Sitting in a room full of middle school parents, I could hear the anxiety in their voices as they answered the facilitator’s questions. She asked, “What’s wrong with your kids today?” “What do you think your kids are messing up about?” and “Why do you think kids today are so far off-course?”
Given the opportunity to vent freely, many of these mothers and fathers let loose with their parental anxieties.
Attending this workshop sponsored by a local school district, I learned a lot, but probably not on what they intended. Focused on how to help young people today, I was curious what approach the facilitator would take to working with parents, how effective it would be, and whether my conclusions about these types of approaches were as applicable as they were 20 years ago when I first attended workshops like this.
So much uncertainty and sadness surrounded me. I heard the frustrations and wrestling of everyday folks struggling through modern cultural norms, giving into old shared beliefs, and sacrificing their knowledge at the feet of one of my community’s recognized experts. This room was packed for two hours as this expert facilitated a back-and-forth dialogue. What I heard during this conversation was the stoking of fears, the affirmations of limitations, and the wholesale short-selling of young people today.
Rather than asking parents to acknowledge their own shortcomings or build their conveniently displaced wisdom, this expert upheld negative media portrayals, biased research conclusions and typically absolutist deductions about young people today. It was as if their abilities, inabilities, capacities and possibilities were out the window, and instead of “Youth are the future” these parents were taught that youth is wasted on the young, and that adults need to be the directors of all interactions, all beliefs and all activities of the young.
This is just my first download from the event; next I’ll analyze this and write about how to counter parental anxiety.
Youth engagement starts at home. This post offers some of my thoughts about that reality, as well as steps to ensuring that youth engagement happens in your family. I also share some of the experiences I’ve had with youth engagement at home.
I’ve started defining the word engagement as choosing the same thing over and over. There are many kinds of youth engagement at home:
…and so on. Within their homes, youth can be engaged with their families, including parents, siblings or other family members; their physical spaces like their bedrooms or backyards; activities like housework or video games; feelings like love and security; ideas like belonging and importance, and; many other things.
With all those possibilities, its easy to see how youth engagement starts at home. The elements of our family life determine how we engage with the world beyond our front door, including at school, in our communities, at work, in public, and everywhere else. If youth experience crappy engagement at home, youth are more likely to be disengaged in their lives – not always, all the time, but often in many ways.
Through my research and practice, I’ve found there are three things all parents can do to build youth engagement at home:
Listen to youth. Your offspring are yearning to be heard, no matter what age, what space and what condition your family is in. They might not show that desire, they might act the opposite of caring, and they might not be aware they have a voice—but they want to be heard.
Take action with youth. Don’t stop at listening to your kids—actually do things with them! Make, build, clean, connect and show your care and connection by being with youth directly, in each others’ spaces and sharing each others’ time.
Think about it. Youth engagement at home requires critical thinking about yourself, your parenting, your beliefs and your future. Is this how you want youth to live? Are these the things you want to do in your family? Be critical of your parenting and take action to change it.
As parents, we all screw up. The difference between the conscious parent and the unthinking parent is the energy they spend becoming more fair, just and equitable. We don’t want equality between youth and parents, we want equity. There’s a difference, and youth engagement at home makes us think about it.
I’m a dad for four kids between the ages of 10 and 15. They are beautiful, strong-hearted kids full of all the challenge, vigor, suffering and joy of youth, and I love them. However, I screw up too, and I’ve learned to accept that. I learn a lot from my experience as a parent.
If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ve heard the tenants of my life: Childhood homelessness; family PTSD; Vietnam veteran father; poverty-stricken family that moved into low-income lifestyle; generational depression; minority neighborhood background; academic struggles; found my soulcraft at age 14; only kid in family to graduate high school on time; first in family to earn a bachelors degree; built my life’s work from The Freechild Project and SoundOut focused on youth engagement and Meaningful Student Involvement; wrote 50+ publications; spoke and taught and consulted around the world; still screwing up every day.
Throughout 2018, I’ve been facilitating the Parent-Youth Connections Seminar in King County, Washington, where Seattle is surrounded by suburbs, exurbs and more in all of its explosive boom-era angst and glory. Along the way, the community has chosen to investments on infants, children and youth throughout the county. One of these investments is through the King County Superior Courts, and its the program I’m facilitating.
