Youth need safe spaces to thrive. Space to be heard, respected, and cared for. Programs that are able create these spaces will be able to engage more youth and build momentum to impact their lives. One of the key ways to build a safe space is to hold common expectations of all youth. These common expectations include ground rules, like respect and compassion, the right to be heard and understanding what to expect from the adults who they interact with. Holding one another to these expectations and consistency in applying them is key. Once we create spaces where youth can be comfortable in their own skin, we can build relationships that allow us to walk with them through life. When we demonstrate that we care for youth we begin to create safe spaces for them to learn about, question, and engage the world around them. Adults are able to do this when they use words that validate and affirm youth, their presence and their abilities. Think about some of the youth that you work with. Do you know where they live, their family dynamics, what their favorite subject is or what they are afraid of or their wildest dreams? Answer to these questions help adults to peer into the lives of youth to understand their context and raises our ability to speak into their limitless potential.
Recently, I was able to ask a group of youth what they would want in a safe space. Many of their ideas and thoughts revolved around the idea that a safe space should validate youth voice, youth opinions and youth experiences. When adults are able to have conversations with young people that encourages, appreciates and validates their opinions and experiences, youth will be able to open up more in an understanding that they are cared for and are not treated less than someone who is older or who has more college degrees. Equity and inclusion are also major contributors to helping create safe spaces. Does your program support the principles that all youth are different, but equally valued and important? As Generation Z reaches their teenage years and enters into adulthood the need for safe spaces to be heard, to problem solve and to experience the world around them is vital.