There are a lot of ways to change the world. For hundreds of years, people young and old have been moving and striving and fighting to make a difference using these different ways.
Here are some different ways to change the world.
Change Communities—When people connect because of their identity, their locations, their cultures or beliefs, their work, their recreation or many other reasons, they are forming community. One of the ways to change the world is to change communities, including neighborhoods, institutions, faith-based groups, and other places. Here are some examples of people changing communities »
Change Actions—The ways we behave, including our actions, reactions, responses and motivations, can be changed in order to change the world. Whether addressed alone or in groups, the actions we take can impact ourselves and others, small groups or large ones, and so on. Here are some examples of people changing communities »
Change Individuals—No matter how a person identifies, including their age, race, gender, socio-economic status, education or otherwise, it takes individual people to change the world. When groups of people change, more of the world changes. As the entire world is affected, the whole world changes. Here are some examples of people changing individuals »
Change Issues—The topics that matter most to us are the issues we can change. Addressing a specific issue can take a lot of different kinds of actions, diverse numbers of people and various communities. However, it can also simply require the power of one person in one community taking one action to address one issue to change the world. Here are some examples of issues changing the world »
Deciding how to change the world isn’t exclusive to just one of those approaches; sometimes you have to use all four. Do you have thoughts, concerns or questions about these ways? Leave a comment below!
During the COVID-19 Pandemic we’re being asked to shelter at home and socially distance ourselves from our friends, family and coworkers. Young people are suddenly without schools, the basis of many of their social networks, and they are constantly surrounded by their family. This is a new reality that demands adults learn how to shelter at home with youth voice.
Youth voice is any expression of any young person about anything, anywhere, at any time, for any reason.
I define youth voice as any expression of any young person about anything, anywhere, at any time, for any reason. There are no limits or boundaries for youth voice because it isn’t up to adults when, who, where, how, what, or why children and youth choose to express themselves. Young people don’t even have to strive to make themselves heard because they’re always expressing themselves. The question isn’t whether youth are sharing their voices; its whether adults are listening to what’s being shared.
While we’re all locked up at home right now. Some of us live with young people. The expressions of children and youth, including their thoughts, ideas, knowledge, wisdom and actions, are still valid and important. I’m concerned with how parents listen to youth voice, and engage youth voice intentionally. Here are some types of youth voice at home.
Types of Youth Voice at Home
Decision-Making—There are two types of decision-making at home, personal and household. Household decisions affect everyone in the home; personal decisions only affect individual people. Youth voice can be shared in decision-making in many ways, including places to go together, family food, decorating, shared activities and household budgets affect the household; Eating, clothing, and bathing are personal decisions. Since young people are members of houses, everything they do can affect every other person in the house, including seemingly personal decision-making.
Feedback—Giving feedback doesn’t just happen from adults-to-children; instead, it happens from children-to-adults and children-to-children. It happens all the time too, whether or not adults are listening or even want to hear it. Youth voice can be shared in feedback given about any subject or activity at home.
Creativity—Young people are constantly creative, whether they are in their own space being personally creative or creating out loud for everyone around them to see, hear, feel, taste or touch. Creativity shows youth voice within houses in all kinds of ways, including music, painting, poetry or knitting, as well as moving furniture, making meals or other expressions.
Learning—Children and youth are teaching and learning all the time at home. The subjects and the issues they’re learning about vary, and include things unique to their home like family history, making food, and constructing walls; as well as things they share with young people around the world, like gaming and tech, creative writing or academic subjects. Young people also learn through teaching their siblings and their parents. Youth voice comes through learning in all these ways and many more.
Problem-Solving—When faced with challenges affecting the whole family, children and youth can be partners with adults in the home to solve problems. Creating opportunities for that collaboration can foster family cohesion and positive belonging for everyone involved. Youth voice can come through problem-solving at home in many ways, especially in day-to-day activities as well as long-term.
