How to be a more “askable” adult – even if you feel awkward or clueless

Be someone they can talk to.

“I never felt comfortable with teenagers,” lamented a friend, “even when I was one!”  Now that her older child was entering adolescence, she saw him turning toward peer relationships and away from her. “I realized it was now or never,” she told me. “I set up a weekly breakfast date with my son. We both look forward to going out for a bagel before school. Sometimes I feel awkward, but even the silences and ‘small talk’ help us have a better balance of positive interactions in the weekly mix.”

Vermont youth want more approachable adults who “get it,”, who they can turn to for help navigating stress and challenges. Research confirms that askable adults are essential for youth well-being and resilience. 

This is more important than ever, with youth mental health in steep decline – especially among youth who are LGBTQ+, BIPOC or female (2021 CDC study).  Less than a third of Vermont’s LGBTQ+ students of color believe that they matter to people in their community (2019 VDH study). 

That’s where you come in.  Adults – let’s do this! It’s time to do better at supporting the youth in our lives.  

 What if you are not one of those “cool” adults who naturally form positive relationships with youth?  If you worry you don’t know how to connect, you are not alone.  The good news is you don’t have to be perfect or super smooth. We aren’t experts and you don’t have to be either. 

 Connecting across generations is an innate capacity in all of us. As we grow into adulthood this capacity can get buried if we aren’t exercising the right muscles. Becoming more askable starts with rediscovering and working those muscles. It takes a real commitment to learning and practicing, but it’s not rocket science.. 

 Where to begin? Start by being present and paying attention. Put down the phone, turn away from the dishes and take a few minutes to just be. 

Check in about how they are doing before asking about what they are doing. Wonder about how they see things. Listen to understand. Notice how awesome they are. Connect with gratitude for this incredible person on their own unique path.

Luckily the small improvements we make along the way can have a big impact on relationships. The fact is, the youth in our lives want us to do better – and when we do, they respond.

Original Artwork by Teppi Zuppo @aioazech