My Fragmented Youth

In desperate times, people who wanted to serve young people had to name the reasons why children and youth needed their help. It began more than 100 years ago, and continues today: Why should we help these kids? Grant applications, news stories, political campaigns and desperate parents anxiously label, diagnose and otherwise fragment young people.

 

Fixating on Separating

It seems like we’re fixated on fragmented youth. Nonprofits, education and public health have secured billions of dollars over painting children and youth as alternately missing, lacking, avoiding or incapable of being whole, healthy happy people right now.

Instead, these sectors throw young people under the bus everyday in grant applications, media interviews and in briefings to politicians and other decision-makers.

  • Police often believe anyone under 21 can be criminal;
  • Teachers think they’re potential dropouts
  • Public health officials variate from calling them suicidal to smokers to vessels for STDs, and;
  • Nonprofits often paint young people as bored, apathetic and neglected.

Gone are the days when “youth are the future.” Instead, these are the days when youth are hopeless without adult interventions. The ways we’re using these labels makes fragmented youth sound like an eternal reality facing almost every young person, everywhere, all the time.

By portraying children and youth as fragmented, these organizations secure money to serve young people. They earn the largesse of foundations, government agencies and private donors who are anxious about the future, nervous about the present and uncertain about their own kids.

Appealing to the lowest common denominator has an effect on young people. Growing up in special programs for low achievers in school; unsafe car drivers; drug prevention; and other portraits painted by their schools, youth workers and others, children and youth learn to see themselves how adults see them.

 

My Fragmented Youth

When I was growing up, I learned to identify myself as a fragmented youth. Over time, I accumulated these identities:

  • The child of a Vietnam veteran with generational PTSD
  • A border-crosser between Canada and the States
  • An occasionally homeless kid who was very familiar with motels
  • A former country kid
  • A city kid
  • A white kid in a Black neighborhood
  • A Canadian in the U.S.
  • A low achiever in school
  • Someone “who could do whatever they wanted if they just applied themselves”
  • A slacker
  • Busy
  • A low achiever
  • An overachiever
  • Helpful
  • A brother
  • Talented

There were other identities, too. They came from others’ mouths, including my parents, the parents of my friends, teachers, youth workers, pastors, friends, and others I got involved with in different ways. These titles formed my identity, became the messages I told myself and reinforced assumptions I had. Sometimes they startled me, and other times I expected them.

What are the identities you accumulated as a child or youth?

 

Fragmented Youth?

What’s the alternative to fragmenting youth? At a recent national conference, I suggested we can begin by moving toward HOLISTIC YOUTH DEVELOPMENT. In my conception, this approach sees the whole child and the whole youth as being the most important way to position young people. It means no more portraying children as incapable because of their age or youth as needy because of their dreams.

Instead, it means teaching whole young people, everywhere and all of the time. Some of the things we can do include:

  • Enhancing young peoples’ skills of self-engagement
  • Developing their life skills early on
  • Enabling their functional resourcing abilities
  • Fostering substantive decision-making opportunities
  • Increasing the capacity of their economic power, and;
  • Constantly emphasizing family engagement

These steps can allow us to change the world through youth engagement by allowing whole youth development to drive out perceptions. What do you think are the ways to move away from treating young people as fragmented youth?

 

Related Articles

Adults Letting Go and Taking Charge

Recently, I wrote an entry on this blog called “The Gradual Release of Authority” in response to a series of conversations I’ve been having across the country. This issue continually comes up with adults who are grappling with moving young people from being passive recipients of adult-driven programming, whether in schools, nonprofits, government agencies or other places, towards becoming active partners throughout the world they are part of. Well, apparently writing that article wasn’t enough for me, and I had to create a video, too.

So here’s my latest video called “Adults Letting Go and Taking Charge.” Hope you like it; let me know what you think in the comments section on YouTube.

10 Ways YOU Can Teach Youth

YMC1

Surveying the state of the nation today, many adults have taken to lambasting young people. Blaming youth for protests and riots, slamming young people for not being employed, and railing against them for dropping out of high school or becoming involved with the legal system seems to be a new norm in the media and among community members. If you actually want to change this, YOU had better teach youth.
Over the last fifty years, adults have gotten further and further away from youth. Instead of seeing them at the store, worshipping together in faith communities, or performing through sports, culture and other activities, a chasm has separated youth from adults. That hallowed institution of adults teaching youth about the workforce, apprenticeships, have waned in the poor economy; even when they were in full effect, they aged up to ensure that young workers couldn’t access them.

