In her ongoing consideration of global community development, Sabrina Karim says that “Real participation means recognition of how people already participate and using that to enhance their own personal liberty.” I think this is kind of fatalist, because inside this statement is the idea that people are only what they currently know, rather than beings-in-motion. Recognizing how people currently participate in community development, including children and youth, often amounts to a grim acknowledgment of the inability of individuals within the greater community. This in turn may further disenfranchise or alienate potential beneficiaries from transforming their own roles within their communities.
Young people, working with adults as partners, have the ability and capacity to cure the world of all of its ills. Sickness, famine, poverty, war, environmental catastrophe and economic meltdown can all be answered by the energy, idealism, knowledge, power, and wisdom of children and youth. Nothing is over the heads, hearts or hands of young people today, and they demonstrate that everyday in the ways they are living their lives.
Youth Voice is the active, distinct, and concentrated ways young people represent themselves throughout society. It is this voice taken through the Cycle of Youth Engagement that answers the challenges of society every single day. So my question is whether Youth Voice is a right or a responsibility. In a time when every single issue feels glaring and the planet is apparently at a tipping point do the adult allies of young people have any alternative than to engage young people in working towards transforming this grand clustermess? By not engaging them are we being more than unresponsive– are we actually being irresponsible?
According to the ever-definitive Urban Dictionary, oversharing is “providing more personal information than is absolutely necessary.” Named word of the year in 2008, its a phenomenom of modern times, brought to us by texting, twittering, blogging, Facebook and other social networking mediums. In popular culture so far, we’ve seen oversharing expose inner-most thoughts about relationships, ruin perfectly normal days at the office, and otherwise run amok throughout society. But what effect does oversharing have on Youth Voice?
- K-12 public schools
- Youth service, including community service and service learning
- Community organizing
- Public health
- Research and evaluation
- Mental health
- Higher education, including community colleges, colleges and universities
- Experiential education, including high adventure and ropes courses
- Governance, including city, state and provincial, federal and national
- Arts, including dance, music, theatre and performance
I want to add something to my earlier post on “So-Called Youth Issues“: we’re not in an era of some type of “post-youth” analysis. While I want young people to focus on issues that are beyond their demographic, I do not want adults to think that for one minute we should respond in kind by ending our work with young people. Instead, I think that this awareness of young people working outside issues that affect them directly calls us to respond by increasing advocacy with child and youth activists. We must call for more youth involvement, deeper youth engagement and more sustainable youth action. There must be more opportunities for youth activism, more projects for youth researchers, more classes for youth to teach, and lobbying for programs that focus on children and youth – its just that this advocacy shouldn’t be stopped or relegated to youth alone.
The myth of so-called “youth issues” is pervasive throughout our communities, as young people are routinely segregated from adults throughout society, including mainstream decision-making, problem-solving and policy choices. There has been a frequent temptation to pigeonhole children and youth by focusing on schools, children’s healthcare, youth homelessness, child labor, afterschool programs, social work, nutrition, and other issues addressing children and youth specifically.
- Oh, and thanks to Dana Welsh and Jonah Wittkamper for informing this post.
I have been talking with teachers and youth workers for the last 10 years about youth involvement. We’ve talked about classrooms, after-school programs, boards of directors, city councils, research projects, university classes… all kinds of different places. Somewhere along the way I was introduced to the notion of engagement as opposed to involvement. I was challenged to differentiate between the two, and after reading the research and literature I came away with a pretty clear picture. Here are my definitions:
- Youth engagement is a personal response to surrounding stimulus.
- Youth involvement is any attempt to promote engagement through systemic efforts.
Want to help youth this year? There are budget cuts all over the country, crime against youth is rising, youth joblessness is booming, youth homelessness is rising, more young people are dropping out of schools than ever before… Reality shows that young people have a ways to go towards equity and parity with adults. Here are five ways you can help youth this holiday season.
5. Learn about youth activism. All young people have the power to change the world; unfortunately only a few are using it. Learn about them, what they care about, what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.4. Discover new ways to show youth you care. Young people don’t need more well-meaning, poorly-acting adults in their lives. Its not enough to care – we have to do something. Learn new ways that adults are helping young people right now.3. Change the way you treat youth around you – right now. Every adult who considers themselves an ally to young people has an ethical responsibility to examine and re-examine the ways they interact with youth. This process is never complete, and requires deliberation, reflection and critical thinking throughout our interactions with all children and youth – including the children in our families, the students in our classrooms, the youth in our programs and the neighbors in our communities.2. Make a commitment to a youth and ask them to keep you accountable. Everyday young people are made to pay attention to the will of adults: attend school, don’t misbehave, turn in your homework, go to tutoring, graduate, go to practice, attend choir practice, finish your homework, mind your manners, get to bed on time. When was the last time a child or youth held adults accountable? The promises we make, the stories we tell, the deals, the attitudes, the ideas, the activities… all of these are done by adults, for young people, without young people being able to hold us accountable. Turn the tables and give them the opportunity – the power – to change our minds and keep us true to our words.1. Ask young people how you can help them. Its an unfortunate reality that many adults think Youth Voice simply means talking about what young people think. We have an ethical responsibility to go out and connect with youth directly by creating honest and open environments where their sincere concerns, critical thinking, and powerful ideas can influence, direct, guide and lead the activities that affect them everday.