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Why Relationships Matter

When it comes to young people’s success, who they know is often as important as what they know.

Developmental Relationships

Young people follow many different paths to their life goals. With guidance and support, young people can follow the path that’s right for them – where they can thrive and reach their full potential.

Strong developmental relationships with teachers, family members, practitioners, mentors, and others can help. These important relationships open doors to new opportunities, create a sense of belonging, offer advice, and provide other forms of emotional and tangible support.

Benefits of Strong Relationships

Young people who report having a strong developmental relationship with teachers or program staff are more likely to experience positive outcomes.

Youth who report strong developmental relationships (DRs) with a teacher or program staff tend to report greater social-emotional competence, academic motivation, and high levels of civic skills (score 0-100) than youth with weak or moderate DRs.

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Meeting Young People’s Relational Needs

While we know strong, developmental relationships are critical for young people’s success, not all young people are experiencing these important relationships. In fact, less than half (only 46%) of young people report experiencing a strong developmental relationship with an adult.

In over a decade of research, we have found some important differences in how and where youth experience strong developmental relationships and what gets in the way, including lack of resources, economic constraints, life experiences, and racism and discrimination.

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"I know a lot of [adults] at school, but I can’t really have a relationship with them if I don’t trust them."
10th Grade Student Minnesota

Relationships are Worth the Investment

Nearly 80% of program and school staff say they are personally invested in relationships. BUT, when we asked how invested their organizations were only 41% agreed. This 38% gap between personal commitment and perceived organizational commitment is telling. It’s possible that staff want to invest in relationships, but real or perceived organizational barriers are getting in the way and perhaps inadvertently undermining their commitment.

The organization’s relational culture plays an essential role in ensuring that all young people, regardless of background or circumstances, have the nurturing, support, and guidance they need to learn, grow, and thrive.

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The Importance of a Web of Relationships

Developmental relationships unfold within a broad web of relationships in young people’s lives — with teachers, coaches, friends and classmates, immediate and extended family, adults and other children in the neighbor­hood, youth programs, religious congregations, part-time workplaces, and other community set­tings.

Each relationship offers something different, in different circumstances, and with differing effects at different times in development.

All young people can thrive and reach their full potential when they are supported by a web of meaningful relationships.

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Related Resources to Strengthen Relationships

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Developmental Relationships Framework

Five key elements —expressed in 20 specific actions—that make relationships powerful.

Learn more
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Relationships Check

A tool for self-reflection and conversation designed to assess where relationships with young people are strong and where they can grow.

Learn more
Rooted in Relationships Podcast image.

Rooted in Relationships Podcast

The power of relationships. Insights from renowned researchers and youth development experts.

Learn more