Seeing Neoliberal Youth Work for What It Is

It is important to understand the realities within the youth work. Since beginning my career in youth work in the 1990s I have been exploring its theoretical and social underpinnings throughout my career. Wiggling its fingers throughout my efforts has been neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism is the belief that young people are a commodity to be produced, manufactured, bought and sold throughout society. It makes inequality a necessity, creates unfair and unjust outcomes for youth and communities, and relies on the pain and suffering of some to benefit others.

Defeating the values of democratic society, neoliberalism actively teachers young people that their intuition is wrong. Values including Truth, Democracy, Fairness and Equality, Respect for Others, The promotion of Well-Being, and Tipping the Balance of Power and Control are not just irrelevant, but are actually negative.

Neoliberal youth work relies on broad political, economic and social force to drive it. Youth programs around the world have been assaulted by neoliberal forces hellbent on destroying the imaginations of children and youth and the democratic empowerment they were supposed to inherit. It replaces democracy with money-making through authoritarianism and certainty.

In youth work, neoliberalism takes many forms:

  • It is obvious in ways many programs are designed by looking at young people as incomplete, unformed and in need of adult direction;
  • The treatment of young people as disposable populations that should be removed from mainstream society and fed pre-determined programs, purchased from corporate publishers and refused roles throughout their communities and families;
  • Program funding reveals the exchange of money for production, as children and youth are taught certain skills, led in particular activities and directed through specific pathways in order to produce finite outcomes that are needed by businesses in order to make money;
  • Neoliberalism is also plain to see in the way youth programs communicate with parents, communities and young people themselves. Talking about “youth at risk,” “opportunity youth,” and “high risk youth” directs young people to act needy, helpless and incapable, and;
  • In youth work, decisions made by adults for young people without any intention, desire or designs to engage young people in making the decisions that affect them most are neoliberal to their core. They are removing the public, democratic function from society and replacing it with authoritarian beliefs.

Of course, neoliberalism is most obvious throughout society at large. Young people are clearly and deeply affected by the family settings, schools and other places they spend their time. However, youth programs should be a haven for young people to rest and recuperate from the onslaught of vicious opportunism haunting them.

Instead, many youth programs view youth as opportunities to make money, either on purpose or by accident. Undoing generations that said, “Youth are the future,” program after program and organization after organization simply gives up on that idea, let alone the radical notion that “Youth can be the leaders of tomorrow, if we procrastinate.” Instead, young people are simply seen as potential funding magnets for many nonprofits, and potential profit centers by the elected officials who ensure funding, support and evaluation for youth work.

Neoliberalism forces youth workers to go backwards in our thinking about youth: Instead of being a collective bunch of possibilities, we start seeing them as fixed to their identities, positions and roles in societies. This means limiting choices, reeling in perspectives and discouraging hopefulness among youth as well as our peers.

As a result of neoliberal youth work, young people today are growing up believing:

  • The welfare state — which created youth programs originally, ensured young people had food, shelter and healthcare, and allowed youth to be seen as future citizens — is not worth maintaining;
  • There are forces working deeply within communities to ensure youth are looked down on while cynically using language that sounds empowering;
  • Democracy means being able to make all the money you want to without any regard for the people around you, whether they are in your family or neighborhood, within your culture or society, or on the other side of the world;
  • Money invested in youth must be obviously beneficial to the donors who gave it; in the same way, money invested in the public must benefit every taxpayer directly or it wasn’t worth paying;
  • Surveillance through closed-circuit television, adult supervision, internet snooping and countless other ways should be an expected, normal part of life that isn’t questioned, challenged or otherwise looked down on;
  • Widening gaps between wealthy people and everyone else are okay and to be expected because of determination and rights, not because of white supremacy and indoctrination;
  • The rights of children and youth rights are only what adults are willing to extend to young people in certain circumstances, and not inalienable or unable to be taken away, and;
  • The public no longer believes in the future of our society, so their investment in children and youth should be squeezed and squeezed away until there is no more.