Youth loose when adults are not substantively involved in their lives, and substantively means more than razing the barista at the coffee shop; different from citing youth for vandalism; and other than chastising your own children for not following parental direction. Being substantively involved with youth means stepping into their lives as a role model, mentor, ally, or partner. Let me break these down.

  • Be a role model. If you want to teach youth, be a role model to them on purpose. Identify your purpose, name your values, and live with integrity by holding yourself to those. While you’re doing that, show young people how that is done. Show your own kids or other peoples’ children how you stay true to your truth, and live the way you want to see them live. This is the most passive way to teach youth, and it matters.
  • Be a mentor. A mentor to youth does not have to join a program, wear a special t-shirt or wave the flag for a certain cause. Instead, a mentor actively demonstrates their commitment to themselves and others through active interactions with youth, making themselves available on a regular basis to facilitate informal learning in a non-threatening way. Regularly having coffee, having a youth come to your office to simply hang out with you, and showing a young person the ropes can make you a powerful mentor and meaningful role model.
  • Be an allyGoing one step beyond mentoring and role modeling, the ally stands up with young people to be an engaged, supportive adult in the life of youth. They teach young people by standing up for them, challenging them and engaging them together in meaningful ways that teach youth. They are not arbitrary or occasional; instead, allies are active, interactive, empathetic and deliberate. They are also named: You cannot say you are someone’s ally; instead, you can only work towards this role and let the youth you’re allying with know what an ally is. They will tell you you’re an ally when its time.
  • Be a partner. As all good businesspeople know, partnerships aren’t always 50/50 splits of power. Instead, they are mutually beneficial relationships focused on meeting unmet needs. Youth/adult partnerships are intentionally formed relationships focused on meeting real needs in pragmatic ways. They are focused on communication, respect, trust and meaningful interactions. They are the pinnacle of healthy, positive and supportive role modeling, mentorships and allyships between adults and youth because they hold the prospect of equity over equality to successful foster responsible roles for everyone involved.

 

If you are genuinely concerned for the present and struggling to make sense of the future, you had better teach youth. The roles outlined above are ways that you can make a difference right now. Following are ten steps you can take to form these relationships.

 

10 Steps to Teach Youth Right Now

  1. Acknowledge youth. Begin by acknowledging that youth exist. Right now. Start anywhere you can, and expand everywhere you can. That might mean greeting your young employees on purpose, having a real conversation with your own kid, or holding a youth roundtable for your community.
  2. Build your commitment. Be genuinely committed to youth. Go beyond just listening to youth by sitting with them, working with them and learning about them – from them.
  3. Create interest. No matter who you serve, how you serve them, create interest among other adults for youth. Talk with people, share thoughts and ideas, and watch the momentum generate and move ahead, rapidly.
  4. Position youth. Put youth in sustained opportunities to interact with adults in real ways, whether that’s just you personally or others too. Share power, build support and make new pathways to teach youth.
  5. Teach youth outright. A lot of adults think youth are don’t want to learn from them, or resist them. Make opportunities to teach them outright. Show youth there’s nothing wrong with being an adult and sharing your knowledge. Stop thinking they are you – they’re not!
  6. Open spaces for youth. Whether you’re a parent, church attendee, business manager or community worker, open spaces for everyone- adults and young people- to teach one another and be acknowledged for what they’re sharing. Create environments and cultures for full youth-adult partnerships by creating environments and cultures for full youth-adult partnerships.
  7. Go to youth. Talk with youth where they’re at right now and have earnest conversations with them instead of insisting they come to where you are. Stop being threatened by the spaces young people occupy without our control. Practice releasing control and just be with youth.
  8. Develop opportunities for youth. In every city in every community across the United States and around the world, youth need real activities that integrate and ingratiate them with adults. Encourage adults to sustain their commitment to expand youth engagement instead of simply trying and then stopping.
  9. Enforce youth knowledge. Every piece of interactive technology in the lives of youth reinforces their knowledge, whether we’re thinking about Wikipedia, iTunes, the Playstation, or other tools. They give youth experiences where they feel powerful and knowledgeable. Adults need to reinforce this knowledge and build on it outside of technology.
  10. Sustain connections. Its vital to keep youth connections with adults active and alive. Share the benefits of connecting with youth, and encourage other adults to help make the genuine case to youth for why they should be connected with adults.

