Itai Dinour -

Mar 16, 2022

Relationships: What Young People Need to Thrive

This week, Einhorn Collaborative is releasing A Call to Connection, a primer we commissioned that explains the need for and benefits of deeper human connection, which makes the case for relationships as ends in themselves, not just means to an end.

Created by Sacred Design Lab with support from the Greater Good Science Center and a community of experts, this document weaves together extensive scientific findings, insights from ancient wisdom and traditions, examples of effective projects nourishing communities, and concrete practices to create relationship-rich environments. This primer will resonate with many in the youth development sector whose work has always been grounded in relationships yet is underappreciated by public and private sector stakeholders who prioritize other outcomes. At the same time, those looking to begin or strengthen their approach to centering relationships will appreciate seven practices to cultivate a culture of connection, outlined on pages 42 to 49. No doubt, there are other examples of effective practices that could be added to this list.

We commissioned this tool to help leaders in multiple sectors better understand how vital human connection is to effectively addressing the challenges of our time. For young people today, as recently outlined in the U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory, the absence of authentic connections has contributed to a mental health crisis.

“Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread,” Surgeon General Murthy said, in his statement which cited pre-pandemic data including 1 in 3 students reported feeling persistent sadness or hopelessness and a 57% increase in youth suicide rates between 2007-2018. “The COVID-19 pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating. The future wellbeing of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation.”

—U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy

Supporting the mental and emotional health of young people requires a multi-pronged approach including increased emotional fluency and access to mental health professionals, as outlined in the advisory and related statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association. Overcoming the exacerbating effects of prolonged social distance demanded by COVID will demand that anyone who has a relationship with a young person, whether as a parent, caregiver, educator, coach, colleague, or friend, looks for ways to encourage and support young people in building meaningful relationships. In addition, a growing number of organizations and companies, from Thread, to the JED Foundation, to Eventbrite, are recognizing both this crisis and the opportunity to prioritize solutions to address it.

Einhorn Collaborative’s work in the adolescent space aims to create a “generation of bridgers" — individuals who have the motivations, mindset, and skills to help others navigate divides and work together in the face of civic problems, difference, or conflict. Understanding how to navigate the three key types of relationships — with those who are like you (bonding), with others across lines of difference (bridging), as well as relationships that require repair, renewal, and healing — is essential to help young people become bridgers.

We’ve learned from our partners over the years that to maximize the strength of relationships, organizations need to be intentional about preparing young people to navigate them. For example, Cornell University’s Foundations of Community-Engaged Learning facilitates a process for individuals to explore their own identities, seek shared purpose with their partners in communities, and develop the ability to reflect on their experiences in ways that will help inform how they will approach future relationships. City Year, in partnership with the Search Institute, has embraced the Developmental Relationships framework to train its AmeriCorps members and staff to create authentic relationships with students, community partners and each other. Dr. Nanyamka Redmond, this month’s Through the Prism, was one of the advisers who consulted on the Call to Connection primer. As a research scientist at the Search Institute, she’s actively involved in advancing this framework for youth in communities across the United States. In the above examples, none of this work is possible if young people and their adult allies don’t get to practice and role model healthy relationships with each other.

My hope is that A Call to Connection sparks a broader conversation that includes young people on the barriers and opportunities to putting healthy relationships at the center of the places where they learn, live, play and explore. By elevating the critical role relationships play in helping young people thrive, we can begin to address the immediate needs of this moment while also equipping them for a lifetime of healthy, productive human connection.

Itai Dinour formerly led Einhorn Collaborative’s Bridging strategy. Learn more about our work in Bridging and more about Itai. Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter.