New Approaches to Youth Action

Description

If our goal is to engage young people in social change, there are many ways to do that. This diagram illustrates four distinct ways to engage young people: youth-driven community organizing, systemic youth involvement, situational youth voice, and service learning. It then illustrates the traditional and non-traditional approaches to doing that within these ways, as well as the overlaps that are apparent.

 

Traditional Approaches to Engage Young People in Social Change

  • May be exclusively youth-led
  • May partner with adults
  • May be led by adults
  • May include equity
  • May have explicit learning connections
  • May include adults
  • May be focused on sustained change
  • May have sustained funding
  • May position youth as “outsiders” versus “insiders”

 

New Approaches to Engage Young People in Social Change

  • Infuse youth as full members
  • Recognize mutual investment by youth and adults
  • Focus on sustained change
  • Make explicit learning goals for youth and adults
  • Focus on systemic and cultural transformation
  • Requires equity between youth and adults.

 

Explanation

In my own restlessness, I find myself craving something different these days.
I’m increasingly dissatisfied with isolated experiences of “youth-led” activity that is seeded and driven by adults. I have come to see that the majority of this work is largely disingenuous and ultimately incapacitating for the young people who participate in these activities. I say that very cautiously, as I personally know and am professionally aware of the immediate feelings of empowerment that are inherent in this type of action.

 

Today, I’m coming to understand that we need approaches to this work that more deeply situate young people as full members of currently existent society. That way they can be partners in what already exists and transform situations in deeply sustainable, deeply transformative ways.This has to happen by working with the institutions we already have in place. It has to happen with the attitudes we already have at work. This is where my writing on meaningful student involvement comes from: Students working in the places they already occupy with people who are already committed to working with them. There are attitudes, cultures, structures, and connections to transform, but those are sustained changes that won’t go away with passing generations.
This article is meant to illustrate what the difference I see looks like visually. Respond and let me know what you think about a new approach to youth action – I’d love to hear what you think!

Well-Meaning Adults Are Undermining Young People

Things dropped by well-meaning adults still do what?!?

There are several ways that adults undermine young people. I have grouped them into three main categories: well-meaning adults, indifferent adults, and hostile adults.

This post is exploring the first category, well-meaning adults. They are determined to “help kids”, and can often be identified as progressive teachers, social workers, counselors, and parents. 
Assuming young people need as much freedom as possible, they aspire to always think “the best” of youth and want to be their “friends”. However, this is a disingenuous understanding because it ignores or denies the realities of present-day society. Any right-thinking adult would never give a completely inexperienced person the keys to a car and expect them to teach themselves how to drive.This is seen as a dangerous and irresponsible gesture that can lead to death. 
Well-meaning adults routinely presume the abilities of all young people are on par with all adults. No matter what age a person is, without experience, exposure, and education, all people do not have the same abilities nor capacities. These people inadvertently deny young people their personal needs, wants, and desires by over-estimating them.
The problem inherent in their position is that well-meaning adults undermine their own best intentions and denying their ability to truly help children and youth. Through an honest, engaged, and deliberate awareness of their preconceptions, these adults can be among the greatest assets in the lives of young people. However, without increased awareness of their conditioning and behavior, they are doing as much good as adults who are anti-youth.
Read More from Other Writers
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Radical Transparency with Children and Youth

How To Be Radically Transparent With Children and Youth
  1. Start when they’re young. While young people are still young, that’s the time to make be radically transparent with them. Having a transparent conversation with a 17 or 18 year old can be difficult, if only because they’re conditioned to accept adults obfuscating. By starting early, you weave into your relationships with young people your own ability to be honest, and show your expectation that your relationships with children and youth are motivated by fully mutual accountability.
  2. Take issues one at a time. When creating a radically transparent relationship with young people, go in steps. Being completely open and honest all at once can be really difficult and daunting. Every time you would typically keep information to yourself, ask yourself, “Why can’t I share this with young people?” Unless you come up with a strong argument against it, opt for openness. But in increments.
  3. Make time to explain your logic. As a radically transparent adult ally, you must be honest and fair. Young people need to understand how you came to your decisions and why. Be ready to spend a huge amount of time with children and youth explaining everything. The extra time will pay off, when ultimately, your effort will inspire trust and respect.
  4. Clearly outline the steps for action. Radically transparent organizations need clear ways for young people to take action. You might set specific goals or show young people which skills and outcomes they can be developing. Being fair in this process prevents you from expecting any young people to do something beyond their abilities. Make sure your organization is focused on process more than product, and let young people know that’s the case.
  5. Question your own discomfort. Making traditionally adult-only information available to young people naturally stirs up discomfort. A lot of the time its uncomfortable because it’s never been done before. Whenever you hesitates, ask yourself if sharing that information would help or engage the young people you’re working with. If it would, do it. Once it’s out in the open, discomfort quickly fades. If it doesn’t, its trying to show you more.