When adults take these steps, we can teach youth on purpose. Stop being afraid, start being active, and let’s make a difference in the lives of youth and throughout the future of our communities.

 

Binary Youth Engagement

binary

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.

We CAN Solve Youth Apathy

apathy

A lot of employers think youth today are apathetic. Reading the news, surfing social media, and watching tv and the movies leaves them with the impression that young people are shiftless, with no momentum to move forward into the brave new future that’s waiting for them. Adults who around with youth everyday can be most worried, since our children, students, clients, and young employees can show our worst impressions are true.

What You THINK Youth Apathy Is

Educators often see youth apathy as…

  • Indifference to learning opportunities
  • Not applying oneself in the classroom
  • Consistently being late or skipping classes
  • Treating the future in a lazy way

Parents may see youth apathy as…

  • Not paying attention to present or future activities
  • Walking away from opportunities parents present
  • Zoning out with drugs, alcohol, sex, or electronic devices
  • Lack of interest in the family or household

In the workplace, managers may think youth apathy looks like…

  • Lack of appreciation for the job they are being hired for
  • Dressing in inappropriate ways
  • Not meeting basic performance expectations
  • Showing a blatant lack of ambition for advancement opportunities
  • Seeming indifferent to managers’ expectations
  • Not performing at the highest levels
  • Consistently showing up unprepared or late for work
  • Quitting

As customers, businesses might see youth apathy as…

  • Indifference to new products or services
  • Lazy usage of products
  • Lack of interest in paying more for premium products or services
  • Non-loyalty to brands, services, products, or locations

However, all of these characteristics are genuinely misdiagnosed. Instead of being an active choice deliberately made by young people, youth apathy is generally a conditioned response to a set of stimulus presented to them throughout their childhoods.

10 Ways Youth Apathy Happens

The way to solve youth apathy is to see what youth apathy actually is: A conditioned response that is trained into the hearts and minds of young people from the time they are small children. Responding to their feelings of disappointment, dejection, and stress, young people become apathetic to economics, either as employees or consumers. The way to solve youth apathy is to address these feelings.

Youth apathy happens like this…

  1. Growing Childhood: As children, all of people have natural inquisitiveness and are deeply engaged in the world. They use this inquisition to gain skills, and our engagement builds relationships with the people, objects, and activities they are part of.
  2. Living at Home: While being raised by parents or caregivers of all stripes, the natural desires young people have are channeled towards accomplishing adults’ goals in addition to their own. The best of these experiences ensures young peoples’ investment in the process and ownership over the outcomes. The worst is indifferent to their responses and to the resulting apathy exhibited.
  3. Attending Schools: The willingness of youth to learn effectively intrudes in teachers’ agenda as they work to narrow our imaginations and limit our interests in order to meet prescribed agendas.
  4. Buying Things: Young people take their inherent optimism with them into the marketplace with relative ease, saving change or earning allowances in order to buy a new toy or cool shoes.
  5. Receiving Money: As we want to acquire more things and experience increasing desire for independence, we seek to acquire more money. Some get jobs while others simply ask.
  6. Getting Jobs: Many young people are not hired for jobs, soon after experiencing their first brush with substantive apathy.
  7. Feeling Disappointed: As they cannot afford the products they’re advertised, more young people develop more apathy. If they can afford the things they’re told they should want, young people can develop indifference for the value of things. Filling up their lives with material possessions, they disregard or don’t know how to meet their emotional, psychological, or physical well-being, consequently becoming apathetic about themselves.
  8. Cashing Paychecks: When they get their first job, the paychecks of many young people are sucked away into paying for their lifestyles, whether they receive money from parents or are barely scraping by on their own. This increases youth apathy by incapacitating their abilities to make a difference in their own lives.
  9. Paying Taxes: In schools and homes where the government is portrayed as evil and paying taxes towards the public good is seen as stupid, young people can feel increasing amounts of apathy. At this point, engaging in the public good can actuallybuild youth apathy and disregard for the larger world they live in.
  10. Feeling Left Behind: Increasing amounts of adult indifference to the health and well-being of young people is only promoting youth apathy, as they follow role models of all stripes and meet the expectations (or lack thereof) for them.

