youth development

August 12 is International Youth Day

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The United Nations declared August 12 International Youth Day in 1999, providing an opportunity to celebrate young people around the world. The focus of this year’s International Youth Day is to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. You can read more about the agenda here: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld

The United Nations has also developed a toolkit with activity ideas to celebrate International Youth Day: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unyin/documents/Toolkit-IYD-2016.pdf

One activity listed in the toolkit is “Advocate.” While the toolkit stresses advocating for celebrating International Youth Day and encouraging youth to make sustainable consumption choices given this year’s focus, an important advocacy activity in the United States is for the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Every country except the United States has ratified the treaty.

Ratification of the treaty has resulted in greater restrictions on employing children, greater focus on child heath, and a decrease in legal corporal punishment against children. It is past time for the United States to pass this treaty and solidify its commitment to children at home and abroad.

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Biking with Ninja Turtles: Exploring Boundaries with Kids

Written by: Lisa Tobe, Executive Director, Wildflower Consulting

I lost my six-year-old son Mateo under a yellow helmet with a face-cover. I could see his little hands and knee knobs stick out from what looked like black Kevlar body armor. My friend, Thea, stood beside him explaining the gears, throttle and brakes on the blue four-wheeler their seven-year-old son Trey rides. Mateo nodded gravely. I watched the side of his helmet bob up and down in slow, short movements. She had his rapt attention, but I wondered if he’d absorbed the directions. I hadn’t.

Instead, I thought, “Oh crap, am I really going to let him ride that four-wheeler by himself?” I’d been flooded with panic about the idea of broken bones, concussions and spinal injuries. Up until then Mateo had only ridden a bike attached to mine, a three-wheeled Green Machine that could do a wicked skid at the bottom of a hill or a red, battery-powered, plastic race car that barely moved across our gravel driveway.

Thea lives outside Nucla, a rough and tumble Colorado outpost with a great view of the LaSal Mountain Range. Kids run around outside unsupervised starting at a young age, the outdoors their only playmate when not in school. Unlike their urban/suburban counter-parts, these children have hayfields instead of soccer leagues and ponds instead of spray parks. When we first arrived, Mateo did not want to ride the four-wheeler period, so Trey proudly walked him around his family’s 22-acre ranch. We told them to be back before dark. By then, Mateo and I were several days into our cross-country trip to Quincy, California, a small town I lived in for almost a decade before returning home to Kentucky. Thea and I hadn’t seen each other since before we became moms. We sat on their porch catching up while the boys explored.

I’m a parent-in-training. I had Mateo when I was forty-one. I have been reading books about parenting since before he was born; books that told me how to be pregnant, how to give birth and how to raise him. They talked about attachment, strong-willed children and the whole-brain approach. The authors provided advice about how I could make Mateo happy, smart and compassionate, among other things. I read these books in what we in the south call ‘fits and starts’ whenever I got overwhelmed with his behavior. I thought if I followed their guidance, Mateo would be this perfect, happy child that turned into an amazing man. But I’m learning that parenting is as individualized as our DNA.

Mateo helmet
Mateo wearing his bike helmet. Photo credit: Melissa Simmons

I raise my son in a little village of helpers, which includes my parents. My dad has much more patience with Mateo than he ever did with his kids and perhaps counter-intuitively seems more afraid of bad things happening to Mateo than he did with us. My brother, Artie, and I grew up in the relative freedom like most children raised in the seventies. We scuttled up trees and scurried around the streets and woods in our neighborhood with impunity. We had few rules:

  • Tell our parents where we were going;
  • Stay within a one-mile radius; and,
  • Return home for dinner, when it got dark or when dad whistled.

My parents warned us about cars but never about people. We biked over a mile to school alone as young as seven, and by eight we were allowed to go on solo hikes around our cabin in Western Kentucky. During these excursions, I imagined being an Indian Princess hunting for food or a race car driver flying around the speedway. I felt fearless.

While my parents follow my lead, we have complex generational and personal differences about raising children. They placed a television in Mateo’s room at their house and give him desert after every dinner, often consisting of ice cream with multiple toppings. Both are remnants of my childhood.

Both my parents and I want Mateo to be independent. We know that everyone thrives in the I-can-do-it moments when Mateo learns sometime new. It’s just that we have differing opinions of independent, which have become increasingly divergent as Mateo gets older.

My parents worry about losing Mateo. They asked me to nail Mateo’s first-floor bedroom windows shut. I let Dad drill holes, but kept the nails on the window sill. I wanted Mateo to feel the breeze moving through his room.

