Binary Youth Engagement

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Binary thinking is based in the belief that reality is based in either/or truths. We’re convinced in believing that it’s one way or the other, up or down, left or right. This thinking is damaging to young people today in many ways, including Youth Engagement at home, in schools and throughout communities.

Binary thinking leads students to be either forced to go to school or students getting expelled from school. The same goes with peoples’ understanding of youth rights: We’re made to believe that youth either have rights or they don’t.

This binary thinking is not accurate. There is no black and white perspectives in Youth Engagement. Instead, we’re all operating in shades of gray going through variations on the theme of democracy and civic action. That means that instead of believing a kid needs kicked out or needs to be able to leave, there are a lot of variations in between we should understand and be advocating for. I believe that all young people have an obligation, morally and socially, to the democratic society we live in to get educated by other people with varied experiences. Where that happens and how that happens should be the question – not if that happens or who that happens for.

The same thing with Youth Engagement: We shouldn’t be addressing these issues as “youth are engaged” or “youth are disengaged”. Instead, we should acknowledge the shades of engagement all of us feel all of the time throughout their lives, whether in school, at home, or throughout our communities. Instead of pretending that youth are disengaged, we should see what youth are actually engaged in right now, and work to extend their engagement instead of pretending they’re completely disengaged right now.

It seems to me that the whole piece where we keep getting hung up on either/or and this/that thinking is just idle wheel spinning that takes up time and energy that could otherwise be expended more effectively.

Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum

Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum

 

I have seen three primary ways adults relate to youth, no matter whether the relationship is parenting, teaching, or policing. The first way is over-permissiveness; the second is responsible; and over-restrictive. Before I explain these, its important to remind you that I’m an adult and these are my opinions; a young person and other adults surely will see things differently.

Over-permissive relationships between children, youth and adults allow young people to do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever and however they want. Disregarding the longer term effects of how young people relate to adults, over-permissiveness can incapacitate young peoples’ ability to successfully relate to the broader society around them. By allowing too much freedom, these relationships give children and youth “just enough rope to hang themselves” by extinguishing their inherent away their sense of purpose and belonging throughout the larger society in which we all belong. Based in a well-meaning notion of equality between young people and adults, these relationships conveniently relieve adults of the burden of responsibility in parts or all throughout the lives of young people. They often happen to encourage freedom.

Over-restrictive relationships between young people and adults override the decision-making capabilities of children and youth and disable their inherent creativity in order to assure adults’ sense of authority, protection, and ultimately, ownership over young people. By discouraging young people from experiencing the freedom and ability they need in their natural learning process as well as throughout their social and familial worlds, these relationships can take away enthusiasm and unfettered joy, only to replace it with rigidity and structure. Over-restrictive relationships enforce inequality between children and youth, and occur by adults enforcing their power with heavy-handed education, tight schedules and severe rules, and harsh punishment. They often happen to encourage safety.

Responsible relationships between children, youth and adults are based on trust, mutual respect, communication, and meaningful interactions. Positioning each person as an evolving member of a broader society, they identify roles, opportunities and outcomes that benefit every person in uniquely appropriate ways while holding the greater good ahead of individualism. These relationships occur when adults consciously decide to foster equity throughout the lives of young people by intentionally acknowledging each others’ according abilities, fostering deliberate opportunities and continually embracing the evolving capacities of children and youth throughout their lives, starting when they are infants. Responsible relationships nurture appropriate attachment and encourage interdependence between young people and adults. They often happen to foster democratic sensibilities.

I have not met one adult who is constantly and consistently one of these ways with all young people all of the time. This isn’t meant to provide a puzzle for people to fit together the individual pieces, either. Instead, by showing a spectrum I meant to show that each of us can be any of these at many points throughout our lives.

Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Infantalizing Kids

A respondent today on a Facebook post asked me to explain this to them:

I ran into an 18 year old on campus who said that his parents pay fully for college, he lives at home with no bills. He asked me how crazy old his mom was because she asks for him to clean his room once a week in return for all the support they give him. How do you explain that, Adam.

I wrote back the following:

That form of dependence is a manipulation fostered by that person’s parents in order to ensure their child remains as childlike as possible. If you’re reporting that person’s response accurately, then they are reflecting the conditioning their parents perpetuated and that adults throughout their life failed to disrupt.