For several years, the project taught parents and youth about youth development and adolescent brain development as a diversion to prevent youth incarceration. A successful project, it operated for several years and successfully kept a lot of young people out of jail.
Early this year, I was contracted to facilitate the program. In my initial contact with the courts, I explained that rather than taking the tact they’d traditionally espoused, I was going to veer toward youth engagement. These are some of my findings so far. There’ve been more than 100 participants in these 12-hour sessions so far, coming from a variety of racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and economic backgrounds.
Stay tuned as I learn more and start distilling all this into actionable change. My first product related to youth engagement at home is called the Parent Youth Engagement Seminar, and I’ll be launching it soon.
The other week I heard from Jose*, an innercity high school teacher. He wrote this:
For seven years I taught in a pleasant rural school where students were receptive to me and how I teach. I engage students, and work very hard to get them working authentically on projects that matter, empowering them in my classroom and in the school community. For the last five years I have worked in an urban middle school. No matter how how hard I work to make the curriculum interesting and relevant, no matter how kind and fair I am to my students in an effort to build goodwill and positive working relationships/partnerships, they do not listen and are not receptive.
They have their own agenda and it does not involve respecting adults or the school — I can not speak without being interrupted. We have backtalk, rude behavior, students starting arguments with students constantly — they are only interested in their own social agenda. As a result we end up having security remove students from the classroom on a daily basis. Most days I have to toss at least one student out within the first five minutes — they do not even give teachers a chance. I am ready to leave the profession because of the stress.
I thought hard about Jose’s writing, because a lot of it sounded familiar. Then, after meditating on it for a while, I remembered another teacher who I’d heard struggling in a similar way. I analyzed their situation and assessed their circumstance. I answered in earnest, and when I finally heard back it was because they were disappointed with my conclusions. So rather than respond directly to Jose, I’m going to ask him to help himself.
Staying committed to supporting young people can be challenging. Often spending too many hours and earning too few rewards, its important for people who support young people to be honest about how its going. If you’re a parent, youth worker, educator, counselor, or anyone else who strives to be an adult ally, you need to learn to work through the struggle. We all need to learn to work through the struggle, if we’re going to stay committed.
13 Essential Questions for Adult Allies
We each need to know how to work through the struggle of supporting young people every day. The following questions are intended to help adult allies to young people ask themselves whether they need to consider something different. They’re aren’t finished, and if you have any suggestions please leave them in the comments section. Also, let me know if they’re useful for you.
So, if you’re a struggling teacher, counselor, parent, youth worker, or other adult ally to young people, take a moment and answer the following questions:
Have you ever decided to have a good day with the young people you’re around, only to have it last for just a few hours? Most of us in who support young people make all kinds of promises to ourselves. We cannot keep them. Then we come to understand that engaging young people requires being honest, and we start to tell the truth to ourselves and young people.
Do you ever wish children and youth would just grow up sometimes, and stop being so childish? Adult allies to young people do not project their demands on youth; instead, we accept them as they are, for who they are. We see potential, but do not demand certain outcomes. Instead, we work with who we are.
Have you ever switched from supporting one type of young people to another in the hope that this would keep you from burning out? Adult allies to young people support young people in many ways. We spend time with them everyday. Or we donate money. Or we advocate for them. Or we volunteer for boards. You name it, we do it. Anything we do we see through the lenses of supporting young people, because that is who we are.
Have you had to quit a job supporting young people during the past year in order to stay or become mentally healthy? This is a pretty sure sign you’re not sustainable in your role as an adult ally to young people.
Do you need to be around young people to feel “alive”? At one time or another, most adult allies to youth have wondered why we were not like most people, who really can be around anyone and be healthy and alive.
Do you envy people who do not work with young people? Be honest! Eventually, you have to find something else to do if you’re an educator or youth worker, because it will only get worse for you, not better. Eventually, you will not like young people at all, and will quit in anger or dire necessity. Your only hope may be to quit now before radical emotions take over.
Have you had problems connected with being an adult ally to young people during the past year? Most well-meaning adults will say it is the people they work with or the program they deliver that frustrates them. Many times, we can not see that trying to support young people is making our lives worse. At that point, we stop solving problems and start becoming the problem.
