by Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, PhD
It’s almost a throwaway line to say, “It’s all about relationships.” We use it to sell cars, computers, and coffee. We train doctors and nurses to work on their bedside manners. We script call center operators to make sure even unhappy customers “have a nice day.” Teachers attend in-service workshops to be inspired to connect with students. Basketball stars make commercials to entice fans to mentor youth.
And yet, when we ask people on the street about the roles that adults play in teenagers’ development (which Search Institute commissioned FrameWorks Institute to do; see display), most see little if any meaningful role. Most Americans believe kids are parents’ responsibility, and if parents mess up, adults can be “caring,” but that’s about it.
Those attitudes stand in sharp contrast with a large and growing body of research showing the power of deep, multi-dimensional relationships for young people’s development.
We also have compelling evidence that these relationships can play vital roles in healing from trauma, resilience, academic learning, social-emotional development, and multiple area of thriving.
Furthermore, there’s emerging evidence that relationships are the “active ingredient” in effective programs for children and youth. Yet we rush passed relationships to purchase the latest packaged solution, and we increase class sizes to cut costs. And we wonder why outcomes don’t improve.
Relationships matter. But we don’t seem to really believe it. We mostly don’t invest in relationships individually, as a society, or even in the institutions dedicated to the young. We’re left with at least three challenges if we are to grow the deep relational roots young people need to be resilient and successful:
Each of these challenges is, in itself, daunting. And yet, many leaders in many fields have laid the groundwork. Furthermore, many cultures around the world have much to teach us from the individualistic, competitive Western mindset. In this time of social fragmentation, isolation, and divisiveness, there is a readiness—even an urgency and yearning—for authentic relationships and meaningful connections. Perhaps the time is now.
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Winner of the 2018 Society for Research on
Adolescence Award for Organizational
Excellence in Research and Programming for Youth
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