Parents, educators, and community leaders: helping young people make healthy choices when it comes to sex and relationships feels daunting, an issue that’s all to easy too just avoid.
Moreover, the situation is complicated. Teens often make these decisions in a non-linear manner, often they are kneejerk reactions to their situations, and involve complex social variables. Contextual factors, such as socio-economic status, peer group dynamics, family dynamics, and personal outlook or life aspirations, also deeply influence teen’s sexual and relational choices. And let’s not forget about the media.
That said, we believe it’s a worthy investment. A much needed investment.
To do this, we at Reality Check have taken a student-centered approach – taking the time to understand young people’s needs and co-designing solutions that fit their lives. We dive into students' lives to uncover their needs, dreams, and behaviors, but most importantly, we empathetically watch and listen. It's a bit like being a secret agent; it requires a stealthiness to hunt for clues into teens' motivations that might not even be understood by teens themselves and then being cunning enough to be allowed in to co-create solutions.
Below are three simple aspects of our approach to help you influence healthy choices in your role with youth. Perhaps it is time to focus more on this issue, and it starts with getting equipped with the tools to do so.
(1) THE POWER OF ACTIVE LISTENING. It all starts by investing time into real conversations. We listen to young people’s stories and repeatedly encourage them to think deeply about their desired outcomes. Communicating their motivations and relational goals out loud to an empathetic mentor alone can create clarity. Moreover, people feel cared for as conversations unfold and accordingly, interact more openly. We lead an in-depth program at schools called The Lunch Club where students reflect on who they are, what influences them, and the choices they can make, which helps students become more invested in their own healthy outcomes.
Youth are constantly being told what they can and cannot do. We are not looking to create robotic rule-following behavior, but rather thoughtful and self-aware individuals full of integrity in their relationships. We find that a genuine, caring relationship has the potential to help youth become more aware of what affects them, which encourages them to take action.
A few tips:
- Make the time by choosing a few youth to go deep with
- Environment matters: make sure you’re creating a physical space conducive to sharing and use your body language to establish connection
- Stay empathetic even if you disagree and invest in what it actually feels like to be that person
- Ask the hard questions when trust has been established
2) ALLOW THEM TO BE THE HERO. Our role is less of a dictatorial authority and more of a guide and co-creator. Put simply, we are active thought partners who aren’t afraid to get messy. Collaboratively evaluate the pros and cons of sexual and relational choices, identify personal values, and sketch potential solutions – whatever it takes to create a shared plan.
A few tips:
- Let them take the lead in identifying their values and building a plan. Be flexible
- Sketch options in real time and let the person decide what to do next
- Work through decisions slowly, test out solutions, and don’t smother them
3) IT’S AN ON-GOING JOURNEY. True change doesn’t typically occur through one good conversation. Accountability, encouragement, and personal sharing all takes time and follow-up. And really, what else is more important?
A few tips:
- When you hit a wall to progress, deftly rely on non-verbal cues and indirect questioning
- Balance your tone between fun, inspiration, sincerity, and seriousness across conversations
- Collectively acknowledge that it’s an imperfect path and be patient in the journey
For more information or if you would like us to step into this role with your youth, feel free to contact us here. There truly is power to listening, co-creating solutions, and walking the journey together.