On Saturday, March 24, thousands of young people will gather in Washington, DC, and other cities across the country and around the world for the March for Our Lives demonstration to end gun violence in our communities and schools.
Many educators and youth development leaders are thrilled that young people are “finding their voice” on a critical social issue that affects their lives and the nation. Commentators and experts are recalling the vital roles young people have played in major social changes throughout history, including U.S. civil rights, the Arab Spring in the Middle East, the workers’ rights movement in the early 1900s, and many others.
Yet it would be a mistake to stand on the sidelines, leaving young people on their own. Young people need allies, mentors, elders, friends, teachers, and families to walk alongside them—figuratively or literally—as they take a stand for what they believe in, develop activism skills, and deal with inevitable setbacks.
Like so many areas of life, young people need allies who are trustworthy and who “have their back.” They need what we at Search Institute call “developmental relationships,” or relationships that help them be and become their best selves, including active citizens in creating a better nation and world.
So what do we do in our relationships to “be there” for young people who are combating gun violence through events such as March for Our Lives? The following six relational actions apply Search Institute’s Developmental Relationships Framework to this historical moment.
These actions are not just one-way actions that adults do with and for young people. They are two-way experiences, grounded in the healthy give and take that is part of every strong relationship. So the question we must also ask ourselves is: How are we responding to, learning from, and being inspired by the young people in our lives to take action for the common good? How are young people inviting—and challenging—us to be and become our best selves?
The six actions described above offer starting points for deepening relationships as young people find their voices and work for change.