The results from these perceptions are terrifying, both for the individual well-being of young people today as well as their families, communities and our world. Democracy is on the ropes, with double- and triple-blows socked to it from crass consumerism and runaway capitalism. All of this leaves young people in the cross-hairs of politicians, executive directors, funders and evaluators, each of whom is ready and eager to pull the trigger. By doing this, they lay waste to the present as well as the future, sacrificing children and youth to line their own pockets, perpetuate their missions, and dismantle society as we’ve known it.

Seeing neoliberal youth work for what it is means taking off the rose colored glasses and addressing this scourge for what it is: The rapid, holistic and undeniable effort of a few to make money from the masses. Unfortunately, the few are winning.

Youth work is much more than a site for workforce development; public health promotion; community service completion; or athletic competition. It is the place where we foster democracy in its most obvious forms, where young people and old can find allies and abilities they didn’t know they had; and where the fiery caldrons of disruption and imagination are borne to fruition, with unquantifiable youth engagement and social change emerging en masse throughout society and across futures we have yet to imagine.

You Might Like…

Elsewhere Online

Establishing a Government Youth Engagement Office

Across the United States and around the world, an increasing number of governments are establishing an office of youth engagement. This approach codifies youth engagement as the either the most desirable avenue or outcome of the government agencies involved. If your government agency or elected official is considering addressing young people, this article shares some considerations and ways to establish a government youth engagement office.

Locating an Office of Youth Engagement

This graphic shows potential locations for an office of youth engagement within a government.
These are potential locations for an office of youth engagement within a government.

For more than 20 years, I have worked with government agencies across North America to establish, revitalize and re-imagine youth engagement.

I have learned that there are a few basic places in government where an office of youth engagement might exist. They include within an elected official’s office, such as a mayor, governor or parliament member.

Another location for an office of youth engagement is within a government agency, department or division. This could include public health, education, public safety or transportation, or several other agencies. The issues these offices can address are as myriad as the agencies or departments they are located within. These can include national service, homelessness, student voice, juvenile justice, foster care, climate change or other individual issues, as well as multiple issues.

The other point about locations for youth engagement offices is that they can exist at many levels. For instance, they can be within an elected official’s office, such as a mayor, governor or parliament member. Another location is within a government agency, department or division. This could include public health, education, public safety or transportation.

Perhaps most importantly is the reality that a government office of youth engagement can exist on the local, county, state or province, or federal level.

Finally, a youth engagement office can supersede any given office, issue or location by addressing an entire jurisdiction and all of its needs.

Note that this isn’t singularly about youth civic engagement, but rather any form of youth engagement throughout a community.

Considerations

These are considerations for establishing a government youth engagement office, including policies, practices, personnel and more.
Considerations for establishing a government youth engagement office.

There are many considerations for establishing an office of youth engagement. Following are some of them.

  • Placement: Where will the youth engagement office be located within the government? Having a firm, consistent location is essential for ensuring successful implementation.
  • Practices: What activities, cultures, and attitudes will the individual adults and youth involved with the office of youth engagement exhibit and possess?
  • Personnel: Who has roles in the youth engagement office and to support youth engagement? How are they selected, who ideally fills them and how are those people supported for success?
  • Policies: What are the practical, applicable rules, regulations and outcomes codified in government policy to support the office of youth engagement?
  • Products: Can you identify the actual outcomes of the youth engagement office, including the effects on individuals, the impacts on communities and the considerations for the jurisdiction that supports government youth engagement?
  • Processes: What are the everyday, mundane considerations that can make or break youth engagement, who’s responsible for them and what are the anticipated outcomes?
  • Promotion: Who strategically shares the stories, successes, challenges and failures that are essential for promoting youth engagement?

These seven P’s can provide a useful framework to embark on government youth engagement strategies. Offices of youth engagement can facilitate the most authentic forms of connectedness within and throughout communities. These were some approaches and considerations for your government’s journey to establishing an office of youth engagement.

For further information, including examples, training and technical assistance, call me at (360) 489-9680 or send an email to info@adamfletcher.net.

You Might Like…

Love Is A Radical New Thing

Staring at our phones is just the beginning. Wagging our fingers, scowling at the world and isolating ourselves are symptoms. Seeing our lack of humility, facing the challenge of vulnerability, and harnessing the power of love are solutions. This article is about the crisis of self-disconnection in the world today, and how to overcome that crisis by acknowledging, enriching and empowering the connections we already have in our lives.

