Supporting Young People

Helping Youth Belong

The hit TV series “Cheers” in the 1980’s provided great acting, interesting storylines, and comedy but one of the best things that the show gave the audience was the lyrics in the theme song.

“Making the way in the world today take everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.” - Gary Portnoy

The lyrics from this song illustrate the human need and desire to “fit in” or simply belong. This need for belonging is important for adults but it is absolutely critical for children and youth. Research indicates that when youth are excluded there are psychological and physical consequences such as sadness, anger, anxiety, self-doubt, loneliness, and a greater likelihood that they will engage in risky behaviors such as tobacco and alcohol use or dropping out of school. Involvement in these harmful activities does not place youth on a path to being confident, caring, capable, and contributing citizens. It is important for family and community members to help create a sense of belonging so young people can thrive.

When adults create a sense of belonging for youth, either in their families, at schools, or in their communities, young people receive the message that they are valued and they matter. According to youth development scholars, a sense of belonging helps serve as the foundation for children and youth’s future social interactions. By establishing these social interactions young people can gain emotional competence, learn how to self-regulate, develop a growth mindset, increase perseverance, and gain hope.

As adults, it is essential that we create environments that promote belonging. This can be done by creating spaces where young people are seen, heard, affirmed, and simply included. Adults can do this by serving as mentors, role models, and advocates for young people. 4-H Youth Development is one example of where adults can create appropriate and caring connections with youth through 4-H clubs, during the school day, or in the afterschool setting. 4-H Youth Development strives to create environments for young people to learn about a variety of subjects, interact with caring adults, and simply help youth feel like they belong.

If you are interested in learning more about helping create a safe and inclusive environment for youth, contact your local Extension office to learn more about 4-H Youth Development or visit

The simple act of making young people feel like they belong is a critical investment in their future. This sense of belonging gives a message that they matter, provides hope, and serves as an example to them the importance of knowing everyone's name and conveying the message that you are always glad they came.