 

This phenomenon is called infantalization, and its is increasingly common throughout American middle class society. It is meant to incapacitate the ability of children to become self-sufficient adults by providing them with decreasing amounts of autonomy throughout their childhood and their experience of youth.

 

Parents have an obligation to raise their children with increasing amounts of independence, autonomy and empowerment. Young people should learn independent living skills from the time they are children and be encouraged to employ those skills throughout their home, school and community lives. Not doing that is the failure of parents. It negates the ability of youth to become responsible adults, and in the most dramatic circumstances, wholly incapacitates young adults from becoming successful adults.

 

Unfortunately, media portrays this outcome as “entitlement” and wholly foists the burden of dependence on the shoulders of young people. Dismissing the responsibility of parents for raising successful children robs mothers and fathers of their duties to society. Worse still, it actually encourages parents to shirk their responsibilities by taking away the blame.

 

What should be done instead is deliberate parent education that focuses on raising strong, resilient and independent children who can and will become strong, resilient and independent adults who value the interdependence of communities while thriving on their own senses of healthy self-worth and individual capacity to create the lives they want to live. That’s what we should strive for.

 

Do this explanation answer your question?

What do you think? Was that young person’s complaint a response to their circumstances, or it is better explained away as entitlement? I would love it if you responded on my blog and let me know what you think!

Why Does Adultism Exist?

adultismLately I’ve been thinking about why adultism exists. Unfortunately, there’s no easy reason. However, its easy to say that at the end of the day its all about power, and our relationship to power. However, there are deeply layers inside of that to examine.

Adultism exists because the cultural effects of discrimination against young people are long lasting. As I continue to learn more about adultism, I continue to discover more ways that we perpetuate adultism. As I explore in my book, discrimination against young people permeates almost all workplaces, homes, schools, and politics despite the most well-intended awareness-building campaigns, professional development, and anti-adultism projects. To say the least, unraveling hundreds of years of enshrined social norms is a slow process that will take more than a generation of work.

The reason for that is that the socialization of adults throughout Western society routinely encourages us to extinguish our memories of our own youth. So many people have traumatic experiences when they are young simply because they are young. Never dealing with those experiences, the bias, exclusion, disbelief, alienation, demonization, and otherwise feeling discriminated against in so many ways becomes normalized and feels rational.

In the absence of critical conscious awareness that allows them to deal with those feelings, all adults end up unconsciously perpetuating and propagating adultism.

In order to truly END discrimination against young people, we have to have a 3-prong program that addresses adultism in all of its forms:

  • Attitudinal Adultism: Personal feelings, assumptions, and beliefs that form a person’s attitudes about young people.
  • Cultural Adultism: The shared attitudes, including beliefs and customs, promoting the assumption that adults are superior to anyone who isn’t identified as an adult, simply because of their age. This is also called social adultism.
  • Structural Adultism: The normalization and legitimization of historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal dynamics – that routinely advantage adults while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for young people. This is also referred to as institutional adultism.

When we address those systems of discrimination, we’ll begin to move all of our society forward. When we understand power and our relationship to power between youth and adults, only then can we end discrimination against young people once and for all.

Adults Abdicating Responsibility

A lot of people have shared with me their challenge with Meaningful Student Involvement. As a matter of fact, I have spent more than a decade hearing it. There are many different ways people perceive my proposal that all students everywhere can partner with all adults throughout every location in education all of the time. Today I want to address this argument:

“If adults abdicate their roles as leaders, then students may need to fix schools… but they should not be burdened with fixing the system.”

It frequently sounds as if adults support enforcing the historical rigid patriarchy of schools regarding the delivery and reception of education. As school achievement continues showing us, we cannot continue to propagate the kind of top-down learning that relies on adults as knowledge-keepers and students as empty vessels. Instead, we must transform with the times.

Students today are being raised in an era of increasing accountability and transparency. Between the Internet and changing social norms, young people are being raised to question authority, challenge ineptitude, and demand mutuality and respect. I believe schools can embrace these new norms by infusing them throughout the curriculum and culture of education. That is what Meaningful Student Involvement is intended to do by integrating students as partners throughout the education system.

Instead of “burdening” them with anything, thousands of examples from around the world show us that Meaningful Student Involvement builds the capacity of students in countless ways. Not the least of these ways is their ability to participate in the building, ownership, and critical reception of their learning.

