Youth Magnets: A Profile of Effective Youth Workers

Article by Natalie Arduini – Natalie is obtaining her Master’s in Social Work at Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work and is currently a practicum student with Wyman.

It is often assumed that people working in youth development, teaching, or any other job that involves working with teens, are naturally “youth magnets.”  Youth magnets have the ability to connect with and nurture the learning experience of young people. They are often the first person a teen calls when they need advice or assistance in making little to major life decisions. It takes a certain level of intentionality to effectively develop healthy behaviors and mindsets in youth. However innate these qualities may seem, they can also be developed. Here are some personality traits and practices of people who attract and work well with teens:

  • Respectful
  • Flexible
  • Sense of Humor
  • Empathetic
  • Patient
  • Trustworthy
  • Open-minded
  • Inspiring
  • Positive

Things that Youth Magnets do:

  • Build a relationship – Check in with your teens. Call them. Send notes of appreciation. As a teen, it can be intimidating to talk to adults. Many may feel like adults don’t have the time or interest in spending time to get to know them. When adults reach out to them first, it sends the message that there is an open door of communication that they can reciprocate. Whether it be through Facebook, email, text or a simple phone call, reaching out to a teen is a simple way to help them open up. Show genuine interest in their lives and watch the relationship flourish.
  • Meet teens where they are at – then help them get to where you want them to go. “Meeting teens where they are at” requires an understanding of their current situation and past.
  • Affirm and recognize – A little praise goes a long way. Give feedback on their work and acknowledge their strengths, both formally and informally. Though overpraising sounds patronizing, a few notes of recognition build up the confidence of teens.
  • Instill a sense of responsibility – There is a fine line between being friends with the youth you work with, and being a successful youth ally.  I have been told by several administrators in youth engagement that “it’s not your job to be their friend.” Instead it is your job to mentor them. It is necessary to maintain a level of professionalism to work with youth. Roles and expectations should be established to ensure productivity.
  • Learn their culture- Do not learn their culture in order to act like them. Instead, show that you took the time to understand their life experience. Do not be afraid to ask if you do not understand something and on the flipside, do not assume you know what they have experienced. Teens have their own language, and it’s okay to be honest if you don’t understand what they are talking about, furthermore, be curious to find out.
  • Inquire about teen’s lives and aspirations: Sincerely asking teens questions about their daily lives, future hopes and dreams is a great way to show that you care. Teens love dreaming about what they want to be or what they do NOT want to be. Having a caring adult who facilitates these conversations sends teens the message that you care about their interests and want to know more about them as a person. Examples of questions you could ask:
    • What do you want to do when you get older?
    • If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why?
    • What kind of person do you hope to be?
  • Share your own life: Though this may be a difficult boundary to keep in place, sharing pieces of your own experiences helps teens to understand the many different paths there are in life. This may depend on the setting where you work with teens, but helping them understand your own life path helps them feel better connected and thereby more willing to share their own personal struggles.
  • Encourage and Mentor: You can be the biggest cheerleader for a teen by encouraging them in positive and healthy behaviors. When teens obtain encouragement, they also build confidence and hope.

What are some traits or practices that have helped you become a youth magnet?

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