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. This is a Foundational Experience for young people, or one that lays the groundwork for all of the others in Hello Insight’s logic model.


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 more than 125,000 young people, participating in more than 1,500 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 a Foundational Experience for all young people, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. In fact, young
people who participate in programs that purposefully build strong youth-adult relationships demonstrate growth in SEL that is more than double the growth seen in other programs (Sabo Flores, K. 2018).

Download the Reflection Guide


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 youth 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?

Boss Youth & Employer Empowerment Toolkit

MHA Labs
This toolkit includes 5 pre-packaged youth empowerment workshops and provides tips and strategies for constructive feedback. We like this toolkit because it supports staff members to ignite conversations about a young person’s strengths and challenges. It also provides techniques that can be taught and used in the classroom for peer-to-peer interactions.

Guiding Questions:

  • How can I use these resources to strengthen my feedback strategies with young people?
  • How can I use these resources to support young people to reflect on their own strengths and areas of challenge?

10 Tips for Building Relationships With Youth

National Afterschool Association
Great things happen when we actually participate alongside young people instead of just telling them what to do. This short handout with 10 specific tips for building relationships includes a discussion guide for professional development with staff.

Guiding Questions:

  • How can I assure that young people feel welcome in the program?
  • How can I provide each young person with individualized attention?
  • How can I check in with young people every day?

6 Ways to Build Better Relationships with Youth

The Family & Youth Institute
Sometimes we get comfortable in our roles and forget crucial practices that lead to better relationships with young people. This two-minute video reminds us to get to know young people by listening actively with body language, showing them we care by paraphrasing, providing perspective, and celebrating their successes. We love the graphics, and the information about mentoring young Muslims is very helpful to those working with this population.

Guiding Questions:

  • How does my body language affect young people?
  • How does the cultural background of young people influence my interactions with them?

Rita Pierson: Every Kids 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?

Transforming Positive Youth Development: A case for youth organizing

Funders Collaborative for Youth Organizing
This study highlights the ways in which youth organizing groups use and qualitatively transform positive youth development practices. In youth organizing groups, the adults are seen as allies rather than teachers, and the issues of power dynamics and adultism are addressed directly. Adult allies encourage people to share their unique stories, helping them understand the social, political and historical natures of their collective experiences. All activities, actions and campaigns are centered on these stories and young people work to effect change on the issues that have been identified.

Guiding Questions:

  • How can I use the PYD approaches used in youth organizing in my program?
  • How can I center the voices and experiences of the young people?