As young as two, I took Mateo traipsing through the creeks by my parent’s house. He loved playing in the water and chasing elusive creatures that squirted past his chubby legs. At first I held his hand, afraid he might drown in the 6 inches of tepid water that made up our latest playground. But eventually I let go, following closely behind as he rambled and fell among the brown and green algae covered rocks. The water splashed around him before soaking through his blue shorts. Mateo cried at first. But when I extended my hand, he let me pull him up and tumbled uncertainly forward trying to offset his waterlogged diaper. When Mom saw our appearance, worry lines deepened around her mouth.

Before our trip, I had started giving Mateo a little more room. I exercised during his swim lessons or went biking during his soccer practices. I’d let him go to public restrooms without supervision. At first I hovered outside the door. Eventually, I had him meet me back on a certain aisle or rejoin me at a restaurant table. I admit that each time I saw him walking back, I felt relieved. I also started feeling less trapped by the crushing public perception that a child always has to be supervised.

Mateo and I have never had a long conversation about physical boundaries, just to stay away from the street and ponds. He also has some natural fears that keep him in our yard. I work at home and can often see him from my office window, where a collection of ramshackle fences border our acre in Louisville. Gaps have begun to emerge in the black wooden fence that folds around the side and back of our yard. Several poles lean in or out pulled off center by time and weather. Some slats, held in place by a stubborn nail or two, scatter at odd angles. A wire fence runs half way up the other side of our yard, separating us from a pond and horses. Cars and trucks rush past on a busy street in front of our house, parents running errands or construction workers expanding a subdivision that used to be woods. I’m told that our eighty-year-old house used to be a school and that the fields that surround it were filled with trees before a new owner decided they would get in the way and cut them down.

I mow about 1/3 of our yard. Tall grasses and wild plants grow in the rest. My mom calls them weeds. Mateo pretends they are a rain forest, although I have to admit he’s hardly ever in that part of the yard. Mostly, he stays around his play set and trampoline, beside the house where the grass is cut. I don’t worry too much when he roams out of sight. Like my outdoor cats, I figure he’s not far.

I could only imagine what my mom would do if she’d been standing there when Mateo got on the four-wheeler. After giving him directions, Thea threw her legs over the seat behind Mateo holding onto the steering wheel. She gently coached him. Then she let him drive alone at the top of her driveway where he hopscotched across the gravel as he got used to the engine and the brakes. After about three wide circles, Mateo stopped in front of us, his learning energy depleted. He wanted Trey to take him on a ride. They headed off in dust covered cloud energy. He came back sweaty and ecstatic.

“Mama, mama,” he said tumbling in the house.
“Yep.”
“I’m going to ask Santa for a four-wheeler.”
“Oh?” I grinned. “You’d better tell him to bring 22-acres with him too. There’s nowhere to ride a four-wheeler at our house.”
“OK, I’ll ask.”
“I don’t think it will fit in his bag.”
“But Mama? Maybe Santa can have someone else drop it [the land] off, and then he can bring the four-wheeler.”
“You can always ask.”

More and more lately, I have noticed that Mateo wants both me and his independence, a complex need that we have been sorting out in increments. Still there’s this complicated mix of teaching Mateo to ask for help and letting him just go for it. When we stopped at my friend’s place just off Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Mateo made himself home in the wood-covered lot. He scrunched himself up the house-sized granite boulders.

“Do you think I can get down that way?” Mateo pointed down what appeared to be the equivalent of a straight-edged cliff.
“I think you might. If you miss, it will hurt. It’s your choice.” This is standard refrain when I’m unsure.

Mateo peered over the granite face before heading back down the same way he’d come up. I never know what he’ll decide. Thus far his biggest injuries have been scratches and bruises. It probably works this way because of two reasons, he actually does have a pretty good handle on his limits and I won’t let him do anything that seems like sure death. I really like this natural check-in process he has developed. I feel safer because of it, so I continually push all our boundaries, the adult comfort and the child’s will. He has done these new things alternating between wild abandon and mild trepidation.

I watched for a few minutes. “Don’t kill yourself,” I told him before I walked into Seth’s house to sort our laundry.

After two weeks, we finally reached Quincy, a town of 6,000. My neighbor offered him the use of any of their bikes, a balance-bike without petals, one with training wheels or a two-wheeled bike. To my surprise, Mateo picked the big-boy bike.

