NUMBER 467 • 18 MARCH • BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS
In his book, At Risk: Bringing Hope to Hurting Teenagers, Scott Larson shares a four-step blueprint for building relationships with difficult youth:
1. Realize that you must be the one to start the relationship. Youth will not do it. You may even need to start it several times before it begins to gel. Often they will not even take your invitation to get together seriously, because they cannot really believe that you want to get to know them. But seldom will a young person turn down a sincere adult who really wants to get together with them. They may be a bit apprehensive and nervous, but they will also be shocked that you actually want to spend time with them.
2. Plan your time together around an activity. It can be very intimidating for both you and the youth just to get together "to talk" especially when you both realize after about 5 minutes that you have run out of things to talk about. It quickly becomes clear that you do not have much in common, as you each wonder, Now what do we do?
It is much better if you can organize your time around an activity such as attending a sports event, biking, going to a movie, or eating out at a restaurant. Doing activities together also gives you the opportunity to create memories you can talk about in the future. Adults are generally more open to doing a specific task like coaching, tutoring, or job training than just hanging out, "bonding" with a child. But significant relationships are the byproducts of doing activities together.
3. Try to schedule some activities just for the two of you, away from the child’s friends. Youth act differently when they are with their friends because they have an image to maintain. Never force them to choose between you and their friends — you will lose every time. When they are away from their friends, they can afford to be more themselves.
4. Do not be afraid to meet them on their turf. Doing so always gives you something to talk about. You may know nothing about what life is like where they live, so ask them. Suddenly, they are the experts, not you. Your being humble enough to be the student also makes them much more willing to listen to you when you share things that you may know more about than they do. (D. Stott, 1950)
SCOT LARSON and LARRY BRENDTRO
Larson, S. & Brendtro, L. (2000) Reclaiming Our Prodigal Sons and Daughters. Bloomington, Indiana: National Education Service pp. 115-116
Stott, Denis (1950). At risk: Bring hope to hurting teenagers Loveland, CO: Group Pub. pp23-25