Understanding Ourselves

Despite the well-meaning teachers, community leaders and writers trying to teach us, people believe they’re doing all this alone more than ever before. Almost all of us are afflicted by this, too. Whether we’re burned out suburban parents or aspiring entrepreneurs, social media pushes us to post vain selfies, push arrogant self-promotion and cultivate images of narcissistic glory. This is afflicting old people, young people and everyone in between.

I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning wishing they were more self-centered. Sure, we learn to take care of ourselves and remove unnecessary drama from our lives, but that doesn’t make us oblivious to the needs of those around us and beyond.

Somewhere along the way though, people can become manipulative, unconsciously forcing their friends, family and coworkers to do their bidding, become their minions, and fulfill their demands with no intention of supporting others, building community or lifting those without power or ability.

Forcibly demanding others bend to our will, conniving to change others’ thinking without their investment, and alienating those who care for us can separate us from the people who care the most about us.

Relying on the Power of Love

A year before he was assassinated, Dr. King gave a speech called “A Time To Break The Silence,” in which he said,

“…I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love.”

Dr. King was killed because he saw the power of love for what it is: An infinitely accessible, directly effective and wholly powerful instrument to fight arrogance, conceit and ignorance. At the same time he was determining this, there was a contradictory force rising in the garage of a young inventor in suburban Washington state. A machine meant to harness the capability of individuals and built on the premise that each man is an island unto his own, the personal computer became one of the most isolating forces humankind ever faced.

Through the decades afterwards, technology became more and more alienating and separating, but not without the veneer of interconnectedness. Relying on the internet as a worldwide superhighway for knowledge, ideas and opinions, computers have become smaller and faster, further allowing and encouraging individuals to believe they’re acting in a vacuum without obligations to others. To be clear, personal computers and the Internet did not create narcissism; however, they’ve exacerbated it beyond the wildest imagination.

“Everywhere we learn that love is important, and yet we are bombarded by its failure….This bleak picture in no way alters the nature of our longing. We still hope that love will prevail. We still believe in love’s promise.”—bell hooks in All About Love: New Visions

We can rectify this challenge. It will not be an easy or simple fix, but it’s tangible and present. The answer has been present for millennia, and even though its under-credited, history shows it repeatedly. In his 1855 book called Where Love Is, God Is, Leo Tolstoy showed us the basis for this understanding when he wrote, “Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love.”

Through the wisdom of Dr. King, as well as many others like bell hooks, Angela Davis, Mahatma Gandhi, and Caesar Chavez, we can begin to craft approaches to love as a tool, a possibility and a gift for transforming the world we live in. Love is the single greatest resource we have, and moving from seeing it as a poetic plaything towards enacting it as a passionate, powerful instrument will help us actualize the reality that another world is possible.

We each have to rely on the power of love to overcome the arrogance, conceit and narcissism trying to overwhelm our hearts and our communities. This requires that we move love into action.

Moving Love Into Action

In 2017, Senator Corey Booker shared powerful words on Twitter when he wrote,

“Love is not a being word, it is an action word… When you see hate out there, understand that the challenge will never be the hate of some, but the silence, indifference and apathy of the many.”

Throughout my career, I have sought and struggled to harness my own commitment to putting love into action. Living in a patriarchal society that emphasizes machismo over vulnerability and highlights individuality over interdependence, my work has been chagrined for being too compromising, too sensitive and too aware.

I have learned from the words I’ve shared here as well as others, and I’ve learned the following lessons for putting love into action.

  1. Feel Your Heart. Feeling feelings can be scary. It can feel weak. It can be thankless. And you need to do it anyway. Feel things relentlessly, no matter what they are.
  2. Let Go Of Entitlement. Meant to keep us from the pain of trauma, entitlement is generally unrealistic and unhealthy, and prevents us from relying on ourselves to heal.
  3. Be Aware Of Your Suffering. When you experience hard times or big challenges, you can suffer. Anxiety, depression and hurt come from this. Be aware of this and what it leads to.
  4. Serve Others Relentlessly. Caesar Chavez said it best: “Being of service is not enough. You must become a servant of the people. When you do, you can demand their commitment in return.”
  5. Love Without Inhibition. There’s a certain recklessness that’s implied when you move beyond the “bosh” love Dr. King explained above. Be about it, love without inhibition and move into a new space that is unstoppable. When enough people love enough ways the whole world will change.