Is it easier for you to support young people in your job or larger community than it is to support the children and youth in your own home or program? Most of us started our jobs thinking it was grand. If young people aren’t cooperative though, or if the program isn’t just right, we get frustrated and have to leave or quit.
Do you ever try to get “extra” time with young people because you didn’t get enough at work, home, church or otherwise? Many adult allies trick ourselves into thinking that we can’t do enough at work, and when we’re done getting paid we have to keep going. However, we come to realize that it is not self-sustainable to keep going, and that at the end of our day, we have to stop, for our own good and the good of the young people we work with. Same with parents.
Do you tell yourself you can get a job doing anything, or be any kind of parent you want to, but you keep supporting young people as an adult ally even when you don’t want to? Many of us know that we have boundaries, but we don’t acknowledge them or work within them. Instead, we soldier through hoping to make a difference. We are not though.
Have you missed days of work or taken a sick day at home because you didn’t want to support the young people you’re around every day? When we don’t allow ourselves time off, many adult allies “call in sick” despite the truth that we need time to recuperate our hearts and minds more than our bodies.
Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you did not support young people? Many adult allies start off well-intentioned, hoping to make a difference in the lives of someone younger than ourselves. Once we do the work though, whether parenting or counseling or teaching or coaching or whatever, we discover that we have limits. Then we feel trapped. Eventually it takes a toll on us, and we have to admit that we shouldn’t be doing the work we’re doing anymore. If we’re a parent, we know we have to get support, either from a spouse or friend or extended family.
If we are authentic adult allies to young people, we all struggle with our roles supporting them. You are likely to be more aware of the effects of adults on youth throughout society, and more empathetic with youth in general. I say this because I’ve worked with thousands of teachers, parents, counselors, and other adult allies to youth, and they all say so and show me as much. Many of them found out their truths the hard ways though: Burn out, getting fired, or physical injuries resulting from sloppy self-care.
But again, only you can decide whether you think you should keep being an active, engaged ally to young people. Try to keep an open mind on the subject. If the answer is YES, I offer a lot of materials to help support you, and the world does too. Just contact me.
I will not promise to solve your life’s problems. But together, we can see you how you can continue to support young people without sacrificing yourself.
*I changed the name of the teacher who shared this story at his request.
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.
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!
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—isgoing 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
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.
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.
I believe you. Let young people know you trust their judgment.
I disagree with you. Instead 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.
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.
Please and thank you. Young people are people first, and they deserve your manners just because they are people.
I believe in you. Support and encourage children and youths’ self-judgment and abilities by affirming their capabilities and self-esteem.
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.
You worked so hard. Instead of constantly telling young people how smart or special they are, this phrase acknowledges their hard work and effort.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You are worth it. Be intentional in supporting young peoples’ self-worth without being condescending.
You are good, inside and out. Young people need to be engaged within themselves as well as in the world around them.
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.
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.
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?
As teachers, youth workers, parents, counselors, and other adults who work with young people every single day, we have our secrets. They’re not true for every adult, and being able to admit them takes courage, especially when we admit them to other adults we work with.
In my new book, Ending Discrimination Against Young People, I explore the need to create safe spaces for honest conversations among adults who work with young people, and parents who are progressive. I am not one to tell others’ secrets; however, here I want to distill some of what I’ve heard and share it with you. These are secrets that many adults who work with young people have told me about the young people they work with.
3 Secrets of Adults Who Help Youth
SECRET #1: Adults don’t trust young people.
Generally, the reason why adults work with young people in any supportive way is that they simply don’t trust them. They don’t believe children and youth can get the supports, experiences, ideas, knowledge, or outcomes adults think they should without the active participation of adults throughout their lives. This is true in the best classrooms and the lovingest homes, as well as the friendliest offices and healthiest workplaces. Ask an adult if this is true, and they’re likely to adamantly deny it. You can tell adults don’t trust youth when they…
Make decisions for young people without young people
Give young people consequences that wouldn’t be there without those adults’ interventions
Use phrases like, “I’m the adult here,” and insist on young peoples’ compliance
SECRET #2: Adults almost always think they know best.
