In Your Life in Lines, a youth journaling program, the first icebreaker question I ask the group is this: What is your superpower?
I ask this because it gives youth a landing place in the program. Some youth have said it’s their humour. Some have said it’s their anxiety, because it’s helped them to be really tuned into the body language of their friends. Right away we all learn about a trait that that each person values in themselves. It helps us to get to know one another and to appreciate all the differences we bring to the group.
I lived in New Zealand for a few years. I worked at Zeal, a non-profit youth development center, where we had a team of seven youth workers. We were all in our twenties and all had very different approaches to youth work.
One day during youth drop-in, I looked to my co-worker, Hayley, and said, “What if I’m not a good youth worker? Everyone else on our team has their “thing”. One plays FIFA on Xbox to connect with the youth, one is the goofiest person I know, and one’s in a band. I don’t know what I offer”.
She said, “But you have empathy and compassion. When our young people have a bad day and come to Zeal, where do they go?” Hayley and I both had this superpower. That day I learned that I didn’t need to be anything different in order to connect with youth. I just needed to be me.
Why does your superpower matter in the world of youth literacy? There are three things to consider:
- Youth learning happens in the context of relationships
- Adolescence is a period of becoming and belonging
- Youth literacy initiatives can focus on social and emotional needs and life skills
Your superpower matters because it is the way that you can connect with youth. Learning happens through connection, especially for youth.
Of course, youth get a bad rap at times. They have to test the waters. It’s the key ingredient in the recipe of becoming. But like everyone, youth want to be heard, seen, and acknowledged. They want us to see their behavior and look at the need beneath it: belonging. Use your superpower to help them feel like they belong.
Youth literacy activities are fertile ground for social/emotional learning and a place where life skills can be acquired. Your superpower has a place here too!
When you share your superpower with youth, you will get to play a key role in this chapter of their development. You will get to be part of the process of them learning about how they show up in the world. You will get to watch them test the limits of things. You will see them develop their values and interests.
At the end of my time at Zeal, we had a going away party where the youth all signed a book for me to bring back to Canada. The youth confirmed that by using my superpower I made a difference. They wrote things like: “Thank you for all of the times when I haven’t been me and you have been there to talk to and chill with” and “You cared so much more than we ever expected you to and I’m so grateful for your support”.
So, I leave you with this question: What is your superpower? Allow this to be the door to connect with the youth in your life.
If you are looking for ways to deepen your connections and relationships with youth, here are a few places to start:
- Article: Building Connection: Conversation Starters for Youth in Challenging Times
- Card Game: We’re Not Really Strangers Normal Edition or Kids Edition
- Framework: Search Institute’s Developmental Relationships
Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy