Helping youth feel physically and emotionally safe

4-H Youth Development programs strive to develop life skills in youth. In Michigan, volunteers use the 4-H Guiding Principles to help them achieve their goals. This article focuses on 4-H Guiding Principle Two: Youth are physically and emotionally safe.

4-H volunteers help youth develop life skills through hands-on educational activities. Members of 4-H pledge their heads to clearer thinking, their hearts to greater loyalty, their hands to larger service and their health to better living.  As a part of Michigan State University Extension, the Michigan 4-H Guiding Principles ground our work in positive youth development. The second article in this series explores each Guiding Principle and offers suggestions to volunteers who work with youth to be more intentional in their efforts. The second 4-H Guiding Principle is “youth are physically and emotionally safe.” Please check out the 4-H Guiding Principle Two video for additional information.

Michigan 4-H Youth Development works with volunteers in four major program delivery models to promote positive youth development: Clubs, planned youth mentoring, after school programs  and short-term, special interest programs. Volunteers and youth in club programs can come up with club rules that prevent negative behaviors related to bullying and put-downs. Positive reinforcement and feedback should be used with youth as they try new things in order to build their confidence. Volunteers should ensure that the conditions where programming takes place are safe. Mentors in planned youth mentoring programs can help teach youth how to engage in safe opportunities for risk-taking through activities like rock climbing, archery and kayaking. Proper safety precautions should be taken at all times to make sure activities are of minimal danger. Mentors should honor youth’s emotional safety by not trying to get too close too soon: youth’s privacy should be respected and conversation topics should gradually build in intensity.

After school volunteers should ensure that youth are supervised at all times and that there are protocols in place for emergency management, accident prevention and for inclement weather. Additionally, volunteers should make sure that they monitor conversations between youth to make certain positive relationships are being created. Volunteers who work in short-term, special interests programs like 4-H camps should be fully versed in the ages and stages of youth development before asking young people to do something that they developmentally may not be ready to do.  Adults should make sure their communication with youth is appropriate and does not send mixed signals or cross boundaries.

Keep your eye out for other articles in this series to learn more about ways that volunteers working with young people can build life skills in the youth they serve!

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