Essential Elements for Our Children

— Written By Mary Arnaudin and last updated by
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Before We Rush “Back to Normal”

During this “pause”, this “intermission” – before the rush to resume or sign up for all our normal activities, travels, and commitments – what if there were a way to add back only those things that enrich our lives?

Specifically with our children, is there a way to sift through all the opportunities and choose only what will help them develop into caring, confident, capable young people?

One option is to review each activity to discern whether it includes the four Essential Elements of positive youth development that provide what youths really need – and actually seek –  to reach their full potential. Generally, if a young person is thriving, all four Essential Elements are present in their life, working in consort to help them succeed.

The Essentials defined:

A Sense of Belonging –the most critical element, foundational for the other three. Does each child feel accepted and valued by fellow group members and cared for by adult leaders who are actively engaged in learning with youth? Does each member feel safe to express themselves and contribute without fear of ridicule or abuse? Do they have fun and look forward to seeing fellow members?

Independence – and a sense of self-determination. Are youths trusted to set their own goals and plan how to achieve them – individually and as a group – instead of adults telling them what the goals are and how to reach them? Is the group youth-led and adult-supported, with opportunities to solve their own problems,  learn from mistakes and experience the rewards of persistence and hard work?

Generosity –for a sense of meaning and purpose beyond oneself. Do the members help each other? Do they plan/conduct meaningful projects to improve their community? Do they express appreciation for what others do for them?

Mastery – achieving a level of expertise in an area of personal interest beyond the basics. Are the youths learning through challenging hands-on activities with time to discuss/reflect and apply the experiences to their lives? Does mastery lead to greater self-confidence and an ability to share their knowledge/skills with others? Might the knowledge/skills gained become a life-long hobby, interest, or career?

Youths who experience these four Elements in positive ways will develop positive character traits that enable them to contribute to their own and others’ well-being. Those who gain the Elements in negative ways (for example, joining a violent gang to meet the need for belonging) may be defined by negative traits and those who never experience the Elements may give up and withdraw from society.

Sifting through the myriad of activity options in light of the Essential Elements can help you discern whether your children are getting what they really need for their total well-being. Which ones are worth your investment of time, energy, and resources once we “get back to Normal”?

To learn more about Essential Elements