We often ask youth to be in a vulnerable space; to share about their lives, their pasts, their families, their hurts and the road that has led them to where they are today. It may take time to break down those walls that have been built up for so long. Youth will continue to ask questions about whether it is actually safe to share like you say it is, they wrestle with conflicting values of sharing something or not depending on the adult in their life, and in the end, they may not be sure you can handle their truth. No wonder youth may not be sharing or speaking up as you had hoped when you first sat amongst them.
If the risk of vulnerability increases, we want to increase the feeling of safety.
When we ask youth to be vulnerable and open up with set the stage for them to feel safe.
We break into small groups for our conversations about life, specific topics, and teaching skills. For moments that we can anticipate a high vulnerability we break these small groups, into even smaller groups. It makes the asks to be vulnerable a little bit safer.
Right now many of our groups are mixed gender. Volunteers and the youth who are showing up usually determine this to us. However, for big moments we will always split up youth by gender with the same gender leader. This can get tricky sometimes but conversations that include topics about sex, mental health, and abuse should always been in a place of safety. To help youth feel safe, we will continue to reevaluate what a typical group looks like.
If we are anticipating a tough conversation with youth get another trusted adult involved. Maybe it is their parent, coach, or a previous small group leader. It may help hold you accountable for a tough conversation. To help a youth feel safe, be vulnerable with your own life. Strategic sharing and normalizing a conversation can decrease any sense of guilt, shame, or doubt and allow youth to begin to talk about a big moment.
Safety is vital to youth beginning to process the moments of the past and present so they can walk confidently into the future.