These lessons are not a road to happiness; they are a call to love. Even though those two words are not synonymous, they aren’t far apart. Moving love into action is a brave, ridiculous, essential thing that we all must do if we’re going to change the condition of the world we’re in today.

In her 2012 book Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, Cheryl Strayed wrote, “You will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love.” Love is not really a radical new thing, but if that’s how we must see it to become warriors for love, then let’s see it that way.

We need to become nothing less.

You Might Like…

Workshops by Adam Fletcher
“No Emotional Bosh” is a workshop on teaching youth about love. Learn more by calling Adam Fletcher at (360)489-9680.

The Basics of Adultism

Adultism is the bias towards adults that causes discrimination against youth. First coined in the late 1800s, the term describes the ways adults treat children and youth, and is obvious through language, culture, architecture, education, healthcare, families, and more. Adultism includes attitudes, beliefs, and discrimination in favor of adults throughout our society.

Treating Kids Different

Adultism is about respect, trust, authority and power. It is apparent beginning when children are very young. Because of the ways our society generally behaves, babies are assumed to be incomplete and their opinions are seen as largely inconsequential. Adults determine the feeding, caregiving, clothing, bedding and lighting of babies because we don’t understand whether babies are sharing their opinions about these things, among others. This belief continues until young children can share their opinions in language adults can understand. This establishes the basis of adultism that affects young people through the age of 18 and beyond.

At the point kids can share their opinions, adults constantly parse out what is a valid concern and what is invalid. Rather than referring to evidence or facts, adults mostly use personal judgment and beliefs to decide what foods, entertainment, activities, learning and opinions we should listen to. This is adultist. It is obvious in our language with phrases like “Children should be seen and not heard,” and is apparent our built environment, too: The height of a fountain, door handle and chair reflects an adult’s needs, not childrens’ needs. Adultism is reinforced through arbitrary rule-making focused on ages, too, rather than science or best practices.

When children become teenagers, their own beliefs become stronger, their wisdom starts accumulating, and their value to society starts to become determined. Adultism ensures that young leaders emerge to represent their peers, as well as confines rule-breaking youth to “stay in their lane” through punishment, classroom tracking, and curfews. In some places, youth are sent to jail for offenses only they can commit, like breaking curfews, being truant to school, drinking alcohol and other infractions. In other situations, youth are encouraged to put on a tie and “act like adults” in order to gain privilege and access that will benefit their futures. Each of these demonstrates bias towards adults, since our society reveres age and stands against the knowledge young people possess. Movie ratings, drivers licensing, banking rules and compulsory education reflect this, too: We simply don’t trust the ability of youth to determine what’s best for themselves, so adults make judgments for them. That’s not just parents, either; teachers, youth workers, counselors and police make judgments for youth all the time.

All this shows how adultism is apparent in the attitudes, culture and structures throughout our society.

Making Changes

There are active movements across the United States and around the world today to face adultism head-on, and to fight and defeat adultism when it’s necessary. These movements are engaging youth as partners with adults in government agencies, building youth/adult partnerships in community organizations, challenging schools to build Meaningful Student Involvement, and transforming families everywhere.

In Seattle, Washington, I partnered with the King County Superior Court to design a program for more than 40 families created to keep youth out of jail. The Parent/Youth Engagement Seminar was designed to build the skills and knowledge parents and youth needed through 12 hours of interactive workshops. Participants learn what youth voice is, how it works, and the positive outcomes that can happen when parents and youth work together to make families more successful. This seminar directly challenges adultism by confronting parents’ bias towards their own opinion, as well as by teaching parents and youth about partnering together for success, instead of using coercion and force to enforce compliance.