There is no such thing as genuinely non-coercive relationships with young people. The best writing about that topic is full of coercion and attempts to get kids to do things, but from particularly obtuse or obfuscated angles. There’s are political causes behind everything- not party politik, but philosophical politics.


Those philosophical politics inform all our ways of being, including and especially our relationships with young people. Its from this place that philosopher/theorists like Freire, Illich, and even Neill become so relevant. However, they represent different perspectives, and as a critical theorist I hang my hat closest to Freire.
It is from this perspective that I find myself wondering lately about the notion of radical transparency with children and youth. Growing up in the mire of post-naive capitalism, I have grown to deeply appreciate attempts to reveal the political considerations of the systems and society I occupy and participate in. The dark forces of gross consumerism routinely pile up cheap plastic crap around us in piles so big we can’t see what’s going on around us. 
Those piles are formed of the detritus of our lifestyles, including the stuff we buy and the places we attend. However, they’re also made from the shady forces of popular culture which seek to block us from seeing why things around us happen the ways they do. 
Given an opportunity to identify clearly what they see in the world around them, I believe young people have the innate capacity to discover and examine why things are the way they are. They can also identify how things operate, and how they can be transformed. With consistent and relevant exposure throughout their lives, all children and youth could gradually, purposefully, and truly become operative democrats—that is, fully engaged citizens in a democracy—at much younger ages than we afford people now.

The believe that there’s a static experience of childhood that should be preserved through ignorance and limited exposure to the world is idyllic and has been proven misguided, if only because we know that for all intents and purposes, that experience is limited to so few young people. Right now it seems as if the domineering modus operandi in society is to “throw them to the wolves” of pop culture consumerism that defines their identities for them. I want young people to be able to choose their identities, connections, and engagements, rather than allowing corporations to choose for them.

I don’t think transparency equals full access or authority. It may lend itself to that, and when it’s appropriate it will. But I’m not inclined to hand over the keys to the house and invite everyone in, as it were. If a young person wanted more of an institution at will and of there own volition, that’s something different. But rather than foist everything upon every young person all at once, I wonder of there’s a need for degrees of transparency. Is transparency only necessary/appropriate when young people request it? If that choice isn’t radical transparency, then what is? Cynicism is popular in some communities, while in most others there’s gross apathy. What other options are there?


Writing about this, I think it’s important to clarify that I’m thinking mostly about social institutions like families, schools, policing, the economy, government, nonprofits, religions. What if Toto ran up and pulled back the curtain on any of those institutions? What would young people themselves see? Can we be that revelatory and transparent?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Meet Them Where They’re At

Recently, I was called to a meeting where it was requested that we BYOD, Bring Your Own Device. It seemed ridiculous to me at first, as I thought that people who were inclined to bring their own devices already would. But when I got there, we were led through activities that could only be done online with a device. People without a device—a phone, tablet, or laptop—were left out or had to mooch off their neighbor.
There is absolutely no way I’m advocating for this in youth programs, even though I’ve seen it in some. Its ignorant, privileged, and genuinely excessive to assume that young people, no matter what social strata they’re from, have the capability to access technology in the ways adults want them to, whenever they want them to.
However, one of the most effective ways to engage young people is to meet them where they are right now, rather than insist they come to where we want them to be. This happens in one of two primary ways:
  •  Literally—Rather than have programming at your facility, have programming where young people in your community already spend their time. If they spend a lot of their afterschool time at a neighborhood park, hold programs there. If they spend time at other nonprofit programs, hold programs there. Same thing with shopping malls, gyms, even homes. 
  • Figuratively—In activities, attitudes, and culture, rather than insisting young people act like you, behave like you, think like you, and do think you do as an adult, you can meet them where they’re at by using the technology they use, interacting with the culture they absorb, and utilizing the values and attitudes they hold. 
Both of these require adults to step out on a limb. They mean that we have to step outside the relative safety of our defined programming spaces, our intentional curriculum, our social class or culturally-accepted practices, or our adult-biased attitudes. In order to do any of that, we have to acknowledge and accept that our way may not be the only way.
More importantly though, this approach shows us that we can work together with young people. That lays a foundation for establishing real partnerships with children and youth, and opens the door to creating substantive, sustainable opportunities for young people to become meaningfully involved throughout the operations of the programs that target them every day.
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Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