As Maya Angelou wrote, “We are all creative, but by the time we are three of four years old, someone has knocked the creativity out of us. Some people shut up the kids who start to tell stories. Kids dance in their cribs, but someone will insist they sit still. By the time the creative people are ten or twelve, they want to be like everyone else.” This is the root of youth apathy.

How to Solve Youth Apathy

There is no silver bullet for solving youth apathy. After more than 20 years working in communities across the US and Canada to help youth themselves, employers, social workers, teachers, parents and others to overcome this issue, I am clear on that. I’ve studied the research, talked with the experts, and workshopped with youth, and nobody has one single answer.

Instead, there are dozens of ways to solve youth apathy. Each of these ways reveals a pattern though, and through my work I’ve discovered what it looks like. Following is my Cycle of Engagement, an easy-to-follow five step process for forming sustained connections with young people that empower them to overcome apathy as workers, consumers, students, children, and citizens throughout our society.

  • Step 1: Listen to Youth. You know the drill: You’re at your desk one day, working away at an important project when a youth comes up to you really excited and says, “Hey, listen to this…” You tilt your head a little, and maybe lean towards them, but you keep doing whatever you were. You’re not really listening, are you? You might be hearing them talk, and you might even understand what they’re saying – but you’re not really thinking about it or feeling it. The difference between listening and hearing makes the difference for defeating youth apathy, and that’s where youth engagement starts—when young people have an actively engaged audience to listen to their ideas, opinions, experiences, knowledge, and/or actions. However, listening is just the first step; engagement requires more.
  • Step 2: Validate what youth say or do. You’ve heard people say it, and you might have said it yourself: “Oh, that’s really nice.” As managers, we try to say “nice” in just the right way, but to many young people it seems insincere. We think we are doing the right thing by encouraging them to move forward, but in our heads we really thinking about the time we fell flat on our face from the same approach. Instead of hiding our true thoughts, it is our job to honestly validate what young people say or do by honestly reacting to it, how we sincerely feel or think about it. If we think something will fail, we should say so to youth. Validation means disagreeing, or agreeing, or asking more questions, as honestly as we can. We shows respect for youth and respect them by explaining what we think and working together to search for alternatives.
  • Step Three: Authorize Youth. Authority is an awesome word that can be intimidating for many people, no matter what their ages. W When their skills are built and/or they’ve gotten positions that insist they rise to the occasion, young people can become active in defeating their own apathy. Managers, parents, and others can provide practical steps towards actual engagement for all youth, instead of just words. As well as the skills, we must involve young people in applicable, practical activities that are actually powerful, purposeful, and rewarding, whether at work, in school, at home, or throughout the community. As they overcome apathy by applying their new skills to practical action, youth gain the authority to make a difference.
  • Step Four: Take Action With YouthYouth engagement does not just happen and youth apathy doesn’t just go away; instead, those must be a goal that is actively worked towards. Taking action requires young people to work together with adults to make the space, place, and ability for change. That can happen at school, in the workplace, at home, and throughout their lives. Action can– and should– look different everywhere: from identifying the challenge, researching the issue, planning for action, training for effectiveness, reflection on the process, to celebrating the outcomes, youth engagement is a totally flexible tool – but it’s purpose is not. The purpose of youth engagement is always to create, support, and sustain powerful, purposeful, and meaningful communities for everyone to belong to.An important caution: action is usually seen as the most important step in this Cycle. Unfortunately, this makes positive outcomes the most important thing. For many issues, positive outcomes rarely come, or if they do, not as immediately as people would like. For many people, the next step can be the most important component of engagement.
  • Step Five: Reflect. Reflection may be the most important ongoing step to solving youth apathy, and for engaging anyone anywhere at anytime, especially youth. When young people critically evaluate and analyze their workplaces, schools, homes, or communities, learning becomes a vibrant, intricate, and powerful tool for engaging them. Reflection activities used should be appropriate for diverse youth, whether that’s simply talking, or writing, acting, creating collages, and building activities. Once you have finished reflecting with young people, take the lessons you’ve learned and use them to inform next listening activity you do with youth. That completes the Cycle and shows everyone that solving youth apathy requires ongoing effort.

