Baltimore’s dropout rates and youth violence get their fair share of publicity. Blame has been placed everywhere – school structure, gangs, drug culture, family situations.
What’s been lost in these conversations is a strong conviction of youth as individuals who need caring relationships with adults, nurturing environments, and stimulating activities in order to develop into strong, smart, determined adults. To do this, we need to approach our youth through a framework – a framework that doesn’t see youth as sources of problems, but as sources of potential.
Maybe it’s time to stop placing blame and start focusing on what works – on how to give youth those caring relationship with adults, nurturing environments, and stimulating activities. One way to do this is to ensure that the adults who work with youth – in their after-school programs, on their sports teams, their mentors, their tutors – are properly trained, supported, and supervised.
My Audacious Idea is to train all people who work with youth in Positive Youth Development, to ensure positive outcomes for those youth. Positive Youth Development is more than just a phrase; it’s a mindset. It’s more than a few specific actions; it’s the framework for how all activities and opportunities for youth should be structured.
Too many of the adults working with our youth have no training to be there. They have good intentions, but good intentions don’t lead to good results. Approaching youth in the positive youth development framework does not come naturally to many people – after-school program providers and other youth workers need to be taught about what Positive Youth Development is, and how they can incorporate it into all of their interactions with youth.
It’s a matter of intervening early and investing in our youth to expand their opportunities and potential before something happens; in acknowledging that the best way to “prevent” a problem is to make sure it never happens in the first place. It’s a matter of giving our youth access to adults who are safe, consistent, good role models, sources of information, and who inspire youth to reach higher and achieve more. It’s a matter of giving our youth what they deserve.
We can’t leave it to chance. We have to act now.