Have you ever been told to meet a young person where they are? What does that even mean? It’s a complicated question. Finding language to describe “where we are” in our life at any given time can be difficult—and it’s even harder for young people because they have had less practice communicating their wants, needs, and emotions.
One Trusted Adult has created the Comfort Zones to help young people communicate with the adults in their lives about where they are and how they’re feeling about different aspects of life, including what they need. The Comfort Zones create a common vocabulary and serve as a connection tool, a conversation starter, a well- being tracker and more.
Whether you are discussing friendships, geometry proofs, or swim team practice, use the language of the Comfort Zones with the young people in your care. Ask them, “What zone do you think YOU are in?” Your aim, as a trusted adult, is to help young people stay on the “up and up”—that is, above the horizontal grid line, in the good kind of comfortable and the good kind of uncomfortable. As trusted adults and advisors, we want to help our students toggle between the Growth Zone and the Rest Zone.
In the Rest Zone, ease and predictability are the signature feelings; this is the good kind of comfortable. This zone is important because it allows us to rest, reset, and recharge, all key components of our wellness, energy, and motivation. The Rest Zone requires little energy or effort and is pain free. It is a space of safety and security.
In the Growth Zone, good uncomfortable feelings push us to learn, improve, and achieve our goals. In this zone, discovery, development, and learning require that we have the courage to step into unfamiliarity and uncertainty.
When we overdo the good feelings, however, we can fall below the midline, into the Stuck Zone or the Danger Zone, When we get too comfortable, we move to bad comfortable! This is when we find ourselves in the Stuck Zone. We begin to stagnate. We lack inspiration, avoid activities we once enjoyed, and resist moving forward.
Finally, we can enter the Danger Zone. Bad uncomfortable feelings can be an indication that our safety or security is threatened by our choices or those of another. These feelings can arise when a situation is too risky or destructive. This zone is labeled “danger” because remaining in this zone can lead to negative outcomes such as abuse, exhaustion, or burnout, and can have a long-term impact on a person’s safety, health, and happiness.
We recommend using the Comfort Zones to build connection. Ask the young people in your care to describe what each of the zones looks like for them. We spoke to one high school student who shared that, in the Growth Zone, they look perfectly stressed (busy, talkative, and tired) but in the Danger Zone, they look painfully stressed (overly busy, withdrawn, and exhausted). They shared that when they are in the Stuck Zone, they have a lot of missing assignments; they’ll have headphones in and will watch a lot of Netflix. In the Rest Zone, they’ll likely take more time to be alone and draw, an activity that re-energizes them.
Proactively introducing the Comfort Zones as a tool and documenting what each zone looks like for the young people in your care, as well as what helps them stay on the up and up, builds connection and provides a useful reference when a young person drops below the line. We’ve provided a worksheet in this month’s Magnets & Mirrors to guide this conversation.