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Independent reflections

by persons affiliated with HDPI

7 Relational Lenses

For Meaningful Connections With Young People

By Stephen Hanmer D'Elia, JD, LMSW

27 March 2024

17 Relational Lenses for Meaningful Connections with Young People (HDPI Blog) (1)_Page_1

Over the past 25 years, my roles as a therapist, social worker, and policy maker have given me the privilege of working with remarkable young people. These experiences have not only enriched my personal and professional journey, but have also served as an invaluable source of continuous learning, teaching me lessons only the unique perspectives of young people could provide. From navigating New York City's child welfare complexities, aiding Liberia's post-conflict recovery, to supporting Afghan refugees in Pakistan, one key lesson has emerged: the critical importance of creating meaningful, respectful, and enriching connections with young people. This insight—that every encounter, no matter its duration, offers a pathway for healing—has profoundly shaped my career, highlighting the potential in each interaction to drive meaningful and positive change in the lives of young people.

Below are 7 relational lenses from a young person's perspective.  These serve as a roadmap for professionals in various fields to engage effectively with young people, highlighting how genuine, compassionate, and supportive interactions can profoundly enhance young people’s well-being.

1) CARE ABOUT ME - Show me that I matter to you

Demonstrate that I'm important to you by being trustworthy, respectful, and honest—even about uncertainties. Be reliable and clear in your communication, ensuring you inform me of risks to enable me to make informed decisions.

2) LISTEN TO ME - Really pay attention when we are together

Be fully present and attentive, validating my experiences and feelings to make me feel understood and valued. Strive to understand, connect with, and learn from me.

3) BE WARM WITH ME - Show me you enjoy being with me

Consistently offer encouragement, support, and praise. Be patient and create numerous opportunities for engagement.

4) SUPPORT ME - Help me complete tasks and achieve goals

Assist me in completing tasks and achieving goals by setting clear boundaries, advocating for me, guiding me through challenges, and bolstering my confidence.

5) CHALLENGE ME TO GROW - Push me to keep getting better

Encourage me to fulfill my potential and extend beyond my comfort zone. Maintain accountability and help me learn from both successes and failures.

6) EXPAND MY POSSIBILITIES - Connect me with people and experiences that broaden my world

Enrich my perspective by introducing me to new ideas, places, experiences, and mentors to inspire my growth and future aspirations.

7) SHARE POWER WITH ME - Treat me with respect and give me a say

Respect me by involving me in decisions, collaborating on solutions, allowing me to lead, and honoring my narrative and choices. Let me tell my story the way I want to share my story. Recognize and value my contributions.


** These lenses are adapted from the Search Institute’s Developmental Relationships Framework and are also informed by my recent collaborative efforts with the U.S. Government’s Unaccompanied Children’s Program in the Office of Refugee Resettlement. To learn more about my work, visit **