Building support for empowered student voice around the world, back in 2002 I started supporting K-12 schools, districts and state education agencies after building SoundOut.org. Since then, I’ve partnered with more than 300 different schools and agencies to write policies, develop programs, facilitate professional development and speak at conferences about Meaningful Student Involvement. This work has resulted in roles for students on school boards, students training teachers, and new education policies focused on student voice and student engagement. This challenges adultism among educators and policymakers by showing the positive potential of all students in every classroom, rather than simply tokenizing through constrained student/adult relationships.

There is so much work happening to challenge adultism!

5 Steps to Stop Adultism

I have developed these 5 steps to stop adultism based on my experience and research. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

  1. Name Your Bias. Every single person has bias towards adults. No matter how enlightened you are, how educated you might be, or how important you think you are to young people, you are adultist, and you’ve experienced adultism. Name your biases and be honest with yourself.
  2. Listen to Youth Voice. Listen directly to youth; read their writing; listen to them sing; look at their art. Don’t respond, don’t fix, don’t do for them; just listen to youth voice.
  3. Get Educated. Read my book, Facing Adultism. It’s a deep exploration of how adultism happens, who it affects, where it’s worst, who it affects most, and why it matters so much. Also, explore other writing about adultism and join the Facing Adultism group on Facebook.
  4. Find New Ways to Be. Declare your allyship with youth and stick to it. Be kinder and more compassionate with young people, and advocate for youth to be present when they aren’t in the room. Find new ways to be at home, at work and throughout the community.
  5. Make Change. When you’ve started changing your life, look at the health and well-being of your community. How does adultism affect youth around you right now? Which youth are most affected? Which adults are most biased towards other youth, and non-inclusive of youth?

What would you add to this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

When you’ve begun to address adultism, you might see how it’s tied together with paternalism, sexism, racism, classism and other injustices throughout our society. You might also discover different ways you have made the challenge of adultism worse, and how you’ve affected positive changes towards adultism in the past! Each of us are capable of doing remarkable things–what are you going to do?

 

You Might Like…

 

Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher at http://amzn.to/2noYclH
Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher!

Youth Engagement in Ohio

There are learnings about youth engagement everywhere there are young people, and every learning is different and unique, as well as similar and familiar. For the last few days, I’ve been at Miami University in Ohio learning about youth engagement with adult practitioners here. This is the  at OPEC (Ohio Promoting WEllness & ReCovery) Conference, an annual gathering of youth workers, teachers, prevention/intervention specialists, counselors, administrators, executives and others who are involved throughout the field. Its a tremendous gathering, and I’m humbled to be here.

Today, I facilitated a 9-hour seminar focused on Project-Based Learning. It was an exciting day, filled with so much collaborative learning and so many generative processes that my I left with a full heart and amazed mind. Excitement bubbled throughout the day, with almost 50 people creating community, connecting with their peers and teaching each other the positive, powerful potential of Project Based Learning. It was exciting!

One of the most powerful activities we did was creating new learning about youth engagement specifically. After sharing our definitions, I explained that my research and practice has shown that youth engagement is simply young people doing the act of choosing the same thing over and over. Either it happens unconsciously or consciously, meaningful or otherwise, good or challenging. After talking about that for a while, we answered some key questions about youth engagement. I want to share the group’s responses to some of those questions here. Following are six questions, and the responses to our brainstorming.

 

1. How Does Youth Engagement Happen?

  • Slowly
  • When adults give youth a voice and choice
  • With buy-in from everyone
  • Persistence
  • Organically
  • As a process
  • Opportunity
  • By having opportunities to connect and feel empowered
  • Authenticity of the leader/ adult ally/ mentor
  • Showing them that they matter
  • After much head banging and the sound of crickets chirping
  • As a facilitator: I listen… I create space/ activity… and fun!!
  • By being a living example of how life can be and all the possibilities that exist
  • By giving responsibility/ say to target group
  • Adults getting their egos out of the way
  • With support of the community
  • Buy-in from adults
  • With consistency
  • Give them the opportunity
  • With patience, time and comittment
  • Perspective

 

