Youth Development, Youth Service and Youth Rights

Somewhere out there in the Ether there is an tussle among youth workers. In this battle of wills and ego, its youth development versus youth service versus youth rights. I was historically engaged in this discussion; however, over the last few years I’ve come to seen this non-dialogue as passé and even trite. It now seems almost silly to me to contrast the three; now I have a different vision.

Let’s compare definitions:
  • Youth development is “…the ongoing growth process in which all youth are engaged in attempting to (1) meet their basic personal and social needs to be safe, feel cared for, be valued, be useful, and be spiritually grounded, and (2) to build skills and competencies that allow them to function and contribute in their daily lives.”*
  • “Youth service refers to non-military, intensive engagement of young people in organized activity that contributes to the local, national, or world community. Youth service is widely recognized and valued by society, with minimal or no compensation to the server. Youth service also provides opportunities for youth development, youth voice and reflection.”*
  • “Youth rights usually refers to a philosophical stance that focuses on the civil rights of the young. This is counter to the more traditional perspective held by child rights’ advocates that emphasizes youth entitlements, a viewpoint that usually rests on a paternalistic foundation… [Y]outh rights organizers seek equal rights with adults by having young people play central roles in crafting their own strategies and campaigns to change their status.”*
All that said, I’ve come to see the three of these as part of the same continuum of action. Without youth development, youth rights become the same pedantic conversation that only benefits those young people who already a lot of rights and access and authority and involvement. Without youth service, youth development represents a vertical and didactic relationship between youth and adults that is neither mutually beneficial nor arguably wholly beneficial for young people themselves. Closing that loop, youth service provides a “responsibility mechanism” for advocating more effectively for youth rights. It provides a logical “a+b=c” argument for folks who maintain that with rights comes responsibility, and given today’s generation’s proclivity for service, the conversation should be easy.
The interplay and entrainment of those issues among one another is not a complex analysis; more so, its rather simplistic in the grand scheme of things. However, it does allude to the more intricate nature of my own philosophy today, and why I’ve moved away from the competitive stance assumed among many advocates. Somewhere within these issues and actions, and the myriad others I’ve identified over the last nine years of my study in this field, there is a deep connectivity that transcends and enlaces all different perspectives into one spectacular phenomenon. I have been working for years to crystalize this vision into a thesis, and it is coming.
These ideas and inspirations are pouring forth lately, and I’d appreciate any thoughts you have on any of these ideas. Thanks.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

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