An evolutionary mechanism of many creatures, including humans, is called the fight or flight response. The idea is that animals react to threats with a feeling in our nerves that helps us determine whether to fight or flee. I believe adults are almost constantly aware of what they perceive is the compromised ability of young people to respond accordingly to perceived threats. Because of this, there is an evolutionary response within adults that causes us to believe that we need to know the best for ourselves and young people whenever we share company. This is apparent when…
Adults limit young peoples’ options “for their own good”
Young people are infantalized (treated like infants) no matter what age they are
Children and youth constantly defer to adults
SECRET #3: Adults are scared of youth.
Any adult who says anything about the future in a negative context is plainly afraid of youth. This is true because they lack the faith, trust, or perspective to see that young people are inheriting a world that is gonna survive. It’s not going to fall apart, stop spinning, or implode at any second. Instead, it’s going to keep on turning, and things are going to work out. This becomes obvious when…
Adults talk about “kids today” in a negative sense, or talk about their childhood and youth as if there was nothing wrong, bad, or challenging when they were that age
Young people talk, act, dress, or behave like adults in order to make adults more comfortable with them
Adults make generalizations about today’s generation
I began this article by talking about adults who work in “helping professions” and parents. The reason why I single these folks out is that first, I am one of both. Secondly, as adults we get into these professions and learn to rationalize our work through many guises, which are the bulletpoints I shared above. But those are the symptoms; the words in bold are the realities.
What is the missing element in almost all youth empowerment work today? It is an awareness of discrimination against young people.
We don’t like to hear it, but EVERY adult discriminates. While an increasing amount of people are concerned about racism, sexism, classism, or homophobia, that’s not what I’m talking about here. Today, I want you to understand that every day adults discriminate against young people – including YOU and ME.
Discrimination has many definitions, and one of them is the capability to discern difference between two or more things. It is in this way that adults constantly discriminate against young people. That’s not necessarily wrong or bad, but it is true.
Adults who don’t discern the difference between them and young people generally have developmental restraints that limit their ability to discriminate. Again, discriminating against young people and being in favor of adults isn’t always bad; it simply IS. Accepting that reality is the first step to creating a more just and equitable society benefiting all people.
When adults don’t have the ability to discern the difference between young people and themselves, or when they either accidentally or intentionally blur or erase those differences, something is out-of-whack with them. Similarly, when the differences are hyper-exaggerated something is out-of-whack, too.
Unfortunately, those two things are routine in our society today. Recognizing that reality is imperative for authentic youth empowerment.
Recognizing that reality is imperative for creating authentic youth empowerment.
Otherwise, adults are simply giving lip service to young people and saying they’re equal, but acting in other ways. They are being disingenuous and inauthentic by going through the motions without any real meaning behind what they’re doing.
If you choose to see yourself or other adults as being devoid of discriminating against young people though your behavior, attitude, actions, and/or ideas, that is up to you. I choose to acknowledge that I’m discriminate against young people. Sometimes that that is a-okay, and sometimes its messed up.
That’s me being honest, and I urge you to do the same.
This is me facilitating a parent workshop in Yakima, Washington, in 2011.
When parent engagement is supported, students can truly succeed throughout education. Parents must be empowered to be fully partners with educators and students if education is going to meet the needs of the modern era. These Rules for Parent Engagement in Schools offer those guidelines.
5 Rules for Parent Engagement in Schools
1. Seek authentic engagement.
Keep it real: Open the door for real parent engagement right now.
Learning to listen, validate, authorize, mobilize, and reflect on schools is important for parent engagement.
Seek nothing less than full parent-student-teacher partnerships for every learner in school.
Expecting action action means not letting any member of the school community be apathetic.
2. Foster mutual respect.
Respect is mutual: You give it, you receive it.
A culture of respect shatters stereotypes based on roles in schools.
Parents respect educators who listen and engage in challenging action.
A culture of respect provides all people the opportunity to act on their best intention for students and learn from their mistakes.
3. Provide constant communication.
Listen up: An honest and open exchange of ideas is crucial.
Parents are best heard when educators step back and parents speak up.
Educators are best heard when they are straight up and explain where they’re coming from.
All people’s ideas and opinions are valuable and must be heard.
