Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum

Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum

 

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

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

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

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

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

Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Engaging Youth Locally

Its important for all of us to balance our talk with our walk. Since I started writing this blog back in 2007, I’ve worked with a lot of different organizations to promote youth engagement. I’ve done it as a consultant, as a nonprofit staff member, as a state government worker, and in a few other capacities too. I think its important to keep my feet on the ground, even if my head is in the clouds!

Today is an example of my practice. Consulting the City of Olympia, I’ve been running a project focused on youth involvement in a new city park located in downtown. Its atypical for a number of reasons, primarily among which are its location and the users there so far. Sited around a popular artesian well, the park is essentially a slab of asphalt packed between two single story buildings. A cool design element in the form of a mosiac has been placed, but City investment in the space has been minimal so far.

Drawing together several youth engagement practitioners a few weeks ago, I gathered a massive list of wants that would encourage these organizations and programs to use the space in an ongoing fashion. That would populate the park with regular, pro-social values that would more accurately reflect Olympia’s values. However, that’s not the whole solution.

I’m facilitating an All Youth Forum in the park today. We’re expecting dozens of young people, and I’m looking forward to a simple, straight-forward conversation. I’ll report on that tomorrow. For now, here’s the flyer I designed for the event today:

Olympia All Youth Forum flyer

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/

 

 

Adult-Driven Youth Voice

Youth Voice is any expression of any young person anywhere, all the time, about anything. It doesn’t depend on adult approval, it doesn’t need specific spaces or energies, and is always present wherever young people are. The question generally is whether adults want to hear what’s being said.

If a young person is talking in front of a group sharing their beliefs or experience, ideas or knowledge, they’re sharing youth voice. The same can be true of leadership, community service, and teambuilding activities. However, young people who cut themselves are sharing youth voice, just like youth graffiti artists, students who text answers during tests, and gang members. The question isn’t whether they’re sharing youth voice, because they always are – the question is whether adults want to hear what’s being said.

This leads to the phenomenon of adult-driven youth voice.

Characteristics of Adult-Driven Youth Voice

Adult-Driven Youth Voice is when adults motivate, inspire, inform, encapsulate, and generally make youth voice become convenient for adults. Adult-Driven Youth Voice is Convenient Youth Voice. Here are five characteristics of adult-driven youth voice.

  • WHO: Youth who adults want to hear from are selected to share their voices. All young people are members of all the communities they occupy, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. However, adult-driven youth voice selects specific young people who may not jostle adults’ opinions or ideas to share youth voice.
  • WHAT: Young people say what adults want. They usually echoing or parroting adult beliefs, ideas, knowledge, and/or experience. If they share their own, adults largely agree with what young people have said.
  • WHEN: The calendar is determined by adults for youth. Young people are listened to when adults have the interest or ability to hear them, and not necessarily when children or youth want to be heard.
  • WHERE: Youth voice happens in places adults want it to be shared. Whether on a graffiti wall in a forgotten alley downtown, in a boxing gym for teenagers, in debate class, or at a city-run forum for youth to share their opinions about something, youth voice happens where adults approve of.
  • WHY: Adults solicit youth voice about specific issues. Young people have a variety of perspectives about all kinds of subjects. However, adult-driven youth voice allows only perspectives on issues that are important to adults or that adults pick for young people. If young people move outside adult-driven boundaries, they are either re-directed or expected to stop sharing their voices.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the above characteristics. However, this article isn’t meant to share those judgments; instead, I want to encourage you to think for yourself about what matters and why it matters. After you’ve done that, visit The Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolkit to find tools, examples, and other resources to help you with youth voice.

Special thanks to my spectacular friend and longtime comrade Heather Manchester. Her critical thinking and willingness to kick my butt inspired this post (and many others!) and I stand indebted to her genius, patience, and energy she shares with me.

 

My Youth Council Days

In fall of 1992, I was a 17-year-old struggling through high school, living in the hood, and loving the life I lived. It was an exciting time packed with nerve-wracking moments that were smoothed over by a caring family, good mentors, and great friends.

I grew up in a predominantly low income, African American neighborhood in the Midwest. My family scraped along to get by, but with both my parents at home we were the anomaly. Our neighborhood fit a lot of stereotypes piped out by the mainstream media. It was referred to as a “depressed community”, and every night during the summer there seemed to be a drive-by somewhere around my block. I was jumped many times, and the number of times cops showed up and left from Kenny’s crack house down the street is uncountable. Everyone who was young seemed to be in a gang, and everyone who was old seemed scared.

