Developing youth leadership skills during middle and high school most often makes us think of after-school group activities and special programs designed to train emerging young leaders. But parents can also foster leadership in their children at home by using a simple tool—the family meeting.
The concept of the family meeting has been popular for several decades and is often recommended by psychologists and family therapists to build positive relationships. Regular weekly meetings are a formal opportunity for families to discuss important issues, plan, problem solve, and have fun together.
Much has been written about the benefits of family meetings, how to develop a family meeting agenda, and habits that make family meetings successful. If you have never held family meetings or would like to learn more about them, read “ Family Meetings Can Be Fun, Productive, and Meaningful. ”
This article looks at family meeting through a new lens—with a focus on youth leadership development. It’s a topic not often associated with family meetings. But there is good evidence that children can learn core leadership skills in their home environments by taking a lead role in family meetings.
Youth Leadership Begins with Practice
As children transition into and through adolescence, they need to practice skills that will teach them how to exercise positive influence over themselves and others. These skills do not come naturally to many children because they have not been in situations where leadership skills are easily developed. In fact, to become comfortable as a leader, it is helpful to learn and practice new skills in a safe, nurturing environment.
Set limits and encourage playtime. Media use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Unstructured and offline play stimulates creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children.
What are youth leadership skills? How can they be nurtured by families?
You will find many listings of youth leadership skills. Here, we’ll focus on the skills that parents can best nurture at home within the structure of family meetings. These meetings provide a formal opportunity for kids to learn and practice.
Youth leadership skills include:
- Goal setting
How Family Meetings Can Inspire Youth Leadership
Family meetings are built around agendas, much like after-school clubs, organizations, or business meetings. When parents decide to start regular meetings with children, there is a certain amount of ongoing preparation required, like learning what agenda topics work best, experimenting with new ideas, adapting to change, facilitating problem-solving, etc. Like most groups that seek consensus and strive to work together, family meetings can be messy.
Gaining Distance from Family Members
At first, parents are the role models. They show children a way of learning together that is not always perfect. They learn from mistakes. They make sure everyone has a voice in problem-solving and decision-making. They are the major cheerleaders for making family meetings work!
Once family meetings because a mainstay in your household, leadership should shift.
Elementary-school-age children can contribute to leading different parts of the agenda, like creating a meeting opening, picking a topic for discovery time, or planning the fun family activity. As children mature into middle and high school, giving them more responsibility in leading family meetings continues to build youth leadership skills.
Youth Leadership Requires the Ability to Set and Achieve Goals
Planning and goal-setting are important aspects of family meetings. They are opportunities for families to plan trips and outings together, organize family service projects, manage chores, learn to budget, etc.
We know from research, that goal setters often become peak performers . Goal setting is a skill that is highly associated with those who excel in school, work, and life. Research has uncovered many key aspects of goal setting theory and its link to success (Kleingeld, et al, 2011). Setting goals is linked with self-confidence, motivation, and autonomy (Locke & Lathan, 2006). One study showed when people wrote down their goals, they were 33% more successful in achieving them than those who formulated outcomes in their heads.
Family meetings not only give children a voice in goal-setting but also the ability to play an active role with keeping minutes and tracking goals. These are tasks that are easily shared with children as they mature into their teen years.
Children who learn to set and achieve goals with their families become intimately familiar with the process. They understand that achievement takes perseverance and determination. They learn that problems and challenges arise along the path to success that must be overcome. They acquire the ability to work with others and communicate clearly. Instead of expecting parents to have the answers or make all of the decisions, they begin to see themselves as part of creating solutions that work for everyone.
Serve a food again and again. If your child rejects a new dish, don't give up hope. You may have to offer it another six, eight, or even 10 times before he eats it and decides he likes it.
Problem-Solving and Consensus-Building: A Vital Skill for Youth Leaders
Youth leadership outside of the home requires children to solve problems by building consensus among groups of people. These are some of the most important skills required to successfully lead community engagement and service efforts as well as after-school clubs and organizations.
Not surprisingly, problem-solving within families is challenging, just as it is in the world beyond families. Since problem-solving is almost always part of the agenda of family meetings, it presents a unique opportunity to give your teenager some experience in facilitating this process with other family members. Of course, before they jump in, they’ll need some guidance, role modeling, and your assurance that failure is an acceptable option because that’s how we learn. Parents must be there to support their teens, ready to show understanding and love.
The Eco-Friendly Family
Teens who learn to handle various parts of the family meeting agenda become confident in their abilities to perform similar tasks outside of home. In the process, they learn other valuable skills, like how to listen to others, build consensus, put themselves in other people’s shoes.