Energy—The way people in a house think and feel affects how they treat each other. This treatment sets the household tone and culture, and is a visible factor to anyone within the home. The energy of the house is reflected in the language, attitudes, beliefs and ideals within and among the people who live there.
Recreation—As young people having fun, relaxing and recreation is essential to daily living. Whether its gaming or reading, dancing or bicycling, there are many ways recreation happens. Recreation can share youth voice in many ways, including making decisions and the tone of the recreation, the choice of activities and the people who are chosen to participate.
Consumption—Household consumption is a choice everyone makes all the time, and those choices are a type of youth voice. Whether young people are consuming food, electricity or otherwise, they can make their decisions about consumption on their own, help others in the household make their choices, and partner with adults at home to choose how to consume things.
Communication—The styles of communication in a household reflect youth voice indirectly and very directly. Whether its communication between adults and children or from child-to-child all communication in a household is an expression of countless factors. These expressions can happen through spoken words and unspoken body language; actions by a person as well as inaction; and many other ways. Youth voice is shared in the ways young people express themselves; the topics and subjects expressed about; the timing of expressions; who they are expressed towards and with; and where they are expressed.
Health—Our health, including our mental, physical and spiritual realities, includes our sleep, food, exercise, surroundings, activities and much more. Youth voice is expressed through health in all ways, because ultimately every way a person treats themselves reflects their thoughts, knowledge, feelings, ideas, and wisdom.
Mindsets—Our mindset is the mental framework we approach the world with. Youth voice reflects mindsets, and mindsets reflect youth voice. Young people share their core beliefs, personal assumptions, cultural wisdom and much more through their mindsets.
These are some types of youth voice at home. What would YOU add to the list? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!
In order to be heard, we have to learn to listen. Listening can be simple, painless and easy; it can also be complex, painful and hard. Either way, we have to learn to listen if we want to get past just hearing what is being said.
This is how to listen to others:
Open my heart and mind to others
Release my assumptions about others and their interest and ability to speak for themselves
Make space for others to speak for themselves
Be quiet and listen
Ensure opportunities for others to speak for themselves always exist in perpetuity
Continue always to stay mindful about my voice, my listening and my actions that affect others
Be aware of my conscious and unconscious impact on others
Step aside so others can speak for themselves
Advocate for others to speak for themselves
When they are absent, speak for others who cannot speak for themselves
Build my ability to listen
This isn’t meant to be completely comprehensive; instead, its intended to hold space for people who want to learn what they can do for themselves and others in order to build their ability to listen.
What would you add? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
For more than a century, there have been a legion of young people and adults committed to building the skills, knowledge, abilities and power of youth. These people work in programs that are dedicated to recreation and education, providing safe and supportive environments, and that holy triumvirate of youth services: Intervention, prevention and empowerment. The overarching title uniting many of these people together is Youth Worker.
In the United States, being a youth worker is challenging, at best. Without a solid career pathway, with little cross-sector acknowledgment of interconnectivity, and lacking substantive opportunities to make a successful living at the work, many youth workers treat their jobs as starting points towards other work.
That doesn’t mean that people don’t make the best of it! While my own livelihood has been a journey through harrowing odds, against hardening obstacles and towards an uncertain endpoint, for more than 25 years it has kept me alive, enthused and inquisitive. My passion for youth voice, youth engagement, education transformation and meaningful student involvement is hotter than ever, and opportunities keep unveiling themselves to continue growing and learning. While positive youth development, youth empowerment and community youth engagement grow in my heart, I’m confronting my own adultism, white supremacy and toxic masculinity, and how they pervade my work. This is the richest living I have done in a long time.
The youth worker career challenge is bigger than any single persons’ journey though. We have to strive to connect with each other, learn together and challenge one another to reach higher, more intentionally, past the boundaries and borders of grant expectations, organizational competition and professional burn out. Instead, we have to fuse our hearts and minds together with love, hope and genuinely transformational empowerment. Nothing less should be woven throughout our profession, now and into the future.