Whenever I had a chance to do an activity that brought me out of that neighborhood, I took it. The year before, I became involved in starting a district youth council for the United Methodist churches. Run by a young minister from the other side of the city, I began driving to churches around the area to be on this youth council. It was an exciting thing for me personally, if only because I got to create and share and do things I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

That year, in 1992, I was given a booklet about starting a neighborhood youth council. Skimming through it, I decided my neighborhood needed one. I went to the church’s minister and asked him if we could pull it together and he agreed.

In a few weeks, I had twenty adults and youth in the same room. We were there under the premise that programs that served youth in our neighborhood could do even better by working together. For an hour we talked about what we did, listening to someone running a basketball team, a youth employment program focused on cooking, the food bank coordinator, an afterschool program worker, a VISTA serving in the neighborhood, and a few other people.

The youth in the room were friends of mine, and we all talked. One guy shared ideas, another reflected on how things were going in his life.

After everyone finished talking, we talked about when people worked and which individual children and youth they worked with. After an hour zoomed by, we left and everyone filed out.

For eight more meetings after that, we talked about what folks were doing and where they were doing it. There were conversations about getting more money for programs, more resources for kids and their families, and conversations about the things that were happening throughout our neighborhood. Some people were aware of the gossip while others focused on the newspapers. But everyone brought something to the table. I was proud to be able to lead the conversations.

By the end of that school year, I turned 18 and graduated from high school. The neighborhood youth council was over, and in the two more years I lived in the hood, it never met again.

From that experience, I learned the basics of collaboration. I studied the movements and ideals of the individuals at the table, and heard the stories and realities of the young people in our programs and lives. I learned to see the kids that came and went through all these programs as individuals with their own individual wants, needs, and dreams. Mostly, I learned to see my neighbors.

Since 1992, I’ve been involved with dozens of youth councils nationwide, and I’ve staffed two others at the state and national levels. Early in January 2014, I’m going to launch a new regional youth council for the Pacific Mountain region in Washington State. Its going to be exciting, for sure. But I’ll definitely draw on my own experience in order to best navigate the waters we’ll wade into.

What was your first experience with a youth council?

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

The Future of Youth Engagement

Society evolves. As young people and communities grow, there are more opportunities for youth engagement than ever before – and more opportunities for youth to become disengaged, too. More sophisticated usages of technology, transformed processes, and varying thresholds for what engages young people have to be acknowledged all the time. This happens from generation to generation and across different communities for all kinds of reasons.

Youth engagement happens, no matter what. Adults may not like what it focuses on or how it happens, but it happens.

Here are three ways that youth engagement will happen in the future:

  1. Subjective relationships—If adults want to continue to expose them to specific issues and activities, or seek particular outcomes from youth engagement, it will be necessary for them to adapt and transform their approaches. 
  2. Equal relationships—Another way is for adults to decide to value the things that young people engage in on their own volition. These youth engagement approaches entail adults meeting young people where they are currently, rather than insist that children and youth come to where adults want them to be in the future. 
  3. Equitable relationships—The middle ground between these two approaches to youth engagement requires active evolution and transformation. It requires that adults learn to see young children and youth as equitable partners in their work, and to treat them accordingly. 

Luckily, no matter which approach adults choose, youth engagement will continue to exist in the individual lives of young people, where they see fit and how they see fit. The sustained connections that young people make will never be solely dependent on technology, and youth engagement will never rely solely on government agencies either, or nonprofits, faith communities, schools, or other specific spheres and systems explored above.


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

What Is Youth Engagement?

Youth engagement happens when young people have sustained connections anywhere in their life. Youth engagement can happen throughout the lives of children and youth, including within themselves, in the immediate world around them, throughout society in general, and across the entirety of the world. The sustained connections they make can be emotional, psychological, or cognitive and can happen personally and socially.

What Youth Engagement Is Not

There is a growing amount of confusion about what youth engagement is and is not. Many national nonprofits and international NGOs are promoting youth engagement as involvement by youth in social change.

However, as the definition above shows, youth engagement is not the same as youth involvement in social change. Young people can be engaged through Youth-led research, Youth service, Youth leadership, Youth decision-making, Youth philanthropy, Youth civic engagement, Youth organizing, Youth media, or any of these strategies for social change led by young people. However, those are not the only ways youth are engaged.

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

How Does Youth Engagement Happen?

“Engaged youth” are generally labeled that way because they are experiencing sustained connections in ways that adults approve or acknowledge. These young people are typically identified in places like schools, nonprofit youth programs, and athletic programs. Their engagement is generally awarded by adults with incentives, including good grades, certifications of participation, and varsity letters.

“Disengaged youth” are generally young people who aren’t engaged in ways adults have determined are in the best interests of those young people. They can be found in a variety of places that adults don’t approve of or recognize the value. These include at home playing video games; at after school jobs; at a friend’s house after dropping out of school; or by joining gangs, hanging out with friends on the streets, or playing pickup basketball at night and on the weekends.

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