Society needs a more empowering future, Isabel, not less. Meaningful Student Involvement is a way towards this future for all students, everywhere, all the time. Is there a more significant goal schools can have today?

23 Phrases to Encourage Youth Voice

23 phrases

 

After working directly with youth for more than two decades, its easy for me to admit that I’ve said some poor things to youth. Either on purpose or by accident, I have said things that made young people feel hurt, confused, or angry. Anyone who works with youth—teachers, social workers, or program leaders—is going to make those mistakes whether we intend to or not. But its just as important to say the right things.

Since youth voice is any expression of any young people anywhere at any time about anything, its important to recognize there are ways adults can encourage it, rather than stifle it. Here are some things you can say to encourage youth voice.

 

23 Phrases to Encourage Youth Voice

  1. What do you think? Encourage young people to form their own opinions and share them with you. This improves critical thinking skills and reassures them that it’s right to have their own opinion, and that its even okay that it’s different from yours. When adults do young peoples’ thinking for them, children and youth stop taking responsibility for themselves and can’t handle greater responsibility as they grow. 
  2. I know you. Reaffirm for young people that you know them without telling them you know all about them. This reassures them in times of low confidence and encourages them to feel a part of something else, instead of being alone.
  3. I believe you. Let young people know you trust their judgment.
  4. I disagree with youInstead of simply saying no, validate what young people think, believe, or say in an open and honest manner. Don’t make it into a battle of wills or otherwise compete. Instead, open up an honest dialogue and be willing to go where the conversation takes you.
  5. How did you do? Don’t tell young people how they did before you let them tell you. Ask them and listen to what they have to say.
  6. Please and thank you. Young people are people first, and they deserve your manners just because they are people.
  7. I believe in you. Support and encourage children and youths’ self-judgment and abilities by affirming their capabilities and self-esteem.
  8. Can you help me understand? This let’s young people know that you honor their perceptions, even if you disagree with them. Allowing children and youth to explain things from their perspectives empowers their voices.
  9. You worked so hard. Instead of constantly telling young people how smart or special they are, this phrase acknowledges their hard work and effort.
  10. I’m sorry. Show young people that you are a fallible human who makes mistakes, and that you’re big enough to apologize to them.
  11. I’m available to you. Instead of constantly telling young people how busy you are, remind them that you’re available to them to talk to, hang out with, play with, and be around.
  12. What are the consequences? It’s tempting to make decisions for young people, but they learn more when they make their own choices. Remind them to think about the positive and negative consequences of any choice they make.
  13. I trust you. Reaffirm that you believe in the ability, ideas, plans, and suggestions of children and youth by letting them know directly that you trust them.
  14. I’ve got your back. Young people feel safest when they know they have your support, no matter what. When they’re facing especially challenging things, remind them you’re behind them.
  15. I’m so proud of you because… Young people want to know that you see the work, effort, and energy they put into their jobs, activities, and selves. Acknowledge them with specific, concrete feedback that helps them grow.
  16. You did a great job. Without over-doing it, its important to acknowledge a job well-done. Praise often, but don’t overdo it or your words will seem insincere.
  17. How does it feel to get that done? When children and youth get things done, it should be about making themselves happy instead of making adults happy. Self-esteem needs a boost? Reaffirm they can make themselves feel better.
  18. Turn it up! Without hamming it up or trying to hard, let children and youth know they can create the environment you co-occupy with them. Ask them to share their music, shows, or other media and creations in the spaces you are with them.
  19. You are worth it. Be intentional in supporting young peoples’ self-worth without being condescending.
  20. You are good, inside and out. Young people need to be engaged within themselves as well as in the world around them.
  21. How would you do it? Encourage children and youth to think about doing things differently, and then go further by helping them implement their ideas. Their conclusions could help them and you do things even better.
  22. Are you willing to do what it takes? Accept young peoples’ answers to this question without criticism or correction. This will help young people open up to you and answer honestly, rather than simply the way you want them to.
  23. What do YOU think we can do? Activate young peoples’ senses of ability and possibility by actively engaging them as co-conspirators, co-actors, and co-learners. Foster equity between you, and consciously build their sense of ability to make a difference.

 

A lot of people are tempted to make youth voice into a special or exclusive thing that only well-behaving young people who do what adults want them to should be able to share. What would you add to this list to encourage authentic youth voice?

