Building Meaningful Relationships With Kids

“Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Only one out of five 15-year-olds has the kind of meaningful relationship with adults— outside of their family — that helps them to succeed in life, reports a new study by Search Institute and Best Buy. All kids are more likely to get better grades in school, have better outlooks about their future, and become more actively engaged in their communities when they have caring adults involved in their lives. Whether you’re a parent of a toddler, tween, or teen; there are still endless opportunities to connect with the young people sharing the world around us, and make a difference in a young person’s life.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents and adults
  • Find ways to connect with your own kids—and the kids around them. Get to know the names of your kids’ friends.
  • When you see kids, make eye contact with them and smile. Be friendly. Say hi.
  • Listen to kids. Really hear what they have to say.
  • Encourage kids to discover activities they love to do, which Search Institute researchers call “sparks.” Find out more about sparks at
  • Attend a concert, sports game, or other event that a child you know is participating in. Afterward thank the child.
  • Learn more about how to build meaningful relationships with kids by downloading the free Search Institute/Best Buy study at
    • Connecting with children ages birth to 5
    • Smile whenever you see a baby. Make friendly faces that the baby likes. Introduce yourself to the parents. Ask them about their baby.
    • Squat down to get down on the same eye level as young children. Read the young child’s facial cues on how to act. Some are slow to warm up, so make it easy for them to interact with you.
    • Look for simple ways to have fun with young children. Blow bubbles together. Take turns making animal sounds—or acting like a certain animal.
    • Connecting With Children ages 6 to 9
    • As children go to school, ask what they’re discovering and learning. Find out about the friends they’re meeting at school.
    • Ask children to read aloud to you. This is a key age for children to learn to read, and they need adults who will listen to them practice.
    • Be silly together. Compare amazing feats you can do. Can you stand on your head? Roll your tongue? Snort while you laugh? Touch your toes without bending your knees?
    • Connecting with children ages 10 to 15
    • Eighty percent of 15-year-olds say that adults who “get them” are adults who listen to them. Take the time to listen to young teenagers. They have a lot to say!
  • Get involved in youth activities that you’re passionate about (such as soccer or playing an instrument). Young people need passionate adults who can get to know them and talk about subjects that matter to them.
  • **Find out more about the strengths of young teenagers. Visit at 15 at
  • Don’t ignore teenagers. They want to connect with adults. Take the time to learn their names and get to know them. Get more tips by downloading the free Search Institute/Best Buy study at
    • Connecting with children ages 16 to 18
    • Marvel at the talents and accomplishments of older teenagers. Some have been playing baseball, acting in theater, playing a viola, or doing something they’ve been passionate about since a young age. Tell teenagers how proud you are of them.
    • Find out what teenagers think about various current events, such as the economy, recycling, injustice, and crime. Teenagers have thoughtful insights they like to share.
    • Ask teenagers to help you with something they know a lot about. Many are techno savvy and can help you with cell phones, web pages, the Internet and more. Others love gardening or doing home projects. Get them involved in things they enjoy and are good at doing.
  • Encourage older teenagers to do their best at school, in their activities, and in their relationships with others.

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Peter C. Scales, Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, and Peter Benson, Teen Voice 2010: Relationships that Matter to America’s Teens (Richfield: Best Buy and Minneapolis: Search Institute, 2010). Download a free copy of the study at Ibid. Ibid.