33 Steps to Youth Voice

Creativity, government, schools, empowerment, community development… As the banner of youth voice is unfurled around the world, we see more young people standing up in unprecedented numbers than ever before. They’re demanding what is rightfully theirs: High-quality living, hopeful lives, and democratic realities. We’re just see this movement emerge like never before, and must keep pushing for it to grow.

Youth voice is any expression of any young person, anywhere, about anything. For a long time, people got that wrong by defining it only as things adults wanted to hear from young people. Youth were wrangled into adult-driven, adult-centered communities and were only asked about things that adults are concerned with. We heard youth opinions about topics like philanthropy, youth service, volunteering, and youth services in the name of youth voice for a long time.

However, a lot of my writing, research, and training has focused on listening to youth voice that didn’t fit that description. I’ve found the most vibrant action is happening outside that old spectrum. So I redefined youth voice, expanded it, and showed how we’re seeing the breadth and depth of youth voice that is happening specifically from youth perspectives, in a wide-open, all views welcome way.

All this voice shows how youth need new roles throughout our communities. Instead of being passive recipients of adult-driven community programs, all young people need to be active partners in our homes, nonprofits, faith places, parks, government agencies, and all places throughout our communities. This can happen in a lot of ways, and here are a few!

33 Steps to Youth Voice

  1. BE—Go to where youth are, and stop insisting they come to where you’re at.
  2. TEACH—Teach youth about your community in the broadest ways, including culture, geography, economics, history, and more.
  3. BUILD—Help youth understand different ways of seeing community issues.
  4. TRAIN—Train adult providers about the difference between Youth as Recipients and Youth as Partners, and why that’s an important distinction.
  5. EDUCATE—Increase the understanding youth have of democracy and government, including what it is, how it operates, who is in it, where it fails and when it succeeds.
  6. LISTEN—Develop opportunities for youth to share their unfettered concerns about their communities with adults.
  7. POSITION—Create formal positions for youth to occupy throughout your community.
  8. CREATE—Create programs with youth as partners in identifying, planning, facilitating, evaluating, and critiquing throughout.
  9. PARTNER—Co-design community engagement plans with every youth in your program.
  10. MENTOR—Assign all youth a youth mentor to introduce them to the culture and traditions of your community; mutual mentoring matters.
  11. PLAN—Help youth plan, advocate, and enact yearlong program calendars for organizations that affect them and others.
  12. DESIGN—Engage youth in designing and redesigning programs that serve them and their communities.
  13. STEP ASIDE—Encourage nontraditional youth leaders to co-facilitate regular programs with adults.
  14. SPEND—Invest fully in youth programming and allow youth to become active partners in organizational budgeting.
  15. HIRE—Give youth positions to become regular, paid youth program assistants and leaders.
  16. FACILITATE—Partner together youth to form facilitation teams that lead programs.
  17. SEE—Acknowledge youth teaching younger youth in lower age groups with program credit and other acknowledgment.
  18. SUBSTANTIATE—Co-create professional development with youth for adult staff about issues that matter to them.
  19. EVALUATE—Assign youth to create meaningful program evaluations of themselves.
  20. SYSTEMITIZE—Partner with youth to create evaluations of programs, curriculum, facilitation styles, organizations, and communities.
  21. EMPOWER—Train youth how to evaluate adult facilitator performance.
  22. LEAD—Create opportunities for youth to lead community events.
  23. GUIDE—Create positions for youth to participate in nonprofit boards, neighborhood communities, and other systemic activities.
  24. AUTHORIZE—Give youth on nonprofit boards full-voting positions and equal numbers of positions with adults.
  25. EQUATE—Create enough positions for youth to be equally represented in every neighborhood committee and meeting.
  26. MEET—Facilitate all neighborhood activities in ways that are engaging for all participants, including youth.
  27. RULE—Help youth create and enforce activity policies throughout the community.
  28. DECIDE—Partner with youth in nonprofit personnel decisions.
  29. ORGANIZE—Work with youth to organize public campaigns for neighborhood improvement.
  30. INTEGRATE—Create opportunities for youth to join all existing neighborhood committees as equal members.
  31. DETERMINE—Present youth data and information so they understand why and how neighborhoods can and should change.
  32. EQUIP—Position youth to educate adults throughout your community, including parents, leaders, policymakers and others, about challenges that matter to them.
  33. INFUSE—Encourage youth with formal and informal opportunities to present their concerns.