 

5 Easy Ways YOU Can Change the World

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More people are doing more to deliberately change the world than ever before. They are creating jobs, building the economy, and circulating wealth in brand new ways that we can all learn from. Here are a two examples:

  • Australian Nick D’Aloisio began teaching himself to code on computers before he was 15 years old. He built a few small apps, but launched a major app called Summly. Last year, when he was 17, D’Aloisio sold it to Yahoo for $30 million. In the process he hired dozens of programmers and made others wealthy, too.
  • At the age of 12, Charles Orgbon III founded a nonprofit called Greening Forward. SIx years later, his youth-driven, youth-led, and youth-imagined environmental organization is teaching young people across the U.S. how to make money through the green movement. His program has reached hundreds of communities across the country and helped thousands of students learn about the environment in a productive way.

The stories of people changing the world can go on for days, and as we all know, this has always happened. However, more than ever, its the youngest among us who are actually doing the most, and have been for more than 100 years—and throughout all of history: Joan of Arc, Mozart, and countless unheralded people under 18, 21, 25, and 35 have changed the world.

Youth are changing the world in ways we all follow all of the time, whether we’re aware of that or not. While we routinely don’t acknowledge them for doing it, the fact is that society is dragged forward chained to the heels of young people, today and throughout all times. There is a lot we can learn from them.

Ways Youth Change the World

Robert Kennedy famously summarized the cliche ways young people change the world in a speech from 1967, saying, “This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.”

Its important to move beyond cliches though, and towards a practical, responsive logic that shows clearly why and how young people are changing the world. Here are five ways that’s happening right now.

  • Youth are in school. Learning conformity through standardization, having their schedules delineated for them, and being forced to learn what others want them to teaches some youth to stay in line. For others, its an excuse and even permission to get out of the box and think in radical new ways. They’re learning about politics, they’re learning about the real world, and they’re launching their lives during current times, right now. Transforming education by demanding public accountability for public schools and forcing educators and education leaders to become responsive to the democratic citizens they’re responsible to and for is ensuring these young people change the future.
  • Youth cannot vote. The demands of democratic civic engagement overburden many adults, effectively preventing them from voting, becoming involved, and owning the political process. Since youth cannot vote, many are driven towards apathy and disregard for the system. Those lessons will be applied to many things throughout their lives, and for some, that is civic life. These young people are becoming enraged, motivated, and empowered to take action and deliberately pave the road to the future.
  • Youth are living in “my house by my rules”. Homes and neighborhoods around the world are ruled by tradition and culture that routinely, systematically, and wholly takes power away from children and youth. Growing up with the melancholic conformity of middle class suburbs, the deafening roar of poverty, or the privileged access wealth provides will each force a percentage of young people to deliberately seek to change the world throughout their lives. Warren Buffet was young once, as were Maya Angelou, David Gilmour, Dr. King, Napoleon, Da Vinci, Pho Khun Sri Indraditya, Julius Caesar, and Imhotep. All these world changers grew up in someone’s house and sought to change the world later. Those seeds are always planted in our youth, just like they are still today.
  • Youth are connected. Like no generation before, young people are connected to each other, often in ways adults cannot imagine. The mapping of human ecology has never been nearly effective in history as it is now, with the appearance and immutability of social networking and technology to support connectivity becoming as ubiquitous as it is. These connections are becoming more obvious than ever before, and while the benefits are still becoming apparent, today’s generation of youth are growing up with it. Because of this, they are changing the world in ways we’ve never imagined.
  • Youth are able of acting beyond expectations. As we age, most adults seek familiarity and ease. Growing increasingly distrustful of change, we latch onto consistency, segregation, and tight knit connections for our lives. Young people operate in ways that are counter to each of these, actively fostering and thriving within the unknown, the deeply entwined, and the actively frayed edges of social connectivity. Generation after generation, they are actively paving the road to the future because of this reality.

These may be obvious, simplistic perspectives on how young people are changing the world today. However, It can be hard to see what adults can do to practically do to make a difference themselves.

5 Easy Ways YOU Can Change the World

Parents, teachers, businesspeople, and adults everyday can help ensure that young people are paving the road to the future with five easy steps.

