January 20, 2022
The students in your program are not likely to be “spoiled” at home, though you might find they’re occasionally “indulged” by parents wishing they could make their lives just a little easier. With a quick review of the milestone matrix prepared by Y4Y to accompany the new Stages of Child and Adolescent Development course, you’ll gain some basic ideas of what students need most from the adults in their lives at various stages of development. Use these tips and additional Y4Y tools to explore those areas where your program can offer students the royal treatment by supporting healthy growth and development for the best possible life outcomes.
Students ages 4-6 are improving their fine motor skills, are beginning to understand cause and effect, and want to show off their skills. Ways to support these areas of development include
- Establishing a program space rich with materials that “grow with” young peoples’ motor development, like crayons and paint brushes in different sizes.
- Asking many leading questions, even ones that are not lesson-oriented, like “What could happen if I don’t tie this long shoelace of mine?”
- Creating opportunities to show off talents great and small, reminding students to encourage one another and not always take a competitive position. For example: a hopping-on-one-foot “break” (not contest) could be a nice way to take a breather from academics. You can call out different students for how creatively or slowly they hop as well as the student who hops the longest.
Students ages 6-9 may become more physical in their games, are beginning to read to learn once they’ve learned to read, and are beginning to identify their own personality traits in comparison with others. Ways to support these areas of development include
- Offering a variety of options during outdoor playtime with established safety ground rules and the opportunity to play contact sports to the degree all participants are comfortable.
- Coordinating with school partners like the librarian to offer interesting reading material that supports academics. Offer “fact treasure hunt” activities.
- Providing daily reflection opportunities. Choose an adjective each day like “confident,” “strong,” or “smart,” and ask students to remember a moment in their day when they saw this trait in themselves.
Students ages 9-12 are developing faster reaction times, experiencing a rise in self-esteem as interest-based peer groups emerge, and are increasingly able to monitor and direct their own progress toward a long-term goal. Ways to support these areas of development include
- Interspersing “rapid-fire” quizzing as a study strategy for students who enjoy that activity and are not stressed by it.
- Offering icebreaker activities throughout the year to help students continually look for things in common with all their peers. Challenge them to make “unexpected” connections.
- Allowing long-term group projects to be centered on student voice and choice and student-driven goal setting.
Check out Y4Y’s Icebreaker Activities and Student Goal Setting and Reflection – Middle School.
Students ages 12-15 are completing puberty, growing critical of adults and siblings, may thrive on conflict ranging from intellectual debate to serious rebellion, and becoming anxious for the future. Ways to support these areas of development include
- Firmly establishing your program as a safe space for different opinions and life experiences while fostering constructive debates about society and the world around your students.
- Forging deeper trust and connections with students while maintaining healthy boundaries between adults and teens.
- Offering a wide variety of career pathway activities to broaden students’ horizons and help them to envision themselves as successful adults.
Students ages 15-18 are physically mature or nearly so, likely to be feeling strong emotions like anger or loneliness even if those emotions aren’t always obvious, and are increasingly able to take everything they’ve learned to make decisions about their future. Ways to support these areas of development include
- Encouraging initiative and leadership skills in your program and beyond.
- Continuing to educate students on all aspects of lifelong health and wellness, centered on better understanding themselves and their own needs, and making good choices in much more “adult” arenas.
- Offering guidance through the practical aspects of career pathway choices such as test prep, college or apprenticeship applications, or speaking with military recruiters.
No Such Thing as a Spoiled Child
It may be decades before we can successfully remove the term “spoiled” from the long list of adjectives we might use for children. But as a youth worker, you understand better than most that term simply means that expectations on a child do not match what is developmentally appropriate for them. Often you are aware of why this might be the case for the students in your program. But raising these princes and princesses to be their best selves is an honor you share with their parents, so remember to team up with tools like Y4Y’s Sample Caregiver Survey and Partnering With Families for Healthy Child Development Training to Go.
One day your students will rule the world. We’ll all benefit from them ruling wisely.