2. Why Does Youth Engagement Matter?

  • Help youth find their purpose
  • Positive use of time
  • Youth are invested in something bigger than themselves
  • Hope for the future
  • They’re our kids!
  • Creates meaningful engagement for a lifetime
  • Avoid wasting time, energy and money on a strategy that doesn’t work
  • Matters for the future
  • Life change
  • Change to happen
  • It enhances the community (is better)
  • Empowerment
  • Better health and social outcomes in the community/ relationships/ individual
  • Higher protective factors, fewer risk factors
  • So they feel like they belong and matter
  • Future healthy adults
  • Because no matter who you are or where you come from every person has value and can contribute their voice to make a positive difference in their community
  • To ensure the youth can be productive citizens in the community
  • Empower the next generation
  • Create positive change
  • To understand their identity
  • Community change
  • For society!! and what’s to come
  • Our humanity is dependent on it
  • Students do not always know what’s best
  • It matters because it redirects their energy, it lets them know they matter and gives them a sense of purpose

3. When Does Youth Engagement Happen?

  • When we listen to our youth
  • When we really care
  • When a connection is made
  • Daily and when students initiate with direction
  • When you make it relate to them
  • When they can express their passion
  • When youth are in pain looking for something different/ more than their current experience and situation
  • All the time!
  • Throughout a lifetime
  • When you people are part of the decision-making process
  • When we create the space or join it!
  • When prevention folks put in extra effort
  • When I stay out of it!
  • When they are able to take possession (own it)
  • When they are listened to
  • When adults stop talking long enough to listen
  • When adults listen
  • When youth believe in what they are doing
  • When kids are treated as experts in the topic or “them”
  • When youth see beyond themselves

 

4. What Does Youth Engagement Do?

  • Encourages
  • Reduces abuse
  • Empowers youth
  • Improves communication
  • Leads the pack
  • Creates opportunity
  • “Plants seeds of change”
  • Changes directions of ones’ life
  • Empower!
  • Build life skills
  • Fosters leaders and followers for all sectors and levels of society
  • Creative outcomes
  • Moves mountains
  • Access most valuable resources: Our Youth!
  • Helps to ensure we create youth who will change the world
  • Provides vision
  • Builds relationship
  • Connects generations
  • Gives knowledge
  • Builds confidence
  • (can) Creates safe space
  • Empowers young people
  • Builds skills
  • Offers hope
  • Creates change agents in the community

 

5. Who Is Youth Engagement For?

  • The City of Columbus, families, and the continuous business growth of our city (purposeful, financially sound, etc.)
  • Communities, families and peers
  • Me
  • Everyone!
  • Middle and high school youth in Union County but also all youth and youth workers
  • For all the youth in the community and adults involved with them
  • All people invested in young people
  • Students of Lucas County – ALL of them!
  • Community
  • Whole community
  • Local, national and global communities
  • Inner city – low income families and youth! As well as the program facilitators and mentors
  • Summit and Medina County students
  • The community
  • The rural Appalachian youth covering 2,600 square miles we serve in Ross, Pickaway, Pike, Fayette and Highland Counties
  • Middle and high school students in Clement Co.
  • Afterschool program at middle school – 70% free/ reduced lunch

6. Where Does Youth Engagement Happen

  • Anywhere!
  • School
  • Summer camps
  • Online
  • Texting
  • In relationship
  • Where there is youth!
  • Family night engagement activities with afterschool students
  • Community
  • After school
  • In school
  • At home
  • Social network
  • Anywhere that you show intentional use of self
  • Wherever they are
  • Afterschool and in the community
  • With our communications
  • In our neighborhood
  • In the hearts and minds of our youth
  • Now – anywhere!
  • Across the social ecological model
  • Where there is love
  • Coalition meetings
  • School, home, anywhere
  • Parent-free areas (not the good youth engagement)
  • Everywhere
  • Anywhere there are youth
  • Where there is need and the desire to make a difference
  • Everywhere
  • Wherever the message and connection happens
  • In the streets
  • Afterschool youth center
  • In our homes
  • School
  • Summer camps
  • Online
  • Texting
  • In relationships

 

There was so much information shared in this GREAT seminar! Watch for another post coming with a great artistic creation by the group.