The very best thing about all this? Its all backed up by research and practice from across the United States and around the world! For more than a decade I’ve been finding examples, collecting tools, and sharing best practices and findings from researchers, teachers, and students. I share it all free on this blog and in The Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolbox, free.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Loosening the Evaluation Stranglehold

Every day, young people around the world—including Pittsburgh and all of Allegheny County—struggle to connect in meaningful ways to the world around them. They’re yanked on and dragged around by the adults in the lives, being sent to school, dropped off in after school programs, made to come to dinner, forced to kiss their great aunt Bertha… They struggle to make those connections meaningfully.

In the meantime, businesses are marketing products to children and youth like never before, selling them on the notion that they can connect to their favorite brand all over the place, all the time, and that’s all that matters. Every young person seems to know what Hershey’s candy bars are. iPhones, Nikes, Forever 21, and Facebook have extremely engaged youth consumer bases.

Some people think nonprofits need to act like those businesses. Many youth-serving organizations are being pressured to reform the ways they serve their constituencies according to the philosophies of people like Dan Pollota and funders who demand the usage of the Youth Program Quality Assessment. The intention of many folks who promote the stance that nonprofits need to be business-like, emphasizing accountability, ROI, and similar strategies, is well-meaning. Indoctrinated by business profiteers who fund philanthropies, many nonprofits are struggling to meet these expectations.

There’s a simpler way to go, and all afterschool programs should go for it.

In the ancient Greek empire, philosophers often sought to promote core values rather than complex rubrics for self-reflection and personal growth. Their holistic approaches to seeing the world were matched by these values, and although all of their actions weren’t aligned with them, general philosophical beliefs were. (Their philosophy before Socrates is said to be aligned with Eastern beliefs including the Tao and Buddhist impermanence, as will the following.)

In the same vein, youth programs—and all nonprofits—should move away from intricate dollar-for-dollar assessment and invest in deeper, more substantial change through the communities and populations they serve.

I have created a document that I think embodies this deeper way of being. Its not meant to summarize activities, emphasize outcomes, or promote accountability. Instead, its thinking about our whole lives as a way of living, including our youth programs, nonprofit organizations, schools, families, neighborhoods… all of a young person’s life. I call my document the Get Engaged Manifesto.

To be more successful, we need fewer strangleholds on our work, not more. Our public school teachers have been saying this over the last decade as they’ve labored under excruciating evaluations of their effects on student learning. Hopefully nonprofits won’t have to go through a decade of similar struggles in order to learn this lesson too.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

10 Steps to Planning Programs With Youth

Planning youth programs for children and youth is tricky. Stuck without enough time to plan or strict guidelines for curriculum delivery, youth program workers can feel powerless over what they do with the young people they serve. In my own experience working in the field for more than a decade, I had this experience continually.

In the last decade, I’ve worked with more than 200 nonprofits across the US to help them re-envision program planning for out-of-school time programs. Organizations are wrestling because of their best intentions. My own work through The Freechild Project, along with similar programs across the country, have convinced a generation of practitioners and planners that youth programs can do more than simply deliver content to young people. Instead, they can create program content with young people, and in some instances actually position young people to generate content with their peers. This notion reflects the wisdom, “Nothing about me without me is for me.”

Aside from this ethical consideration, there is a practical basis to promoting meaningful youth involvement in youth program planning. A variety of recent research is increasingly demonstrating that there may be no parallel for ensuring program effectiveness. The most intuitive outcome is true: This approach powerfully impacts young people who participate in program planning along with youth who participate in programs planned by youth. Less obvious are the effects that youth-involved planning has on adults in the program, in the sponsoring organization, and in the surrounding community. If their activities include engaging peers in service to the broader community, young people involved in planning youth programs can actually affect the broad community beyond their programs in a variety of ways over the short and long term, including promoting lifelong civic engagement for young people, including developing strong and sustained connections to the educational, economic, and cultural values of their neighborhoods and cities. Youth programs can dream no higher goals. (See here, here, and here for some studies.)


