How To Connect On An Eye-To-Eye Level With Challenging Youth

When you deal with disadvantaged or difficult youth (delinquent, rebellious, low self-esteem) it is often a challenge to connect with them. First of all, it needs time. But there are some very important behaviours you should stick to from the beginning in order to build a connection.

Youth with an unfortunate background or in a difficult life situation usually won’t trust you! You are suspicious to them for one main reason: They not only blame themselves for being “weak” and not being able to meet society’s expectations, they are also aware of how people usually look at them and they assume that you will look at them in the same negative way. It’s up to you to prove that the opposite is true and that you can be trusted as person who understands them and who won’t blame them.

Below, I share some behaviours which helped me during my work in South Africa, Kenya and Switzerland to create trust and to connect on an eye-to-eye level with disadvantaged youth:

  • Never look down on them or look at them as being vulnerable. Prove it by treating them the same way you treat your best friend or any other person who is close to you, regardless of their behaviour or their past.
  • Tease them by using humour and making jokes, the same way good friends do. This is a very powerful way of showing that you trust them. You can only tease someone you trust, otherwise you would be too insecure about this person’s response. On top, there is nothing more connecting than laughing together.
  • Ignore their issues or what they did wrong in the past even though you know about it. Show that you don’t care and that you only want to spend time with them in the present, in the HERE and NOW. This way you show that you won’t judge them. It gives them the feeling of having a chance to be acknowledged and recognised neutrally without any prejudice.
  • Show interest in what they do (not in them as a person!). Maybe they have a special hobby, skill or feature. Treat them like experts and ask technical questions to learn more about it. This way you look up to them and they are taken seriously.
  • Never ask personal questions about their past or future. You are the one who is on stage now and you have to share about yourself first. Share your attitudes, personality and your weaknesses, without caring about theirs. Show them that you are not perfect by sharing your bad stories from the past. Open up yourself while using their language and including self-ironic jokes.

To summarize, you have to gain trust by trusting the youth first. This can be achieved by showing vulnerability and disclosing yourself, by not judging them for anything and by looking up to them as experts in a specific topic. Humour can be used as a catalyser along the way.