Youth Work

“This is Genius”: The Benefit of Genuine and Authentic Relationships with Youth

The above video has received a lot of attention in the news and on social media in the past week. What has been the large appeal? What discussion has this video generated? A lot of the discussion has been around the social and political impact of a youth creating such a statement about the state of the United States public education system. After working in youth ministry and as a camp counselor for over seven years you notice trends such as the response to this video. Some of the happiest times for a youth ministry worker or anyone else that works with children and adolescence is when they choose to take on a challenge for themselves. In this video for example Ryan took on the challenge of telling his school administration what his thoughts about their current education system were through a video.

In an interview with WIVB-TV Ryan and Nick (his videographer) explained that the project had grown out of a poem that Ryan had wrote while at a summer camp. I happen to know Nick and others who have worked at Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center in Bemus Point, New York where Ryan had the ability to share his work and gain encouragement from fellow campers and staff alike. With such encouragement Ryan later found himself wanting to create the video and knew that one of the staff members was working on creating videos for a living; so he reached out. I take this as proof that the summer camp among other places in his life were able to create a caring and supporting environment for Ryan to explore his thoughts, beliefs, and opinions about the world that he has been living in. As a result of creating this environment Ryan was able to pull out from his own toolbox his talent for poetry to express what he believes to be an ineffective educational system. I do not know about anyone else but I know that even if he did not speak about an ineffective educational system I would still have been impressed by his confidence, understanding, leadership, and awareness to be able to create, produce, and run with his idea.

When you are able to create relationships with children and adolescence by being authentic, available, and holding an unconditional positive image of that individual you are creating a nurturing environment for them to grow, learn, and test the waters while be supported. This sounds like what parents and others try to create everyday for children and adolescence however, how effective are we being at this? How effective are we as a society supporting our children and adolescence in exploring their interests, activities, and new experiences? From my experience and understanding of society I have seen that the trend in working with youth is for them to fit strict guidelines that some parents and adults are not equipped to effectively help children and adolescence to achieve. Did your child decide what college they want to go to before they were done with high school? Did your child check out the 4-H club, Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, or any other organizations that can help your child develop specific skills as part of their development into a teenager and eventually an adult? Yes, it is beneficial to have experiences in these clubs and organizations but does your child want to be a part of them all the time? Do they enjoy their time in these places?

I have seen many caring and loving adults try to help the younger generations develop their lives in such a way that they can be happy, productive, and fulfilled by the end of their lives. The issue I have seen however is that as a society we are fighting a battle.

“We need our youth to grow up to be productive, effective, and contributing members to society.”


“We need our youth to be happy, exploring, and learning for themselves without us putting conditions of worth on them.”

In order to work through this conflict it is important to remember that in order to facilitate either of these we need to help children and adolescence live in a nurturing and caring environment in which they can be supported. In order to create such an environment we need to be empathetic, authentic, and available to them. If as adults we are able to accomplish interacting with children and adolescence in this way then we can support them as they work to achieve more relatedness, competence, and autonomy through exploration of their world’s norms, rules, and activities. The natural drive to relate to others is seen in adolescence through the immense need for peer support and opinion as they transition towards adulthood. We see their need for competence as part of their lives from when they are a child working on developing skills that they are interested in and developing certain talents that they will employ later in their lives in their work, play, and leisure time. The final piece of autonomy is seen as we all develop throughout our lifespans going through our childhood, adolescence, and then progressing through the various stages of adulthood. Just by being humans we have specific developmental milestones, challenges, and tasks that we need to accomplish in order to develop healthily and happily. Why would we want to complicate this even more by creating our own societal conditions of worth on our children and adolescence?

Conditions of worth meaning – in order for them to matter to us or get our attention they need to achieve X accomplishment, task, skill, etc. Why would we want to create these conditions of worth? We already have expectations and dreams for them by telling them to be respectful, helpful, courtesy, and kind among other pieces that society asks us to achieve in order to live as a functional human society. So what are  you asking that is functional to get through life and what are you asking that is not?

Curious about what the News has been saying about the “This is Genius” video? Check out the links below for articles and videos relating to Ryan Lotocki’s video.

The Buffalo News

WIVB-TV Wake Up Program Interview with Ryan Lotocki


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