Build strong adolescents through caring adults

Explore the importance and effect of caring adults who provide support and promote positive human values in the lives of the youth and young adults.

According to Peter Benson, Jolene Roehlkepartain and Nancy Leffert, authors of “Starting out Right: Developmental Assets for Children,” a network of responsible and caring adults, in addition to parents, provides an important external asset that contributes to healthy adolescent development. Adults such as neighbors, youth workers, advisors and leaders of youth organizations, coaches, business people, teachers and religious leaders can serve as positive role models for teens. A football team would not function without the support of numerous people including the fans who cheer for victory, sponsors who provide financial support and the quiet efforts of countless workers from scorekeepers to bus drivers. These helpers facilitate team motivation, generate enthusiasm, meet practical needs, support team goals and efforts, and connect the team with new opportunities.

Adolescents need an equally diverse and helpful cadre of caring adults who get involved in their lives.

One of the primary tasks of adolescence is to strike a balance of individuality and connectedness. Although teens need some freedom from adult supervision to explore self-identity in their own way, appropriate adult involvement greatly facilitates the development of a teen’s full potential. Gail A. Caissy, author of “Early Adolescence: Understanding the 10 to 15 Year Old,” explained, "Early adolescents idealize adults. As a result, they want to be like adults and want to do adult things.” Teens need numerous caring, courageous, and responsible adults who are worthy of their admiration.

Adults who have special talents and shared interests can introduce teens to worthy activities, teach new skills and provide a sense of belonging and relationship. Kids appreciate adults who are genuine and direct. Adults sometimes notice unique strengths and understand challenges that are overlooked by a teen’s parents or friends. When adults provide consistent support and modeling, teens can more easily rely on a system to guide their own standards.

Adolescents gradually develop an increased moral sense. According to Caissy, younger teens grasp "the long-term moral impact of a moral decision on their relationships with other people." Older teens often feel a moral obligation to do what is right even at personal risk. Most teens are sensitive to the needs of others and begin to challenge wrongs. Adolescents are developmentally ready to become involved in helping others, but they need adults to help integrate them into the larger community. Community activities that connect youth with strong adults provide a sense of contribution and belonging.

This information comes from the Michigan State University Extension-authored “Building Strong Adolescents” curriculum. If you are interested in attending a class near you, please contact an expert in your area.

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