Youth advocate encourages webs of support to build resiliency

CIZ COM 0815 Derek Peterson
Peterson illustrated a “web of support” to help youth thrive (photo by Heather Lusk)

By Heather Lusk

Why do some children thrive while others fail?

That was the question youth advocate Derek Peterson explored as he spoke to more than 1,500 community members over two sessions Aug. 3 after meeting with educators, Zionsville Community Schools staff and selected students.

Peterson believes that creating a web of support for youth is a big factor, illustrating the concept by asking volunteers to act as anchors connected by crisscrossed strings to hold a balloon.

Adult anchors serve as support for each child whether they are teachers, family members, family friends, coaches or mentors. Ideally each child needs at least five caring adults in their life, Peterson said. The anchors create a web of protective factors (shown with string), whether concrete like food and a home or conceptual like courage and integrity. The balloon, or youth, won’t fall into the cracks of the web according to Peterson if they have strong support or if they “fill their balloon.”

“If you build the web of support the safety net takes care of itself,” Peterson said.

Peterson said that youth with strong webs become more resilient to social challenges and thrive in overcoming adversity and helping others.

“Your kid is more likely to thrive when they’re more connected to other people,” Peterson said. “Our data says every kid needs a personal village.”

He encouraged parents to see kids in a full spectrum of color versus the black and white of a good kid or bad kid.

“Accentuate the positive and that affects the whole color spectrum,” he said as a way to interact with teens. “Web up, because you will be more resilient if you have a web of support.”

As an expert in the field of youth development, Peterson was sponsored by ZCS as part of the Strong in Every Way initiative.