 

You Might Like…

 

Elsewhere Online

Youth Engagement at Home

Youth engagement starts at home. This post offers some of my thoughts about that reality, as well as steps to ensuring that youth engagement happens in your family. I also share some of the experiences I’ve had with youth engagement at home.

Basic Thoughts

These are barriers to Youth Engagement at home identified by youth and parents in my last workshop.
These are some barriers to Youth Engagement at home identified by youth and parents in my last workshop.

I’ve started defining the word engagement as choosing the same thing over and over. There are many kinds of youth engagement at home:

  • Psychological engagement
  • Physical engagement
  • Emotional engagement
  • Intellectual engagement
  • Social engagement
  • Cultural engagement

…and so on. Within their homes, youth can be engaged with their families, including parents, siblings or other family members; their physical spaces like their bedrooms or backyards; activities like housework or video games; feelings like love and security; ideas like belonging and importance, and; many other things.

With all those possibilities, its easy to see how youth engagement starts at home. The elements of our family life determine how we engage with the world beyond our front door, including at school, in our communities, at work, in public, and everywhere else. If youth experience crappy engagement at home, youth are more likely to be disengaged in their lives – not always, all the time, but often in many ways.

Through my research and practice, I’ve found there are three things all parents can do to build youth engagement at home:

  • Listen to youth. Your offspring are yearning to be heard, no matter what age, what space and what condition your family is in. They might not show that desire, they might act the opposite of caring, and they might not be aware they have a voice—but they want to be heard.
  • Take action with youth. Don’t stop at listening to your kids—actually do things with them! Make, build, clean, connect and show your care and connection by being with youth directly, in each others’ spaces and sharing each others’ time.
  • Think about it. Youth engagement at home requires critical thinking about yourself, your parenting, your beliefs and your future. Is this how you want youth to live? Are these the things you want to do in your family? Be critical of your parenting and take action to change it.

As parents, we all screw up. The difference between the conscious parent and the unthinking parent is the energy they spend becoming more fair, just and equitable. We don’t want equality between youth and parents, we want equity. There’s a difference, and youth engagement at home makes us think about it.

My Experience

These are questions I asked related to Youth Parent Partnerships.
These are questions I asked related to Youth Parent Partnerships.

I’m a dad for four kids between the ages of 10 and 15. They are beautiful, strong-hearted kids full of all the challenge, vigor, suffering and joy of youth, and I love them. However, I screw up too, and I’ve learned to accept that. I learn a lot from my experience as a parent.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ve heard the tenants of my life: Childhood homelessness; family PTSD; Vietnam veteran father; poverty-stricken family that moved into low-income lifestyle; generational depression; minority neighborhood background; academic struggles; found my soulcraft at age 14; only kid in family to graduate high school on time; first in family to earn a bachelors degree; built my life’s work from The Freechild Project and SoundOut focused on youth engagement and Meaningful Student Involvement; wrote 50+ publications; spoke and taught and consulted around the world; still screwing up every day.

Throughout 2018, I’ve been facilitating the Parent-Youth Connections Seminar in King County, Washington, where Seattle is surrounded by suburbs, exurbs and more in all of its explosive boom-era angst and glory. Along the way, the community has chosen to investments on infants, children and youth throughout the county. One of these investments is through the King County Superior Courts, and its the program I’m facilitating.

For several years, the project taught parents and youth about youth development and adolescent brain development as a diversion to prevent youth incarceration. A successful project, it operated for several years and successfully kept a lot of young people out of jail.

Early this year, I was contracted to facilitate the program. In my initial contact with the courts, I explained that rather than taking the tact they’d traditionally espoused, I was going to veer toward youth engagement. These are some of my findings so far. There’ve been more than 100 participants in these 12-hour sessions so far, coming from a variety of racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and economic backgrounds.

Stay tuned as I learn more and start distilling all this into actionable change. My first product related to youth engagement at home is called the Parent Youth Engagement Seminar, and I’ll be launching it soon.


You Might Like…

Systems of Youth Engagement

Our society is filled with systems. A lot of them affect youth. A system is any group of coherent connections resulting in a predictable result.

