The quality of our relationships impacts our social, mental, physical and psychological health, highlighting the extreme importance of building and maintaining meaningful relationships. Despite assumptions, young people need and want advice on relationships; a Harvard study of 18-25 year olds found that the majority of young people want guidance on relationships. So how can we help the young people in our life build healthy, diverse and meaningful connections with those around them, in a way they will listen to and understand?
Model what you want to see
The first way to help young people build meaningful relationships is to be a positive influence ourselves. Young people will learn what a relationship should look like from their influences, whether that is from media, other young people, or the adults in their life. We need to model what healthy and meaningful relationships look like. So before we focus on others, we need to focus on ourselves. How are our own relationships going? What is the quality? How are they being modelled, who are they visible to? Young people can be quite perceptive. We need to model how to do conflict well rather than hiding it. We need to demonstrate what being a supportive friend looks like with our own friendships. We need to show the same respect to different opinions that we expect others to have. Use positive and inclusive language with young people, and let them know that you value their presence, time and opinions.
Have open conversations
Once we model good relationships, have open conversations. Talk in an appropriate way about your own relationships and feelings and encourage your young people to do the same. If we shy away from difficult or awkward topics, we demonstrate to teenagers that there is shame in discussing those topics and that they can’t or shouldn’t talk about those things. So embrace the uncomfortableness and open a conversation. Ask a question about their feelings, friendships or family, then quietly wait and listen. And be open to share about failures as well as successes. They can generate so much insight.
Provide positive interactions
Young people hear a lot about what they shouldn’t do. Instead let’s paint a picture of what could and should be. Provide opportunities and help facilitate positive and meaningful interactions with others. This could look like asking prompting questions about fun or serious topics in small groups or with a partner or just with someone they don’t normally talk to. Encouraging young people to participate in out of school activities is another great way to increase their face-to-face interactions especially with people who are different to them.
We can help young people to build meaningful relationships by modelling the actions we want to see, by having open conversations with young people, and by providing positive interactions.