“What do I want to do?” “Who are my friends?” “How do I fit in?”
Whether they ask them aloud or not, these questions are always lingering on the front of our young people’s minds. In social settings we see them finding ways to adapt to people around them, weighing up who they should respect and who might be their allies.
Navigating life as a young person can feel like searching for the next puzzle piece without knowing what the bigger picture looks like.
Your community is the puzzle.
Finding a community gives us a place to feel like where we belong and can thrive. For a young person, that community can be their school friends, an activity group, a sports team, or a local group. Whatever it may be, there are some foundational factors that all communities have in common that allow them to exist sustainably and consistently develop with the people who participate in them.
Before we dive into what those factors are, why should we care about communities? Why does it matter if we help young people build them?
The formation of a young person’s identity is a consistent process of decision-making, explicit and implicit feedback, and self-evaluation to inform our next decision. As this process occurs in the minds of our young people and we watch them change and develop each time, we recognise very quickly that we can’t determine the outcome of a process. We find out that young people will arrive at their own conclusions based upon the inputs provided to them and make the best decision for action that seems appropriate in the context they find themselves in.
While we can’t control the process and output, we can influence the factors the environment this happens in and the context they find themselves having to make decisions for. We influence this by helping them to construct communities around themselves that align with their values and encourage growth in positive ways.
But community for community’s sake isn’t always appealing. That’s where our foundational factors of community come in.
For a young person to participate in the community, they have to want to be a part of it. In fact, that rule applies to more than young people. It matters to us all. When we participate in something because we feel we have to, not because we actively choose to participate – our commitment doesn’t last long enough for us to actually see the results. Don’t lie, we’ve both been there. (Like that gym membership that’s paid for every month without ever setting foot in the gym, am I right?).
This brings us to the first foundational factor: A Common Goal.
A Common Goal
Communities that are built upon a common goal create a mechanism for people to unite over something they both care about. It also provides a general direction in which a person can find ways to participate in activities with their community. For example, a community with the common goal of making you a better dancer is an opportunity for you to practice a passion of dancing and provides a very actionable way of acting out the goal: dance classes. It is a both reason to involve yourself in a community, and something that keeps you coming back to stay involved over time. But what about when we aren’t feeling like it and are struggling to find the motivation to pursue our goals?
Skin in the Game – Investment
Accountability is a significant factor in building a community. It keeps us involved and helps us to stay on track with our goals. One of the most significant forms of investment for young people is social investment. Knowing that other people are counting on them is a good motivator to keep young people involved. If social investment isn’t doing the trick, it may be worth exploring what is most valuable to the young people you are working with and investigating ways they can leverage that to become the investment that grounds them in their community.
It’s important to remember, we aren’t trying to trap young people in a community. Rather we are providing a way for our young people to involve themselves in their community on a more intentional level. When a young person has a deeper level of investment in their community, their community is able to bring them more fuel to pursue their goals and grow in themselves. Once it feels established and begins to become habitual, then it can start to become a symbiotic relationship between the young person and their community. This relationship, however, can’t be all work and investment – it has to be enjoyable too.
Know Your Community. Like Your Community.
Communities are built on solid friendships and shared experiences. When we make the conscious choice to build those friendships, we take a large step forward in finding a place where we belong.
For young people, making that conscious choice is not something that happens out loud. We don’t often see young people starting conversations with “I would like to be your friend”. We do, however, see them naturally gravitating towards people who share the same interests. Finding common ground is a great launchpad for a friendship. It allows you to have enough meaningful conversation and shared activity that you become comfortable enough to learn more about someone else.
If we build these communities on the basis of a common goal, we already have a uniting factor and common ground between people. The last thing we need to provide is room for those friendships to develop in the conversations between activity. If everything is wall-to-wall, we limit the interaction of the people to whatever is structured for them. In our communities, we must allow young people the opportunity to build those relationships both intentionally with relationship activities and organically with space between structure and an open environment.
Where Do We Begin?
So these are the foundations of how we can begin supporting our young people to build their communities. Starting the process is the most difficult part, especially if you are looking to convince your young person to start involving themselves.
To begin, take a look at what your young person already actively involves themselves in. Starting with something that they care about gives you the answer to the first step here: a common goal. It also makes for a slightly easier sell 😉
Looking For a Head Start on Community Building?
Since 2014 Burn Bright has invested in building connected communities for over 77,000 young people across Australia and New Zealand. We believe every person has the ability to lead themselves and lead others, and doing so asks our young people to understand who they are influencing and how they are influencing them.
If you would like your young person to further develop the way they interact with their communities and understand their leadership capacity, take a look at our High School Lead With Impact Pack where we have 4 digital courses that guide your young person on a journey of exploring their own leadership and how it can be used to create positive change, powerful communities, and service-based leaders all around us.