or act. As clear as this may seem, often, when adults provide support, youth leave feeling even more confused or overwhelmed by the situation.
Support should be a two-way connection where the person you are providing support to has a say in the process and the outcome.
It could be listening and asking questions to help guide the young person to an outcome. It could also mean not asking questions and just simply listening and creating the space for connection and trust.
The trick is determining what works best for their current situation while including the person seeking help in the process. Asking questions like “How can I support you?” or “How does this make you feel?” will create self-efficacy where the individual believes they can create change.
Focus on individual and community needs
It is important to also consider the person’s environment or external factors when providing support to avoid further isolating or overwhelming them. This is where being community-centered is a benefit. When you are aware of the barriers that may exist and are able to suggest services that can help achieve positive outcomes, you are truly being supportive.
The methods below are the five stages of the socio-ecological model . By addressing each stage, a helper can ask themselves the following questions to assess how to help:
- Individual: What knowledge does this person have on the issue we are discussing? What knowledge can I offer to ensure they have a strong baseline to make informed decisions?
- Interpersonal: What relationships does this person have with their family and friends? What resources can I offer to help those around them to create a supportive network?
- Organizational: What resources are available at this individual’s school or community center? Are their systems in place to ensure their safety in these settings? What connections do I have to make to expand support and resources?
- Community: What organizations can I connect this individual to that have been vetted as a strong community resource? How can I offer support to connect this individual to contact with another organization?
- Public Policy: What laws or policies are in place to support this individual? What considerations have been made to ensure these policies address individual and interpersonal needs? How can I offer information on these policies with their best interest in mind?
Addressing the needs of individuals with community and external factors in mind will begin the process of fostering relationships that create and sustain change.
Determining what youth need, and being supportive
Your support techniques will be strengthened by incorporating and amplifying the voices of youth survivors and advocates. Young people understand their needs and realities on an authentic level. Capturing key learnings throughout these conversations will help you create a model of support that achieves the results you want and addresses the intimate needs of the individuals you are serving.
Throughout this process of shared learning and modeling, be mindful of any gaps or assumptions you may have and strive to ease the doubts young people may have about trusting adults by modeling healthy relationships and empowering growth.
Learn from youth who are advocating for better, join leaders in the field such as Leaders Ending Violence or the love is respect Youth Council and start reframing our methods of support by ensuring their narratives are the driving factor in all that we do.