Individually, these steps may currently happen throughout communities. However, when they do happen it is rare that they are connected with community development and less likely still, connected with one another. The connection of all the steps in this Cycle is what makes partnerships between community members meaningful, effective, and sustainable.

Solving Youth Apathy

This pattern I’ve found, called the Cycle of Engagement, is part of a series of patterns that emerge whenever people identify an activity as engaging. Solving youth apathy requires that we engage every young people in as many places as we can, as frequently as possible. The Cycle emerges almost anytime people say they feel an activity is meaningful. It can be intentional or coincidental, but as I’ve taught more people about the Cycle, more people report more success in engaging others. This means that youth apathy can and should be intentionally challenged.

How To Continuously Challenge Youth Apathy

Through my years of implementing and examining others’ implementation of this Cycle, I’ve discovered a few things that are essential to challenging youth apathy, no matter how it happens.

  • We ALL Need Motivation. Engaging young people without a reason or a cause is pointless. This is why the greatest marketing of our day focuses not on brands or bargains, but on movements. The greatest purpose we can have is the social good, but whatever you’re seeking to do, let young people know the purpose.
  • Engagement Requires Repetition. Going through all the steps of the Cycle once with intention leads to young people becoming engaged once. Going through it several times builds engagement, along with trust and respect, and continuously challenges youth apathy.
  • Making Meaning Solves Apathy. Activities have to be meaningful to be engaging. When working through the Cycle, understand that people will be used to meaningfulness and won’t settle for less afterwards.

The Cycle of Engagement is meant to provide employers, parents, teachers, and others with a clear process for engaging youth throughout our communities. The most important take away from this Cycle is that solving apathy requires more than simply hearing, checking-in, or talking to them. Solving youth apathy requires youth engagement, and youth engagement requires a commitment to movement. This Cycle shows how that can happen.

Summary

Youth apathy is not an unsolvable issue. It requires strategy though, and here is what I’ve laid out in this article:

  1. Acknowledge what you think youth apathy is.
  2. Recognize what youth apathy actually is.
  3. Identify the places and ways youth apathy actually happens.
  4. Design a conscientious strategy for promoting youth engagement.
  5. Commit to continually challenging youth apathy.

Only when we take these steps can we actually make a difference in the lives of young people and throughout our entire communities today.

How To Meet Youth Where They Are

sleeping-studentHazel Owen is a spectacular educational consultant in New Zealand. Recently, after reading an article I wrote, she asked me, “How do we meet apparently disengaged youth ‘where they’re at’? Can this be achieved without the very same youth having to choose to become a part of the society from which they have disengaged? Or is it to do with choosing how to engage with society, rather than conforming?”

Following is my response:

We meet young people “where they’re at” by engaging in what is supposedly “their” worlds, and engaging them in what is supposedly “ours” as adults. Work with what they’re actually engaged in right now on their own volition, whether video games, rock-n-roll, gangs, or whatever, and acknowledge the learning, teaching, and leadership opportunities inherent in their lives right now. 

This must be achieved with all young people, no matter what their backgrounds, especially embracing the multiple cultural diversities throughout our nations today. Society isn’t this or that, but rather, the whole collection of activities people engage in; because of that, we shouldn’t force young people into a false choice between society or their activities, but instead, teach them that their activities are actually our activities, as a whole, and that they’re not separate but together with all of us. Together.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

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.

 

Youth Engagement Equalizer

Want to identify what skills you have that are good for engaging young people? Ready to learn where you can improve?

Here’s a snapshot of my Youth Engagement Equalizer, a tool that I developed to challenge youth workers and others on how successful they can be at their jobs.

I want to share it with you for FREE! Just contact me.