Last year, he’d tried to learn to bike on our gravel driveway in Kentucky. It had been a hot late spring day. Neither of us had any idea what we were doing, me teaching him to learn to ride without training wheels or him learning. I only vaguely remember learning how to do this. I might have been five or six, no helmet, no knee or elbow pads, just a pile of dusty skin and determination. I’m sure my brain had been flooded with all those confusing chemicals that told me to be excited and afraid.  I’m sure there was blood and Band-Aides before the triumph. Mateo wore full riot gear including wrist guards. When he pushed down on the petal, Mateo lurched sideways and threw out his leg to try to catch himself. He missed. I missed. The red bike landed on Mateo. He wailed. I pulled him up.

“Let’s try again.”
“I can’t.” A small sweat droplet slid down the back of his jaw where one day he’ll sprout facial hair.

I’m not sure what had changed since last year, but now Mateo gets up when he crashes. He still blames me for the falls, but I see that as progress. He told me that I’d held on too long or not enough or … Truth be told, I didn’t’ mind, because his words guided me as I tried to help him find his balance.

“You’re pulling me,” Mateo said in a soft, frustrated voice. I had been running beside him in a sports bra, holding onto his bike with one hand and the shirt I’d stripped out of earlier with the other. At the end of the day, I found myself covered in a dust bath and Mateo able to ride a bike. By the second day, he was a pro.

In many ways, this little rite of passage opened up both our worlds. He wanted to ride to the end of our road, so I let him alone. When Mateo came back, Eli, a six-year-old from the corner, tagged behind him riding an oversized pink bike, his fresh crew cut covered by a bright yellow dirt bike helmet. Book-ended by two single mom’s, who live down the street from each other, these two boys disappear for hours now, somewhere in the expanse between our house and Eli’s. My neighbor’s two grandkids, both boys, have recently joined the fray. As I wrote this, I could hear them urgently creating story lines where their bikes become race cars, horses and Ninja Turtle dirt bikes.

Kids do not have as much freedom to roam today, for a number of reasons. Some families live in areas with high crime rates; schools are farther away; traffic seems more congested and quite frankly our society’s perception of risk does not align with reality. A  University of New Hampshire research center report published in JAMA Pediatrics showed that the rate of crimes against children dropped between 2003 and 2011.[i] As cited in a 2007 Pediatrics’[ii] article, several studies has shown that unsupervised and child-driven play enhances imagination, resiliency and confidence, as well as teaches negotiation and decision making skills.  I can see these things in Mateo. Somehow we have negotiated the boundaries that feel safe to both of us, and this has allowed him to center himself more in this world and himself.

The night Mateo learned to ride his bike, I typed as he related the story to me. He described his fear and new-found confidence.

“I had trouble. Sometimes I couldn’t really start myself. Then my mama helped me, so I thought I could do it and I did. Mama held the back of my seat. Then when I said I was ready, she let go, and I could do it.”

Mateo Bike
Mateo riding his bike.
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[i] JAMA Pediatrics. April 2011.Trends in Children’s Exposure to Violence, 2003 to 2011 David Finkelhor, PhD; Anne Shattuck, MA; Heather A. Turner, PhD; Sherry L. Hamby, PhD

[ii] Pediatrics January 2007, VOLUME 119 / ISSUE 1 The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. Kenneth R. Ginsburg. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182

Then and Now

Then and Now: The Reality of New Beginnings
By: Shauna Stubbs, RHYTTAC Principal Investigator for National Safe Place Network 

Human beings tote baggage around everywhere we go.  Sometimes we hold that heaviness inside and struggle to let it go.  Experiences of disappointment, pain and loss teach us to survive by limiting expectations, eliminating vulnerability, and disconnecting from others.  Other times that baggage gets stuck in the environment around us.  Failing an assignment at school colors a teacher’s perception of a student’s potential.  A mistake at work results in colleagues or supervisors doubting a young person’s reliability.  A common but destructive error in judgment breaks a parent’s trust and makes it difficult for a youth to restore it.

For those of us who work with runaway and homeless youth, it isn’t hard to see how such baggage might trigger a chain of events and reactions that could ultimately lead a young person to isolation, hopelessness, and life on the streets.  Knowing how important both resilience and relationships are to positive outcomes for runaway and homeless youth, we have an opportunity to encourage youth, families, and communities to explore such challenges from a different perspective.

Change is hard for any of us.  Feeling pressure to change makes it harder.  Working to change in the face of expectations that we will fail can make the odds seem insurmountable.  Our youth and families experience these struggles every day.  Coping skills that cause harm are difficult to replace.  Unsupportive communication patterns are hard to break.  We who serve runaway and homeless youth recognize those challenges, and we know that pushing through them can produce extraordinary results.

