The power of consistency

One of the greatest things an adult can do when working with young people is to be consistent. This article explores what consistency looks like and why it is so important.

Young people are learning the nuances of the world and can often be confused by mixed messages. They value and need consistency in their relationships with adults. It can be difficult to build trust in relationships that lack this important quality. In fact, youth are not the only people who value consistency; adults do as well. Knowing what to expect makes us feel safe. In formal mentoring relationships, consistency is connected to the longevity and quality of relationships. In this case, if mentors do not have regular contact with a young person, it is extremely difficult to develop a strong relationship that results in positive youth outcomes.

So, what is consistency? Consistency in relationships can mean doing what you say you are going to do. It can also mean that your actions match your words. Michigan State University Extension knows there are young people who have been disappointed by adults who promised to do something or be somewhere and failed to deliver. While it might be unintentional, the message the youth receives is that they are not valuable. Sometimes a change in plans is unavoidable. On those rare occasions, every effort should be made to help the young person understand why plans are changing and to ensure the youth hears very clearly that they are important and matter. Inconsistency is also seen when adults tell young people one thing and then act differently themselves. We see this with adults who coach a young person to stay away from gossip yet frequently gossip with their own friends. Similarly, it can be confusing when a young person is told not to fight and then witness a trusted adult fighting. If your words and actions don’t match, young people will not know when they can believe you and when they shouldn’t. This means that your conversations may take more time and explanation. If you smoke, you can’t just tell a young person not to smoke and expect them to understand. You will want to explain why you would prefer they not follow in your footsteps. You will need to acknowledge that your words and actions don’t match because the young person will quickly pick up on this.

Additionally, when someone is consistent, it means that we can rely on them to have the same response in similar situations. It helps us to know what to expect. This means that if one young person receives a consequence for a specific action, another youth should receive a similar consequence.

Here are a few tips to increase consistency in your relationships with young people:

  1. Only make promises you can keep and work hard to deliver on promises.
  2. Ensure that your words and actions match.
  3. If you are mentoring a young person, make time for them on a regular basis (weekly or bi-weekly).
  4. When disciplining young people, ensure that the consequence remains the same regardless of who breaks a rule.
  5. When inconsistencies occur, apologize and take the time to discuss why.

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