4. Build investment.
It takes time: Investing in the future is accepting that parents can be more engaged right now.
Parents and educators must first set their fears aside and take a chance on each other.
Educators must provide parents with the information, education and support they will need to succeed. They must also develop their own ability to engage parents.
Strong parent/school partnerships require patience and courage.
5. Promote meaningful involvement
Count us in: Decisions about students should be made with parents and students.
Educators need to support parents in taking on responsibility based on what they can do, not what they have done.
Reflection helps everyone appreciate the importance of schools – for themselves, for students, for their communities.
Parents and educators must hold each other accountable for all their decisions and actions. Everyone should continually challenge the impact of schools on students.
Where These Rules Came From
For all these years that I’ve had the privilege of advocating student engagement in schools, I’ve had a more important job that I’ve wrestled through too. Well, at least for the last ten years. The most important thing I’ve ever done with any of my time is be a dad, and that my most important job.
An vital part of being an active dad has been my daughter Hannah’s education. Being raised by two people who are passionate about learning, teaching, and leadership in schools, Hannah has had very strong advocates for her education since she entered preschool, and before. Her mother and I have constantly worked at keeping Hannah in learning situations that are not only safe, healthy, and whole, but vibrant and relevant to her specific learning style. This has meant a lot of personal wrangling and negotiation, but always with Hannah at the center.
For all these years I’ve been concerned with the reality that for as deeply vested in our daughter’s education as we are, the schools Hannah has attended have mostly been less-than fully capable of engaging us as parents. In the past, we have been pointed about not revealing our professional stakes as Hannah’s parents. That said, there are many missteps that I’ve experienced from Hannah’s teachers, school leaders, and other parents attempting to promote parent engagement.
That’s where these rules of parent engagement in schools were born – my work as a guerrilla researcher in human engagement, as well as my experience as a parent. Thanks for reading them, and let me know what you think!
The nature of community programs continues to evolve.
More than ever, nonprofits, government agencies, and other programs are being challenged to transform their goals, activities, assessments, and resources in order to motivate, educate, and engage people beyond simple participation. In a time when many communities are stuck in a malaise, community programs require a realignment to grow beyond what they’ve done.
People appear to have more options with what to do with their time, making it ironic they need community programs more than ever. However, the technology, recreation, sports, faith-based activities, and opportunities to earn income that were present just a decade ago simply aren’t in many communities anymore.
Considering these dual realities of increased need and decreased opportunities, it is absolutely vital that nonprofit and government program providers get earnest about successfully engaging all people in their programming.
After more than a decade promoting community engagement across the US and Canada, I have found what works and doesn’t work for engaging all sorts of people. These lessons have to be deconstructed and reapplied in each community, because all communities are different.
I have read the research, worked directly with people, and struggled through many projects focused on community engagement. Following are some elements I consider essential to successfully engaging all kinds of people in community programs.
Elements of Successful Community Engagement
Focused – Instead of meandering through purposeless activities and focus-less personal activities, every program session is designed to be a concise, deliberative engagement of multiple intelligences, broad perspectives, and varying experiences. Successfully engaging people remains the central goal of all activities, and is the focus of every program.
Supportive – Youth and adults alike are committed to working together without fear of retribution or alienation. All people are partners with each other in community programs, and everyone works together for the common cause of engaging more people throughout the community.
Engaging – The experiences, knowledge, ideas, and opinions of people are validated and substantiated with meaningful learning experiences that infuse everyone with a new capacity to visualize, analyze, create, and engage themselves.
Critical – As co-learners within a community of learners, all people provide vital insight in the learning and teaching process for their peers and facilitators in community programs. These democratic interactions are actively encouraged and supported by all members.
Transparent – There should be no mysteries about what the purpose of the community program is, or what the outcomes of the activities will be. Community programs should offer numerous ways to make goals, outcomes, and activities fully understandable to people.
These are not simply the keys to successful community programs, nor to successfully engaging people. They are the elements of successfully engaging people throughout their communities all all sorts of programs. Its important to consider that these programs and their organizations are unique and different, and these elements are recognized for paying attention to that.
With these in mind, you can go forth and make a difference in the lives of the people you serve through your activities.