As RHY service providers, our knowledge and experience uniquely equip us to help youth and families navigate these changes.  Here are a few of the ways we can help:

  1. Normalize these experiences. Help youth and families see that they are not alone.
  2. Facilitate realistic expectations. Don’t set families up to fail.  Help them recognize that old patterns were practiced for a long time, and it may take some time to practice newer ones.
  3. Teach and demonstrate healthy communication skills. Use reflective listening and practice “I” statements.
  4. Teach and demonstrate skills for giving meaningful and effective feedback. Specific acknowledgement and lessons learned about effort, strategy and persistence build self-esteem.  Celebrate each positive step!
  5. Encourage youth and families to take risks. Vulnerability is a powerful connection facilitator, and it can be very scary.
  6. Build relationships with local schools, businesses, churches and other organizations and advocate for youth in our communities.

This skill-building and advocacy can help youth and families lighten the load they carry and move forward with a perspective of hope and possibility.

Follow these links to helpful resources available from National Safe Place Network:

NSPN Training Members can access the following webinars on e-Learning at http://nspnetwork.training.reliaslearning.com/

NSPN: Motivational Interviewing (NSPN201503)

Additional resources available through RHYTTAC on e-Learning athttp://rhyttac.training.reliaslearning.com/

Engaging Families of RHY (RHYTTAC47)

Meeting “Connection” Needs of RHY (RHYTTAC48)

Family Assessment and Intervention (REL-FAI-BH-0)

Other resources available online:

Stages of Change Model: http://stepupprogram.org/docs/handouts/STEPUP_Stages_of_Change.pdf

Assertiveness Formula: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/romance-redux/201108/the-abcs-assertiveness

Miracles in the Face of Many Challenges

Written by: Steve Tarver, President / CEO, YMCA of Greater Louisville

It’s Christmas Eve, after six in the evening. Most of the stores are closed and the streets are starting to get very quiet with little traffic. The daylight hours are few, so it’s dark outside. Cars parked in driveways and lights on in most homes indicate that families are gathering for holiday celebrations.

It’s during this time that I like to stop by our YMCA youth shelter. Like many others, it’s a 24 hours a day, 365 days a year operation. Normally, I will have picked up some gift cards which I like to deliver to be handed out to the staff that are working that night along with one for each child that happens to be spending that evening with us.

This past year (2014), it struck me…Where would these children be without the opportunity to be at our shelter? And further, the same question applies for every day of the year. Not sure why it took so long for this to hit me, but I have thought a lot about it since.

Sometimes I have the opportunity to meet with some of the children that are with us. I am always amazed at their intelligence and resilience. So many of them are miracles that stand up in the face of many challenges. And a caring adult who is simply willing to look at them with respect and see them as an asset can be a life changing opportunity for the child as well as the adult. In my opinion, that’s the real magic of the work done by hundreds of the optimistic and welcoming staff that work with the population of homeless youth in our local YMCA shelter, and places across the country that provide the security, safety, and HOPE for these young people.

Of course, this goes far beyond the Christmas holiday. But the question remains, where would these children be without the network of shelters that serve this population? I wonder also, the extent to which the broader community recognizes (and appreciates) this network. Like the children that find themselves on the street, neglected, or abused, many of those that serve them operate “in the shadows.” Shifting the outlook around youth development from a deficit model to an asset model is a huge story that needs to be told. Can we get this work out of the shadows? Can we shift from the generations-deep paradigm that youth are problems that need to be fixed? Can we create a new custom that would start from a point of seeing the potential of youth without being fearful of high expectations? In my experience, only rarely have high expectations not resulted in high responses. These young people have the capability. I’ve seen it.

Hopefully, there will be more dialogue promoting the asset approach to youth development to more audiences. National Safe Place Network offers a platform: www.nspnetwork.org.

Resources:

The Youth Thrive framework is a strengths-based initiative to examine how all youth can be supported in ways that advance healthy development and well-being and reduce the likelihood or impact of negative life experiences. Click https://nspn.memberclicks.net/assets/docs/RHYTTAC/youth-thrive_advancing-healthy-adolescent-development-and-well-being%20report.pdf to review the Youth Thrive Advancing Healthy Adolescent Development and Well-Being report. If you’re interested in receiving the Youth Thrive training, please contact National Safe Place Network at info@nspnetwork.org.

