We all want to feel safe. I know people who have to pick exact seating in restaurants just to get glimpse on who walks in, just in case. The feeling of safety is a big deal. It is one of the basic needs for all youth; the need to feel safe and have a structured environment. Who knew that youth need structure, it goes against all of our preconceived notions. We have made it seem that all teenagers are rule-breakers, risk-takers and want nothing to do with adults. We remember times when the youth we work with yell at us, fight with one another or just do risky things. What if all that negativity happened because they did not have factors in place that allowed them to feel safe and set expectations and structure?
A great way to make sure there is a sense of safety and structure is to think through and implement great systems and procedures. Think through what youth should be expecting to do at any given point in a program. Then think, how do they know they should do it? Get into a routine in the planning of group meetings and program events. The routine helps establish those expectations and answers the question, what next? Get in systems for everything you can, from attendance, to ending group, to going over guidelines. Before I start every group I start with the main tenets that I go by of safety and respect. These two are huge in keeping conversations on topic and group running smoothing. Talk through what things are appropriate and not appropriate. If something comes up you are not sure of, communicate.
Communicate expectations to everyone, often. Parents should know routines and expectation just as much as the youth. If you are having trouble with one or two youth particularly, communicate with the parents about it and try to find some solutions. Let parents know about how volunteers are trained and recruited. If you can communicate structure and expectations of a situation or event, youth rise to meet those expectations.
When there are adequate structures in place, youth know what is expected of them which helps them feel safe.