Article By Brooklyn Raney, Guest Expert and author of the book One Trusted Adult.
5 Minute Read
Have you ever heard the quote, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future?” In my work with young people, I use this phrase to prompt discussion on the power of influence. The greatest predictor of our preferences, choices, and habits is the network of people that surrounds us. In other words, we mirror and mimic much of what we see. The good news is that we have the opportunity to craft this network of powerful people in our lives to meet our needs and help us follow our dreams.
When engaging in a conversation with young people about their network, it is important to go further in defining, specifically, the roles that adults play in their lives. Here are three categories we want to make sure they understand and have represented in their sphere of influence:
A trusted adult is someone a young person can go to for good, for bad, for happy or sad. Trusted adults are accessible, boundaried, and caring, as well as accepting, affirming, dependable, and kind. They can be family members, or not, and will ensure your child feels safe and supported. It is important that every child can name a trusted adult to turn to in any space they are in, specifically when you are not present—school, summer camp, etc.
A mentor is someone with expertise in an area of interest for your child, someone who invests in the child’s skill development in that area. Whether it’s a music teacher, athletic coach, yoga instructor, or master crafter, a healthy mentor in a specific area will help your child grow their passion and sense of self-worth.
A role model might be someone your child knows, or it may be someone not directly connected. They are someone who does something your child admires, or who lives in a way your child hopes to emulate. These days, role models may come in the form of a big cousin or a famous TikTok contributor—what is important is that your child is choosing healthy older people to admire, and that you talk through what it is that they most appreciate and respect about these role models.
Where do young people learn to grow their network of influencers? From you! Children learn to trust others because you model doing so, they learn to seek out mentors because you share how someone mentored you, and they idolize certain role models because they see you do the same.
Try this with the young people in your life:
Each of you should draw a disco ball—yes, a disco ball—a big circle with many square mirrors. Then, in thinking about your own lives, fill in the squares with the people whose opinions, ideas, experiences, and thoughts fill your feed. These might include parents, colleagues, friends, neighbors, celebrities, or influencers. You can also include sources of messages you and your young people receive, such as social media or news. Take a moment and study what each of you has listed—what do you notice? Have you built a network of influencers in your life who align with your definitions of success and happiness?
Next, share the definitions for Trusted Adult, Mentor, and Role Model with your young people. Ask them to circle on their drawing, in different colors, the people who meet the definitions of each category. Some will overlap and be both a trusted adult and a mentor, or a trusted adult and a role model—great! If your child doesn’t have anyone to circle in one of the three categories, brainstorm with them on who they could add, or how they could find and connect with adults who meet the criteria. Keep the conversation going on the importance of a healthy network of adults and peers.
Brooklyn is the Founder and Lead Trainer of One Trusted Adult, an organization that provides programming for educators, parents and young people, to ensure that every young person has at least one trusted adult.
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