  1. Keep forcing youth to do what adults want them to. The more we cause children and youth to do what we want them to, the more likely more young people are rebel. If you want to change the world, do not allow young people to use their voices, disallow them from becoming involved in civic life, and force them to follow arbitrary rules based on negative adult assumptions rather than scientific realities. This will change the world by encouraging so-called “youth rebelliousness”, which is generally anything in defiance of tradition and adult-identified “acceptability”.
  2. Smother youth with adult-created culture. Promote young peoples’ sense of inability and indifference by pushing music, clothes, movies, tv, and other adult-created culture throughout the lives of every young person. Push them to believe sub-cultures and identities are segregating factors, and encourage them to negate their own self-worth. This will change the world by forcing more youth to make media for themselves and for adults who don’t buy into adult-created culture.
  3. Limit the access youth have to technology. If you’re attending the average school or youth program today, you know its common to find rules against cell phone usage, classrooms completely devoid of computers for students, and limited Internet access throughout a lot of schools and nonprofit organizations intending to teach youth today. With the impending end of net neutrality, we will see the demise of free and unimpeded access to knowledge via the internet. If you want to change the world, continue to restrict youths’ access to technology and prohibit their free access to information and resources. This will push them to further innovate in technology and free the boundaries of knowledge however they can.
  4. Force youth to follow the rules created by adults. Despite advances in science and clearly demonstrative examples of the contributions they make throughout society, for more than a century adults have clearly denied the increasing capacity of youth to self-manage and negotiate the world they share with us. Instead, we routinely infantalize youth, talking down to them, incapacitating and disenfranchising them with wholly discriminatory laws, policies, and rules that reflect traditional assumptions. This causes young people people to actively dismantle age-based, race-based, gender-based, and other bias-based perspectives that limit growth around the world.
  5. Stay away from youth. Forced age-based segregation between youth and adults disallows young people from forming healthy, proactive, and equitable relationships with people older than them. This segregation is systematically enforced within schools, through after school and summer youth programs, throughout our business sector, and across governmental decision-making and policies. Dissatisfied by inept adult-driven, ineffectual economic choices, more young people will become more motivated to change the world in the coming years.

These steps are easy because they are already happening right now. If you want to ensure change the world, just let these steps keep happening!

My career is focused on working with adults and youth to build their awareness and ability to change the world on purpose. I believe that every conscientious adult has a responsibility to themselves, their families, and succeeding generations to take actual, practical, and positive action that changes the world, no matter how they do that. The list in this article does not represent that.

If you want to actually make a positive difference in the lives of young people, here are some simple things you can do right now:

Whatever you choose to do, simply do something. Any action is generally better than no action, and with young people you actually can make a difference.

Truth Changes: 7 Ways the Future Will Be Different for Youth Today


Its a strange thing having spent 25 years of my life working with, for, and among young people, especially when I’m just inching up on 40 years old myself. One of the things this career has afforded me is perspective: With the long view in mind, I can see things differently than others who’ve been in and out of the work in small increments. But at my age, I’m not an old man who cannot see things in just one way. Instead, I cross boundaries a lot, seeing myself and others in a constant state of flux, transition, and transformation.

One of the skills I’ve honed is learning to see the future—not in a psychic mumbo jumbo way, but in a practical, scientifically driven sense. Using the insight my experience and reflection affords me, I want to share with you seven ways the future will be different for youth today.

However, before I do that I want to establish why there is a new future coming. As many of us agree, the present is unacceptable. However, we haven’t named why. I think a large part of the problem is that adults are constantly lying to young people, either inadvertantly or intentionally. Let me identify five lies adults tell youth today.

5 Lies Adults Tell Youth Today

Lie #1: There are jobs available for youth. In 2010, youth unemployment in the US topped out at 19.6%. Last year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that it had nudged down to 16.3%. When that’s compared to the historical average of 12.32% since 1955, with the low point at 7.80% in 1956, it shows that the job market still has a long ways to go to recover. The Federal Reserve has said that in the recession, adult workers took jobs youth had held for the previous decade at new rates.

Lie #2: Adults believe in youth. In large, youth today are being sent into a hostile, unwelcoming world. Adults generally neither see youth as assets, nor do they treat them as valuable citizens they could be. Once seen as The Future, young people are increasingly treated as interchangeable parts in a vast societal machine that disrespects everyone as humans, particularly young people. The reality of discrimination against young people is that the very same young people who are being prohibited from entering into stores in groups of 2 or more are being hired to staff those stores, while those store owners are taking their money. This happens in schools, at home, and throughout our communities.