I support youth workers who are at the beginning of their journey, in the midway or seeking a logical way out, whether they’ve worked three months or three decades. Through one-on-one coaching, small group workshops and retreats, and my speeches I reach into the hearts and minds of the people who do this work everyday to challenge, enliven and enthrall those who want to change the situations young people are in right now, everywhere, all the time.
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.
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
“…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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
A lot of us working with youth today came from hard times. Whether we came from adversity or trauma, or if we grew up in challenging ways, we have to take care of our heart. The times we live in today are conscientious and aware of how these hard times affect us. This article is about surviving youth. Your youth.
What Is Your Youth?
Your youth is two things: First, it’s the time you lived when you weren’t seen as a child or as an adult. Second, it’s the young people you are meaningfully connected to right now, whether they’re your children, students, program participants or otherwise. Youth isn’t “yours” in terms of possession; it’s yours because you are engaged in youth, whether we’re talking about the time of your life or the people you serve.
You need to survive your youth if it’s affecting your adulthood in negative, hard or challenging ways.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve facilitated self-care learning for thousands of teachers, youth workers and other adults who work with youth. Many people have shared that their awareness of the adverse childhood experiences they lived through as young people shine through in their current jobs. They specifically work to support young people growing up with abuse, household challenges and/or neglect, and they’re very committed. These people are surviving youth.
3 Ways to Survive Your Youth
Many people are surviving the challenges of their younger years at the same time they’re working to support young people. When we work within these realities, we have to be precautious, patient and promising for ourselves.
Here are three ways I teach people to survive their youth.
Be Precautious. Your experiences make you relatable and grant you powers of reciprocity. However, they can make you vulnerable, too. If you haven’t addressed your childhood trauma intentionally, if you haven’t addressed your wounds and sought healing, then be precautious. Even if you have dealt with your suffering and challenges but still hyper-react, overreact or otherwise act disproportionately to the situations, you might need to continue being precautious. Take care of your heart.
Be Patient. While you may want to challenge your own inabilities or charge into changing yourself and the world, you should be patient. Your calmness and self-control can be a model for the young people you work with, however you positively express them. If you feel anxious, excited or too ambitious, be patient and know that the challenges of your younger years are teaching you right now. Allow calmness to hold your heart.
Be Promising. Seeing a greater picture, understanding the wider world and knowing the best possibilities are the best way to be promising to yourself. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t promise things you can’t follow through. However, hold your heart accountable, listen to your intuition and keep yourself true and honest with what you know best. Set the bar for your heart and keep yourself accountable.
Surviving your youth is essential to being a hopeful, supportive and effective adult ally to children and youth. The steps above can help you understand where to begin doing that. There are a number of great resources emerging in the field, and more organizations are supporting their staff dealing with their trauma as well as promoting trauma informed care throughout education, youth services, at home, throughout communities, and beyond.
However, ultimately you need to deal with your youth. Soothing the inner challenges can only go so far, and these steps are simply triage for the complex wounds you might have. Deal with those challenges, get help and move forward in your career, your family and throughout your life.
After working in hundreds of communities nationally, I am primed to explore this more. Call me to talk about my consulting, training and speaking services at (360) 489-9680.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
When adults give youth a voice and choice
With buy-in from everyone
As a process
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
Give them the opportunity
With patience, time and comittment
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
Change to happen
It enhances the community (is better)
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
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?
Leads the pack
“Plants seeds of change”
Changes directions of ones’ life
Build life skills
Fosters leaders and followers for all sectors and levels of society
Access most valuable resources: Our Youth!
Helps to ensure we create youth who will change the world
(can) Creates safe space
Empowers young people
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
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!
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 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
Where there is youth!
Family night engagement activities with afterschool students
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
School, home, anywhere
Parent-free areas (not the good youth engagement)
Anywhere there are youth
Where there is need and the desire to make a difference
Wherever the message and connection happens
In the streets
Afterschool youth center
In our homes
There was so much information shared in this GREAT seminar! Watch for another post coming with a great artistic creation by the group.