Studying my own work, along with a vast array of literature focusing on this approach, I’ve devised some key points for engaging children and youth in program planning.

10 Steps to Planning Programs With Youth

  1. Think Sustainable—Create ways to ensure participants that being involved is going to keep happening after this planning period. From the beginning, infuse youth engagement in facilitation, evaluation, research, decision-making, and advocacy right into the culture of your program. If you must involve children and youth in a one-shot activity, let them know of opportunities for them to be involved in their lives outside your program.
  2. Clear Purpose—Establish a clear purpose for youth involvement in program planning. Let participants, organization leaders, parents, community members, and local schools know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Clarity of purpose is often missing from young people’s lives, as school is done to them, family is done to them, and stores are done to them. Your program can be done with them, and they should know why.
  3. Engage The Non-Traditionally Engaged—Create space and help children and youth who haven’t been especially engaged in your program to become involved in program planning. Both traditionally involved young people and non-traditionally involved young people can contribute to all of the various aspects of program planning. If you don’t know how to do this, get trained; if you need a reason, read this.
  4. Real Connections—When young people see themselves in your program, real connections are happening. When real connections happen, children and youth become engaged. While they may have obvious expertise or interests in a specific topic, its important for afterschool youth workers to help young people discover what they know. 
  5. Equity, Not Equality—Develop equitable roles between young people and adults. This means that programs don’t pretend all things between children, youth, and adults are 50/50 split equally, because in our adult-centered society that is simply never true. Equity allows young people and adults to enter into responsible relationships that acknowledge what each other knows and doesn’t know, and to work from that place instead of assuming everyone has equal ability and capacity. We’re all different; let’s not pretend otherwise.
  6. Grow Their Capacity—Grow the existing capacity of children and youth to become involved in planning. Both young people and adults can learn from training about work styles, assumptions, skills, and more. 
  7. Make A Clear Plan—Having a specific pathway for young people to see how their contributions affect program planning is vital. Show how their participation will affect the program. Are they contributing to an existing program? Opening a brand-new course of action and learning? Working with the same adults in new ways, or partnering with new adults? Its important to remember that creating an afterschool program plan with young people is not the culmination of work, but the starting point of an organization’s efforts to create more effective programs. A clear plan should include: 1) Next steps; 2) Roles and responsibilities; 3) program structure outline; 4) program participant evaluation. Setting priorities, using timelines with target implementation dates, and developing clear benchmarks for measuring success in each area can also enhance the youth program plan’s effectiveness.
  8. Get Systemic—Encourage active youth/adult partnerships beyond planning. Young people can be engaged in researching their community, school, nonprofit program, or anything through PAR. They can facilitate, teach, and mentor peers, younger people, and adult. They can evaluate themselves, their organizations and communities, workplaces and businesses, and other places. They can participate in organizational, family, community, or other decision-making. They can advocate for what they care about. Ultimately, they can be engaged throughout the systems that prevail in every part of their lives.
  9. Connect The Dots—Establish community/school connections if possible. Collaborations that reinforce young people’s learning and support in-school learning only benefit youth programs. The partnership established in this process can deepen efforts through the future, and mutually support young people in and out of school time.
  10. Eyes Wide Open—Open the doors to critical examination. Use critical lenses to examine your assumptions and effects in your program planning. Identifying strengths and weaknesses allow programs and organizations to improve the overall effectiveness of youth engagement, especially through your particular effort. Make space by giving young people permission and skills they need to be partners in mutual accountability with adults. In your program planning activities with youth, set clear benchmarks and agree on celebrations when they’re met and consequences that young people can see for when those benchmarks are not met.

My experience engaging young people in program planning can benefit you. What would you add to the list from your experience?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

The House Youth Voice Built

A lot of organizations don’t know where to begin with Youth Voice. They complain that young people don’t attend their activities, or that youth who do show up don’t have a voice. Building Youth Voice requires a deliberate strategy for action and transformation.

Eight Building Blocks For Youth Voice
The following can be a checklist. If you want to engage Youth Voice in your youth-serving program or organization, ask yourself if you have the following building blocks.