Lie #3: Schools are changing to make youth better people. Politicians and parents want desperately to believe that all of the work being done to reform education today is being done to benefit students. However, at the end of the day large corporations are lining their pockets like never before. Privatized schools, standardized testing, teacher mastery programs, and many more arrows point in this direction, and none of it has to do anything with students’ hireability. Instead, school reform is largely motivated by profit and power, with thin veils of concern for students’ well-being in the future.

Lie #4: Youth just need to pull their jeans up and do what adults tell them to. I have heard many adults say, “If only a young person would come in here with a good haircut, their pants pulled up, and no tattoos showing, I’d give them a job in a minute!” The beneficent nature of this statement undermines the reality: Most adults don’t believe engaging young people will benefit them, so they don’t do it. If they do engage youth, its usually under such poor premise for such little return that it doesn’t justify the effort that youth to take to become engaged.

Lie #5: Things have always been this way, and they’ll always be this way. Lucky for the future, change is inevitable. While it can’t get here fast enough for many youth, the reality is that there’s a burgeoning movement that’s driving more young people than ever to become active agents of social change. Many people believe this is the answer to the lies youth have been told. More than ever, young people are building, devising, planning, scheming, strategizing, and mapping the future like never before. While the millennial generation was fast moving, youth today are even faster. The social transformation of today is being driven by The Masses, mobilized by ability and access like never before.

Hope for the future actually rests in the truth behind the fifth lie adults tell youth today. Creating their futures by working with truly supportive adults—including parents, educators, youth workers, and others—young people today are literally making the future they want to live in. Its not a utopia or some grandiose vision that all young people are working towards, and I’m not advocating that only youth create this future. However, I am suggesting that we all work together towards a realistic future that works for everyone.

Truth Changes: 7 Ways the Future Will Be Different for Youth Today

The ways that things are today are different from the ways they are going to be. Here are seven ways the future will be different.

  1. Engaging—The future will be engaging for anyone, anywhere they want to be engaged. This will happen at home, schools, throughout communities, in government, and the economy.
  2. Connecting—Tying together more intentionally both online and in-person, we’re going to experience a resurgence of The Commons in bold, bright new ways. These are the public spaces we all share, and more than ever, young people will be recognized as central to the health and well-being of The Commons.
  3. Empowering—Instead of isolated incidents benefiting a few people here and there, everyone will experience increasing amounts of ability and authority throughout the entirety of their lives. Starting when they’re infants, all people will become more educated, engaged, and empowered throughout their lives.
  4. Cooperating—Seeing the economic and social benefits of conscientious and mutual relationships with everyone around us, we will become more driven towards cooperative action benefiting everyone involved. The implicit and explicit ways we work together will be recognized more, and the value of all human interactions among every human will be seen with utmost importance, and everyone will learn how to cooperate more effectively.
  5. Processing—With constant emphasis on outcomes overwhelming more people more frequently, new stock will be given to processes with more services providing more people the pleasure of getting there, rather than just arriving.
  6. Diversifying—Entwined cultures will drive elevated social conditions affecting more people, effectively incentivizing integration anew.
  7. Liberating—Freed of the shackles of offices and bosses, more people will feel more capable of living easily, moving quickly, and collecting freely with others they’re genuinely interested in, rather than stuck with.

 

Our future is bound to become more embracing, more honest, and more hopeful than what young people face today. This is because children and youth right now will make the world they want to live in. We should do no less than fully empower them to make this future, if only because its our responsibility and not merely our privilege.

What are YOU doing to create the future, today?

The NEW Youth Voice

"Education does not transform the world. Education changes people. People change the world." - Paulo Freire
“Education does not transform the world. Education changes people. People change the world.” – Paulo Freire

You might have noticed that since publishing The Freechild Project Youth-Driven Programming Guide last year, I’ve come to feel strongly about aggrandizing youth involvement.

A lot of organizations and programs tout their credibility with youth involvement, youth engagement, and youth organizing by highlighting all the wonderful things they position youth to lead. By doing this, these organizations are actually doing youth disservice. The many challenges include:

  • Positioning adults as beneficent rulers who allow youth to do things
  • Incapacitating young peoples’ innate responsibility for themselves and others
  • Negating the abilities of communities to work together for the common good

 

Instead of helping, these activities actually and often harm the people they intend to help.