Whether we’re talking about obvious systems like education, health care and juvenile justice, or less tangible systems like culture and families, it is important to understand how each of these systems affects youth engagement.

Systems are made of many factors, including people, policies, procedures and possibilities. There are eight factors in the graphic below.

The systems of youth engagement include formal and informal, obvious and subtle and practical as well as theoretical spaces. This graphic shows where and how they might exist.
The systems of youth engagement include formal and informal, obvious and subtle and practical as well as theoretical spaces. This graphic shows where and how they might exist.

While I’ve worked with schools, nonprofits, government agencies and other orgs over the last 17 years, I’ve explored how and these systems operate. I’ve seen “under the hood” in dozens of communities, watched the bad and the good arise in times of crisis and seasons of apparent ease… and every time I’m reminded of the systems at work.

Wherever they’re sustainably connected, youth engagement happens in systems.

  • Education—Education systems are formal and informal, apparent and subversive. Youth engagement starts in the space where they’re learning.
  • Sports—The youth athletics system includes rules, teams, scores, morals, codes and more
  • Culture—The cultural system all youth belong to includes obvious and not-obvious rules, behavior, attitudes and beyond
  • Economics—The youth employment system exchanges goods and services for money and more

Other systems of youth engagement include school, faith, justice, health, family, civic action, social services, mental health, recreation, or other systems, ALL youth EVERY where can experience the positive, powerful potential of youth engagement. Let’s explore that together!

Systems of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher

I’m offering a new series of training and speeches on Systems of Youth Engagement. If you’re interested in learning how I can help you, your organization or your community, call me today at (360)489-9680 or send me an email. Want to learn on your own? See the links below.


You Might Like…

The EGOsystem/ECOsystem dynamic as illustrated by Adam Fletcher
This article, “EGOsystems or ECOsystem in Education” by Adam Fletcher is available.

Part 6: Resources on Transformative Youth Engagement in Juvenile Justice

Juvenile justice and youth voice by Adam Fletcher for The Freechild Project
Juvenile justice and youth voice

There are many resources on juvenile justice in the world, and I’ve spent almost 20 years collecting tools for youth engagement. Following is a collection of resources I’ve identified that address transformative youth engagement in juvenile justice. Do you have resources, tools, examples or more to share? Leave me a comment below!

Resources


This Series Includes…

You Might Like…

Part 5: What It All Comes Down To

Juvenile justice and youth voice by Adam Fletcher for The Freechild Project
Juvenile justice and youth voice

Transformative youth engagement is about building the capacity of individual people to become meaningfully and sustainably connected within themselves and to the world around them. Every person has affective and cognitive scaffolding within them; transformative youth engagement activates those abilities. The simplest way to judge whether you are engaging youth in transformative ways is to see whether diverse youth—youth of color, English language learners, immigrant students—are experiencing positive, purposeful and empowering changes through juvenile justice. If they are not, your approach can become more transformative and engaging.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are there any activities in the juvenile justice system that don’t benefit all youth, their families, or their communities?
  • What activities seem to engage all youth, connecting them to the world within and around them?
  • What actions have you noticed that seem to be most engaging to youth within and outside of the juvenile justice system?

Educator Zaretta Hammond suggests three avenues that juvenile justice can adapt for transformative youth engagement: Gamify it; Make it social, and; Storify it. Can you imagine these approaches applied consistently throughout the juvenile justice system? What could gamifying diversion even look like? How can we positively making juvenile justice more social? If youth could storify their experiences as part of their experiences within the justice system, how would that affect their outcomes? Not being able to envision these changes is a barrier to transformative youth engagement in juvenile justice today. I think these are some of the most exciting prospects for transformative youth engagement today.

From my scan of the field, the transformative potential of youth engagement is underexplored, underemployed and underacknowledged within juvenile justice today. By activating youth voice throughout the system; encouraging youth empowerment through diversion and sentencing, and; fostering youth/adult partnerships throughout the entire system, we can change the hearts and minds of young people who’ve been implicated in wrongdoing. We can also change what their hands and feet do in the future. Isn’t that the ultimate goal?

This Series Includes…

You Might Like…