Engage Authentically is a young person’s experience with an adult who takes the time to get to know them by listening and understanding who they are—their cultural and lived experiences, their interests, and their passions.

Engaging authentically involves placing young people’s personal stories at the center of the program’s work and ensuring that they feel valued, heard, and cared for by adults...


Empirical research shows that the number of hours young people spend in a program, or the number of activities they engage in, does not make a difference (Flores, K. 2018; Pekel, K. 2016; Pekel, K., et al., 2015). Rather, it's positive, meaningful relationships with adults that really drive social and emotional learning.

In 2015 the Search Institute conducted a provocative study that found that positive youth-adult relationships were ten times more predictive than demographics in influencing mastery of social and emotional learning (SEL) skills (Pekel, K., et. al., 2015). In 2016, they conducted a  second study that showed that when young people had a greater number of positive relationships with adults, they reported higher academic motivation, stronger social and emotional skills, and a more responsible attitude. They were also less likely to engage in risky behaviors (Pekel, K., 2016).

The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2015) has also found that the single most common finding in their research was that children who end up doing well after childhood trauma "had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult.”


Young people are dynamic and full of promise, with many different pathways to success. Every year Hello Insight mines our growing dataset of nearly 20,000 young people, participating in approximately 400 programs nation-wide, so that we can continue to learn what works for each and every young person.

Hello Insight has found that Authentic Engagement is fundamental in developing SEL and works in concert with the other two PYD experiences to promote growth for all ages, gender identities, and ethnicities.

Download the Reflection Guide


Hello Insight, in collaboration with Youth Inc., created the series Positive Youth Development in Practice, where we share different practical ways to promote Positive Youth Development experiences in young people through examples from other organizations. In this case, watch how our members practice Engaging Authentically with young people.


In Between Times

Hello Insight
This blog by Hello Insight’s CEO, Kim Flores, illustrates the importance of engaging authentically with young people, and provides hard evidence to show that positive relationships between young people and adults and amongst peers accelerates SEL growth. She also argues that collecting and valuing data about how young people experience relationships in programs is important for continuous reflection on engaging authentically with young people.

Guiding Questions:

  • To what extent does our program value getting to know young people?
  • How can I make this practice more explicit in my work?

Communicating Well With Babies and Children

Raising Children
This website provides tips for communicating with children from 0 to 12 years of age and shares resources for active listening that can be used with staff and/or parents.

Guiding Questions:

  • When can I set aside time in the day to really listen to my group?
  • What active listening tips can I use with my group?
  • How can I be a better role model for my group?

Active Listening

Mind Tools
A key component of teamwork is listening, but how often do we teach it? This article includes everything you need to know to become an active listener or to build a lesson around active listening. We like it both as a component of a professional development session with staff and as a lesson for young people.

Guiding Questions:

  • How and when do we actively listen to young people?
  • How do we teach them to actively listen to one another?
  • How can we improve active listening in our program?

The Power of Positive Youth Relationships

Think, Feel, Act: Empowering children in the middle years

This article provides supporting research about the power of positive youth relationships, arguing that the quality of children’s interactions with family members, caregivers, educators, peers, and the larger community is central to their well-being. It also offers helpful strategies for building positive and healthy relationships.

Guiding Questions:

  • How can I eliminate perceptual biases?
  • How can I recognize and reduce stress for the young people in my program?
  • How do I understand my own temperament and those of the young people in my program?
  • How can my program promote respectful citizenship and peer bonding?

Every Kid Needs a Champion


Rita Pierson reminds us of a basic concept—kids do not learn from teachers, they don’t like. This eight-minute video discusses the value of human relationships in education. Her main message is that we might not love all of our students, but they need to think we do.

Guiding Questions:

  • How do I demonstrate to young people that they matter?
  • What biases do I bring to my interactions with young people and how can I overcome them?