The Foundation: A champion. 

Do you have an individual in your organization who is leading youth engagement efforts? This person needs to be a champion who is knowledgeable, committed, and shares the experiences of youth you’re targeting. This is the most important step.

The Concrete: Commitment. 
Does your organization’s Board of Directors value youth engagement beyond gestures or language by having 1/3 to 2/3rds of the seats on the Board filled by people under 30?
The Walls: Connectedness. 
Are 50% of your Board members from the local neighborhood you’re serving? If you’re serving an entire city or county, do you recruit members reflecting the racial and socio-economic diversity of your area?

The Siding: Attachment. 
Have you hired local youth or young adults into relevant positions within your organization? They must have local high school experiences and direct interaction with young people, and relevant training.

The Front Door: Relevance. 
Does your organization have great programs relevant to youth in your area? They need a variety of educational, social, recreational, and other opportunities to be who they are, and to feel seen by your organization.

The Interior Design: Fun.
Do staff provide purely fun and social activities with no hidden agenda of selling them other programs or your organization’s goals? Do they fuse fun into the regular operating activities of the program?

The Yard: Broadening. 
Do your youth programs connect young people beyond just your programs for them? Do they have opportunities to learn or play with adults, participate in community conversations, or do substantive activities with diverse community members?

The Sidewalk: Building. 
No matter what your goals are, does your program seek to acknowledge the skills and knowledge young people already have and build upon them?

This is what has worked for the organizations CommonAction has worked with as we’ve founded more than 100 Youth Voice projects and programs in communities around the world.

What doesn’t work is using the same thinking that created the problem of youth disengagement to try to engage Youth Voice in your program or organization. Everything you’re doing is surely a necessary part of positive youth development, but just continuing on that pathway isn’t enough. Youth programs and youth-serving organizations cannot just be about any one issue anymore, and everyone has to focus on youth engagement. Engaging Youth Voice is a prime avenue to youth engagement. However, without these building blocks in place, young people will not be with you.

Finally, lead by example. Young people are watching everything you do right now, no matter who you are or what you do within your organization, community, or throughout your life. If you’re an aloof executive director who doesn’t make time to connect with youth in your organization’s programs, youth in your program will be that way too. If you’re a hyper-busy program worker with too much on their plate and little support, young people in your program will know that. So check yourself and lead by example.

Every program and organization can successfully engage Youth Voice, and its our ethical responsibility to do that. What are you gonna do today?!?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

5 Steps to Integrate Youth

Nike, Levi’s, and a lot of other brands that sell things to youth have realized that the secret to marketing to youth is personalization: Let them help design it, and young people will spend a lot for it. At the same time, many websites allow young users to develop sophisticated personal profiles, letting them connect their friends, identify with organizations and causes they want to be affiliated with, and personalize the look and operation of the website to suit their personal tastes. According to a recent expose by CBS News, “In 1983, companies spent $100 million marketing to kids. Today, they’re spending nearly $17 billion annually. That’s more than double what it was in 1992.”

In the face of this, young people routinely experience the rest of society being done to them and for them, instead of with them or by themselves.


I believe children and youth are not the consumers of their lives. However, it is clear to me that marketers (again) have one up on all adults who work with young people. Rather than following their direct lead, I think there are lessons we can learn from them. Here are 5 steps to integrate youth.


5 Steps to Integrate Youth

1) Educate yourself first. Recognize that all young people are segregated everywhere, all the time. I wrote a series of articles for The Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolkit such as “Guidelines for Youth Voice” and “Creating a Safe and Supportive Environment for Youth Voice” that can teach you before you work to build youth integration in your community.

2) See all young people. Read a piece about youth voice and young children and the role of youth engagement for infants and children I wrote on the CommonAction blog. In the history of children in the US, a lot of it focuses on the suffering of young children. But a few historians actually acknowledge that even young children have always been important to the well-being of the United States. That’s even more true today than ever before.

3) Invest in your own development. You don’t have to spend money on advertisements or developing apps. Instead, invest in time by attending trainings, conducting social media activities, and taking deliberate actions to integrate young people throughout your community. Find out what CommonAction Consulting can do with your organization or community.

4) Strengthen youth involvement. If you want young people to be integrated, you have to involve them throughout every part of your community. That includes planning, research, facilitation, training, evaluation, decision-making, and advocacy. Learn how to do all this and more from the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum.