We need to see things differently. In recent months, I’ve begun to envision a new way of being, knowing, and doing. This way is currently emerging between young people and adults, and it is happening throughout society. This way re-positions children, youth and adults from assuming power relationships dependent on subservience and authority, towards seeing each other in a more holistic light.

The old way of Youth Voice…

  • Relied on adults having power over youth
  • Positioned young people as “adults-in-the-making” not to be seen as whole people right now
  • Depended on youth being subservient and compliant to adults
  • Required systems of oppression that enforced adults’ power
  • Demanded youth be compliant with adult desires out of fear of violence
  • Necessitated systems of authority enforced by structures of abuse
  • Made programs that put “youth in charge” necessary in order to rebalance power inequalities between youth and adults
  • Routinely positioned youth against each other and against adults in order to ensure compliance and conformity
  • Saw children and youth progressing along a predictable, staircase development cycle towards adulthood

The emerging, new relationships between youth and adults look different. The new Youth Voice…

  • Sees young people as whole people no matter what their ages
  • Utilizes holistic youth development as the organizing framework for young peoples’ growth, education, and ongoing formation as humans
  • Treats all young peoples’ growth as non-linear, non-sequential and non-uniform, instead treating every child and youth as an evolving human
  • Allows equal room for adults and young people to have, express, and critique power and authority
  • Positions children, youth, and adults in equitable partnerships designed to foster engagement, belonging, and ownership
  • Grants adults and young people equitable, responsible space for learning, teaching, and leadership in all roles, all of the time
  • Replaces command-and-control authoritarianism by honoring the collective, democratic perspectives of all people, regardless of age
  • Acknowledges programs that put “youth in charge” to be ineffectual and unnecessary
  • Dismantles youth-against-youth and youth-against-adult power struggles through common action and mutual support

Paulo Freire wrote, “Education does not transform the world. Education changes people. People change the world,” and the same can be said of Youth Voice. Youth Voice does not transform the world. Youth Voice transform people. People change the world.

If we are going to change the world, we must change ourselves first. Changing ourselves comes from active, deliberate work. That’s what my proposition for new Youth Voice is – an attempt to engage each of us differently.

Through these active, distinguishable ways of being, knowing, and doing, young people are adults are working together to transform the world we share. Everyone can and should aspire to nothing less.

 

Mindsets for Youth Engagement

Many adults could engage youth effectively, but they can’t. Youth workers, teachers, parents, and others could because they see the problem, the cause, and directly observe youth disengagement when it happens. These same people can’t though, because they don’t think they can.

Youth workers often believe they don’t have the authority, because their supervisors didn’t tell them they could. Teachers don’t think they can because of Common Core State Standards or district regulations or school rules. Parents don’t think they can because their kid is different, their kid is out of control, or their kid just doesn’t listen. The thing is though, all of these people could engage youth effectively.

The biggest roadblock to youth engagement isn’t youth themselves, or oppressive systems of social control that keep them disengaged. YOUR THINKING IS THE BIGGEST BARRIER TO YOUTH ENGAGEMENT.

Mindsets

The model above shows that in order to address how we engage youth, we have to think about why we engage youth; what happens when youth engagement happens, and what difference the outcomes from youth engagement make on our thinking.

Your thoughts about youth inform your actions with youth, and your actions affect the results which inform your beliefs about youth, which in turn affect your thoughts about youth. This is called your Mindset. It directly affects youth disengagement and youth engagement, and there is only one person responsible for it: You.

You can change your mindset, and if you want to become a person who can successfully engage young people, that’s what you must do. Here are some stories of people who changed their mindset about youth:

  • Sue, a case manager for homeless youth in Rochester, New York, addressed her mindset about youth in a workshop I led in 2011. Soon afterwards, she began engaging her youth as partners in their cases. In the following two years, her case efficacy increased by 35%.
  • Tom found that his classroom was consistently unfocused and disconnected from the social studies topics he was teaching. In my workshop on meaningful student involvement, he learned several practical ways to re-envision the roles of students in schools. According to his account, his students were 100% more engaged afterwards.

I offer quick, powerful processes for identifying old belief structures, creating a mindset focused on youth engagement, and identifying what needs to be done to maintain engagement. My solid follow-up structure supports your team in constantly focusing on the right mindset and actions that produce the results you want.