Contact me for a copy of the Youth Engagement Equalizer at http://adamfletcher.net/contact-me/
The Youth Engagement Equalizer is FREE! Just contact me at http://adamfletcher.net/contact-me/

 

 

Strategies for Social Change

Following are different strategies I have identified for social change led by and with young people. These strategies can be approached individually, but are often entwined as they show different aspects of social change. Note that these are broad strategic frameworks for understanding social change; they aren’t necessarily specific activities or methodologies. I might explore those in another post.Most of these strategies reply on youth acting on issues defined by and affecting young people and their communities by meaningfully involving them in the design, implementation, and evaluation of social change.

15 Strategies for Social Change Led By and With Young People 

  1. Youth Voice is any expression of any young person anywhere, at any time. This can include expressions that are verbal, written, visual, body language, or actions; expressions that are convenient and inconvenient for adults to listen to; and intentional as well as unintentional expressions. Youth Voice does not require adult approval or acceptance. [Learn more]
  2. Youth Participation is the active attendance of young people in any mode throughout their lives or communities. Youth participation can happen through active decision-making, sports, schools, or faith communities. It can also happen in homes and among friends. Youth participation can be formal or informal; when its formal, youth may not choose to attend something, but they choose whether to participate. When its informal, youth choose to join in on something.
  3. Youth Involvement is any deliberate effort that centers on young peoples’ ongoing attendance in personal, social, institutional, cultural, and other forms of structural action throughout society. Youth involvement is generally formal, often including specific roles, education, and outcomes. [Learn more]
  4. Youth Engagement is the sustained connection young people hold towards a particular thing, whether an idea, person, activity, place or outcome. That sustained connection can be social, emotional, educational, spiritual, sentimental, or otherwise as long as its sustained. [Learn more]
  5. Youth Empowerment is the attitudinal, structural, and cultural process whereby young people gain the ability, authority, and agency to make decisions and implement change in their own lives and the lives of other people, including youth and adults. [Learn more]
  6. Youth Leadership is the practice of young people exercising authority over themselves or others, both in informal and formal ways. There is youth leadership beyond the scope of what adults recognize, appreciate, or foster; there is also youth leadership which is guided by adults.
  7. Youth/Adult Partnerships happen when young people are fully equal with adults while they’re involved in a given activity. This is a 50/50 split of authority, obligation, and commitment. One of the realities of this is that there isn’t recognition for the specific developmental needs or representation opportunities for children and youth. [Learn more]
  8. Youth Equity is the pro-active rebalancing of relationships between youth and adults to allow for appropriately empowered roles between youth and adults. It allows for a 40/60 split of authority, while everyone involved- young people and adults- are recognized for their impact in the activity, and each has ownership of the outcomes. [Learn more]
  9. Youth Mainstreaming is a public policy strategy that acknowledges the roles youth can play and the issues affecting them across various sectors such as health, finance, economic development, housing, justice, foreign affairs, education, and agriculture. [Learn more]
  10. Youth Infusion is the active, deep, and sustained integration of youth throughout an organization or community’s structure and culture.
  11. Youth Organizing is an approach that trains young people in community organizing and advocacy, and assists them in employing these skills to alter power relations and create meaningful institutional change in their communities by employing activities such as political education and analysis, community research, campaign development, direct action and membership recruitment. [Learn more]
  12. Service Learning uses meaningful service throughout the community to help youth achieve clearly stated learning goals. [Learn more]
  13. Project-Based Learning infuses deliberately planned hands-on activities focused on teaching and learning to foster youth success. [Learn more]
  14. Experiential Learning is the process of making meaning from direct experience, which may or may not be planned and does or does not have specific learning goals. [Learn more]
  15. Community Youth Development combines the developmental instincts of young people as they naturally desire to create change in their surrounding environments by partnering youth and adults to create new opportunities for youth to serve their communities while developing their personal abilities.
Some of the specific methods for engaging young people in action include Participatory Action Research, Youth-Driven Programming, and Independent Living Skills. Here are some different roles young people can have through many of the strategies listed above.
In understanding social change, its important to recognize that none of these are competing approaches. I have also learned that they aren’t necessarily better or worse than each other. Instead, they’re appropriate terms that acknowledge different times and places where action can happen.
To learn more, check out The Freechild Project Guide to Social Change Led By and With Young People that I wrote with Joe Vavrus, and as always, visit The Freechild Project website.

Special thanks to Roslyn Kagy for a conversation that inspired this article! Woohoo!


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