5) Everywhere, all the time. When businesses want to sell things to young people, they ingratiate themselves throughout the lives of children and youth, in their clothing, video games, and other places. We must take according steps without overspending on technology or t-shirts by taking steps to integrate young people throughout their communities. Learn about Hampton, Virginia for a great example of what this looks like.

There are many other steps to take, but integrating youth is an essential responsibility we should all take on. These are some ways to do that.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Keeping Youth Programs Relevant

The National League of Cities is an organization that works across the country to “help city leaders build better communities”. One of their initiatives is called the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families, or YEF. In a recent publication, YEF proposed there are four primary ways youth programs can ensure their relevancy in cities:

  • Coordinate systems to support effective service delivery.
  • Ensure programs are of high quality.
  • Offer a wide variety of relevant program options.
  • Promote college attendance and workplace readiness.
While these are all good practices and things that every program should aspire to, they aren’t quite responsive to the realities young people face today.

This is true of the entire report. Working from a deficit model of what’s wrong with children and youth, the authors of the guide open by proclaiming that without youth programs,

Youth are more prone to engage in juvenile delinquency, substance abuse and other risky behaviors after 3:00 p.m. if there are few positive OST programs available. Municipal leaders are also well aware of the impact of high school dropout rates on crime and unemployment, and are increasingly sup- porting out-of-school learning opportunities as a strategy for promoting school and career success. (p. 3)

This approach to rationalizing the existence of youth programs is common. Too easily, it suggests that youth program providers are the Great White Hope, doing what nobody else can do, and without them all young people are falling to pieces.
While that’s a common approach, I believe that its misguided at best, virtually ensuring the irrelevance of youth programs today and into the future.
The relevance of youth programs relies on recognizing current trends, identifying new opportunities, and leading communities forward. Seeing youth as deficits and taking white knight stances does none of those things; worst still, it perpetuates the belief many funders have that many traditional youth programs aren’t effective and can only be made effective through radical accountability.
More than a decade ago, I began working in communities across the US and Canada to promote the integration of youth voice throughout our communities. When I published The Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolkit online for free, I thought I was only speaking to the audience that’s concerned with youth voice, youth engagement, meaningful youth involvement, and youth-driven programming. However, reading over YEF’s report, today I see that the things I’ve learned about youth voice also apply to the wider field of all youth programs.
  
Youth voice, which is any expression about anything from any young person anywhere, ever, obviously appears ubiquitous throughout our society. Marketers sell youth to older people, while more products appear geared towards youth than ever before. However, the difference is that youth voice comes from youth themselves. Its not conformed, deformed, reformed, or transformed by adults to do whatever we want. Instead, it is simply what youth think, say, feel, do, believe, understand, and know on their own without adults.
In order to maintain their relevance, youth programs should follow the following principles I summarize below. You can find the complete version on The Freechild Project website.
Keys to Youth Voice
  1. Don’t fool the youth. The old saying, “You can’t fool all the people all the time” applies to young people, too.
  2. Work with young people – not for young people. Don’t do for children and youth what they can do with you.
  3. Make “having fun” powerful. The days of “pizza box youth engagement” are over, and you can’t just throw a bunch of “fun food” into a room and expect young people to come and learn something meaningful.
  4. Embrace change. Planning today is not as rigid as it used to be, and young people today are more flexible than ever. Teach the benefits of change by “going with the flow” and striving to be calm in the center of chaos.
  5. Don’t talk about “youth problems” anymore. Young people are part of larger communities, and when they have a problem, their communities have a problem.
  6. Teach young people about adultism when they are young. By being a responsible advocate for youth you can illustrate the practice and possibilities of being an active ally to young people.
  7. Acknowledge young people in significant ways. Patting someone on the back or giving them a certificate can only go so far.
  8. Engage young people in something greater than themselves. MLK wrote that living nonviolence requires us to, “rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” When applied to young people this means that simply encouraging or allowing young people to advocate for themselves is not enough.
Using these keys as a guide for critical thinking, assessment, and program planning, youth programs can assure their relevance well into the future.
Change is inevitable; staying with it and growing from it is not. Keep youth programs relevant by adapting and transforming with the times, and the young people you’re trying to serve.
Here are some links mentioned above:
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!