Literature Review of Youth Development / Asset Tools: https://nspn.memberclicks.net/assets/docs/RHYTTAC/lit%20review%20of%20youth%20development%20asset%20tools%202002.pdf

Youth Resilience: http://www.cssp.org/reform/child-welfare/youth-thrive/2013/YT_Youth-Resilience.pdf

Protective & Promotive Factors for Healthy Development and Well-Being: http://www.cssp.org/reform/child-welfare/youththrive/body/youth-thrive-protective-promotive-factors.pdf

Developmental Assets: Preparing Young People for Success: http://www.search-institute.org/what-we-study/developmental-assets

Increase Kids’ Strengths by Building Development Assets: http://www.search-institute.org/publications/developmental-assets

To learn how to get involved, please visit www.nspnetwork.org or email National Safe Place Network at info@nspnetwork.org.

Helping Teens File Their Taxes

Whether its approach fills you with anticipation or dread, tax time comes every year. Employers must produce and mail W-2s and other tax forms by January 31, and individuals have to file (and pay any taxes owed) by April 15. As you work with youth to develop life skills, here are some ideas and information to help them prepare for tax season:

  • FREE stuff! Most youth workers, transition age youth, and low income families can file taxes electronically and even get tax preparation assistance at no cost. If you annual income is less than $53,000, you are eligible for two benefit programs available through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) with no fees.
  • Get Organized. Interpreting tax documents can be tricky, but experienced preparers and online software can help. However, if documents are missing it can cause a headache for everyone involved and may result in an audit. Before you file, think back to the last year and make sure you have everything you need. Don’t ignore any tax documents! Once you have filed, be sure to store all of your documents and returns in a safe place. The IRS has put together a checklist of things to bring to a tax preparation appointment: http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Checklist-for-Free-Tax-Return-Preparation. Common tax documents include:
    • W-2 Earned Income
    • 1099 Miscellaneous Income
    • 1098-E Student Loan Interest
  • Host a Tax Party! If the scale works for your program, it may be wise to bring volunteers on site. Have fun games like monopoly, tax jeopardy, or tax bingo and snacks to entertain youth while peers meet 1:1 to prepare their taxes. Assist youth in gathering their tax documents by providing checklists in advance and offering secure storage until the big event.
  • Money, Money, Money!! Tax refunds may present a rare opportunity for young people or families who struggle to make ends meet. It is so tempting to splurge a chunk of money and so easy to let it slip through your fingers. The best way to get the most out of that opportunity is to make a plan for those dollars before you spend them.
    • Beware of Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs). Interest rates are absolutely despicable, and getting less money two to three weeks earlier (if you e-file with direct deposit) probably isn’t worth how much of your refund you will have to give up to do it. Having some time between learning how much is coming and actually getting it only increases your power to contribute to your financial goals.
    • Help youth define their goals. They might be saving move-in costs for their own apartment (security and utility deposits, first month’s rent, furniture and household supplies) or start-up costs for buying a car (down payment or cash purchase, tags, title and insurance). Some youth are already buried in debt from predatory pay day loans and are working to free themselves from that burden. Perhaps a young person needs to buy a computer to finish high school credit recovery or facilitate post-secondary studies.
  • Dependent Status. Determine whether or not someone plans to claim you as a dependent. Filing incorrectly could result in problems for you or your parent/guardian. There are four basic tests to establish dependency. According to the IRS, they are:
    • Relationship: Taxpayer’s child, stepchild, foster child, sibling or step sibling, or a descendant of one of these.
    • Residence: Child has the same principal residence as the taxpayer for more than half the tax year. Exceptions apply for children of divorced or separated parents, kidnapped children, and temporary absences.
    • Age: The child must be under the age of 19 at the end of the tax year or under the age of 24 if a full-time student for half of the year, or be permanently and totally disabled at any time during the year.
    • Support: Child did not provide more than half of his/her own support for the year.
    • For more information on qualifying factors, visit the IRS website: http://www.irs.gov/uac/A-%E2%80%9CQualifying-Child%E2%80%9D
  • Extensions. If necessary, a six month extension can be granted by filing form 4868. That will extend the deadline to October 15. This can be helpful for youth who are in the middle of a difficult situation and do not have access to necessary records or other information. However, even if you request an extension, you will still need to pay any taxes you owe by April 15.
  • W-4 allowances: to take or not to take. The number of people (including yourself) supported by your wages affects the amount of your income that is taxed. Most W-4 forms include instructions and a worksheet to help you identify how many allowances apply to your circumstances. When determining how many to claim with your employer, consider the following general guidelines:
Tax-Blog

With knowledge, planning and practice, tax time can help the young people we serve maximize benefits and achieve their financial goals.

This blog was strictly created to provide tips and resources that you may find helpful. National Safe Place Network does not guarantee any specific outcomes from utilizing the above information.