Let young people guide you

I cannot emphasize this enough. We listened and responded to what we heard from young people from the start—and it continues to pay off.

When we began our program planning conversations, we made a conscious effort to include middle and high schoolers. We wanted to hear directly from our youth about the kinds of issues they were dealing with every day. What we learned was that while they were getting some good advice about keeping relationships healthy, no one was advising them on what to do when those relationships end. Is there such a thing as a healthy break-up? How can you ensure one? How do you react to one in a healthy way?

Just by listening to our youth, we had found ourselves a great programming opportunity—one that we likely would not have found if we had only talked to adults. We promptly began planning our first-ever Break-Up Summit to bring youth and adults together for workshops and discussions on how to have and handle a safe, respectful and healthy break-up. With over 200 participants, the Summit became a resounding success, and remains a key annual event of ours.

At the Summit, after attending joint activities with youth in the morning, adult participants—most of whom work in after-school programming—attend separate workshops in the afternoon where they learn how to best support teens before, during and after break-ups. We typically have both adult and teen facilitators co-leading each workshop, which provides another way for youth to drive the work.

We want to make sure the Summit remains meaningful and relevant, so we hold focus groups with youth in our area every year before we begin planning. For example, one year we focused the Summit on technology and how to respectfully manage a break-up on social media. The next year, we focused on cheating, a tricky but crucial subject that many middle schoolers and high schoolers encounter.