Recently, after a keynote speech in which I shared the above, an obviously upset person came up to me wagging their finger while I was talking with attendees in the hallway.
“You don’t actually believe everything you say, do you?”
“Well, sure I do!”
“That cockamamie you said about engaging every youth is bullarcky, and I simply don’t think it is true, and I can’t believe that an intelligent man like you would believe that, either.”
“I do believe it. I live it. When I was a young person I there were adults in my life who simply give up on me. I won’t do that to any young person, ever.”
“Well, there are just some kids out there you can’t reach. None of us can.”
“Sure there are, kids you can’t reach. But that doesn’t mean another adult can’t.”
And with that, they stormed off.
It is a fragile line I walk at times. I speak of the very best positive, powerful potential of children and youth, and I mean every single thing I say. No part of me doubts that every young person has the potential to become engaged throughout their community. No part of me gives up on any youth, no matter how privileged or under-resourced they may be. And no part of me thinks I’m going out on a limb, either.
We live in a society where adults have assume managerial control for every aspect of a young person’s well-being through a certain age. That managerial control extends from home to school to after school to weekends to summer, and so on. However, that same society seems to accept, en masse, that there are some young people that it simply cannot expect to become sustainably connected in society past a certain point, throughout a particular community, or by deliberation or intention. Its as if its okay to just give up on some children and youth.
That is not right.
As a society we need to make a wholesale commitment to every young person in every community around the world that we, as adults, will ensure that they are engaged throughout their lives. This must start in the places where children and youth live, extend to the places they learn, and travel with them throughout the places they place, socialize, entertain, buy things, govern, and on and on. Every single part of our society needs to create fresh, distinctive, dynamic opportunities for every single young person to become engaged – not someday, but right now.
Surely we will make mistakes. Surely there will be grave injustices and disappointments. Adults will continue to be adultist, and young people will feel dismissed, oppressed, and disengaged at times. But we must try, regardless, every single one of us.
Right now, if you are a parent, go engage with your child.
If you are a teacher, reach out meaningfully to your students.
If you are a youth worker, connect with your young people.
Social workers, ministers, mental health counselors, elected officials, cops, government administrators, poets and artists, professors, tradesmen and tradeswomen, community leaders, neighborhood organizers, nonprofit staff, business owners, foundation staff, camp counselors… All of us, in every single community, can take these steps right now.
We need every young person engaged, right now. What are you going to do today?