Adult Power

Adults have power. A left over vestige of some time gone by marked by limited mortality, adults are rewarded this power simply because we reach adulthood. In this post, I explore what that power is, how it happens and what it means. Special thanks to Lisa Cooley who has been pushing my brain on this lately.

There are distinct differences in the treatment of young people and adults. That treatment is handed out by every adult, all of the time, and is often re-affirmed by young people as part of their social conditioning. That treatment is meant to ensure the power of adults. The differences in how young people are treated are made worse if you, in addition to not being seen as adults, youth are not identified by adults as white, hetrosexual and middle class.

 

Getting On Adults’ Good Side

One of the distinct ways that young people manage to secure preferential treatment by adults is by acting LIKE adults; that is, by assuming gestures, vocabulary, clothes, attitudes, and postures seen by adults as being adult-like. In many circumstances, this is actually labelled “acceptable behavior.”

Acting too much like an adult is frowned upon though. Among some people who advocate for youth rights, there is a belief that any age-determined boundary is arbitrary and should not exist, including drinking, driving and voting rights. 

When I was doing research on the etymology of the word “adultism” back in 2007, the oldest usage I discovered was related to the behavior of young people. Adultism was explained as as, “A boy of 12 and a girl of 13 who had the spirit and personality of adults… They were placed in institutions because of stealing and prostitution. These forms of precocity lead the individual into difficulties and should be recognized early in the development of the individual.”

Young people lose favor with adults when they stop acting like adults or in ways that adults approve of.

 

Legal Boundaries & Social Consequences

Courts have determined that there is a boundary to cross for youth when they go from acting as adolescents to acting as adults; however, that line, also, is blurry, since courts across the country try young offenders as adults starting at the age of 10 and going up from there. In the US, the military will accept 16 year old recruits in some circumstances. Driving, voting and drinking are among other shifting age boundaries to adulthood when adults have determined it is not okay for someone younger to “act like an adult”.

Since adults determine how adults are expected to behave, they also enforce those expectations. Some enforcement is social; other punishment is economic; some is cultural; and other enforcement and punishment is legal. Anything that deviates from the acceptable behavior is in err, or malicious, or unacceptable, and there is always a punishment is doled out duly, legally or illegally, obvious or subtle.

The social consequences of deviating from adult expectations range from subtle discrimination to distinct alienation to overt ostracization. Youth can be shunned in a variety of ways, and excluded in a number of others. This includes taxation without representation, scientific stigmatization, and compulsory schooling that relies on age segregated environments. The over ostracization of youth leads to youth homelessness and overall street dependency.

 

Force & Coercion

How do adults ensure their power? There are no ends to the force we use, which is true for parenting and teaching and neighboring and governing and policing and counseling and selling and buying and any other activity adults do with young people. Force is another word for coercion, and to some extent every adult is coercive over young people, not matter how well-intended they are.

As parents, we dole out and withhold love, affection and attention according to how well our child adheres to our desires and expectations. This is forcefulness, under the guise of loving care. Even enlightened parents do this habitually, as if its hardwired into our intuition. We live in a society reliant on very subtle and very overt gestures of coercion. Schools are masters of this to some degree, as they use both mechanisms of subtle and overt control to force students into compliance.

The question isn’t whether or not we force anyone to learn anything, because we all do. Instead, there is a question of the degree to which we’re forcing the Other to do what we want them to. There is a question of the desired and actual outcomes of the force, or why we coerced them. All of this adds up to the rightness or wrongness of using force, rather than simply saying “You forced someone to do what you wanted them to.” We all do that; why and how is what counts.

 

What You Can Do

By not saying anything about this ingrained discrimination against young people, all adults actually condone the behavior of other adults. More so, we are complicit because we send unspoken messages, like that we think youth, too, should have the attitude of adults as well, and that those youth who don’t should expect to be treated accordingly.

These oppressive clarion calls are constantly given throughout our society. We make them through convenient lists of guidelines and rules posted on walls; dress codes and curfews; and many other overt exhibitions of preference. All of these tools are geared towards acceptability, conformity and the maintenance of adultocracy.

Ask yourself why we still award people for reaching age 18 by foisting tons of power on them over another segment of the population. Oh, and identifying the role of adultocracy throughout our society? I wrote a book about it called Ending Discrimination Against Young People, and you can order it here.

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.

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!

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.

Why Youth Are Unemployable

There’s a growing consensus among many employers that youth today aren’t employable. Whether they’re looking for blue collar jobs or professional careers, workplaces simply aren’t satisfied with the skills, knowledge, or abilities of young people anymore.

The reason for employers being dissatisfied with young workers is relatively simple. However, seeing that simple problem requires peeling back some different lenses used to talk about youth employment today.

Using my experience working in education and workforce development programs, along with current news and research, I have identified several lenses that color the ways employers see youth today. Here are some of them.

3 Reasons Employers Say They Don’t Hire Youth

  • Youth Seem Too Entitled. Employers frequently say that whether they’re high school dropouts or college graduates, youth today seem too entitled. No matter their station in life, they think they should have rewarding work, ideal workplaces, fair pay, good benefits, and substantive advancement opportunities. In return, they don’t want to work as hard, as long, or as meaninglessly as their parents or grandparents did. Employers talk about how parents of youth today are too obsessed with their childrens’ happiness, and because of that young workers don’t know how to work hard for anything. Instead of working for the opportunities they have, many youth are simply taking those things as if they belong to them by birthright instead of earning them.
  • Youth Are Too Apathetic. With their obsessive amount of piercings, tattoos, and poor clothing, employers say youth constantly show that they are indifferent to common workplace expectations for appearance. Reflecting that indifference, youth today don’t respect the predominant Protestant Work Ethic that has dominated successful businesses around the world for more than 400 years. Many bosses say that young workers’ apathy shows in monumental ways when they simply don’t exert the energy needed to get the job done.
  • Youth Just Aren’t Ready. Despite all their education and education reform, tutoring, youth programs, and other entitlements youth enjoy today, employers consistently report that youth aren’t showing up for work ready to get the jobs done. Instead, they’re under-skilled and less-than-willing to learn what they need to in order to perform the most menial labor. Even college graduates are incapable of accomplishing the most basic of tasks for many jobs, with employers saying these youth shirked necessary learning in higher education in order to pursue learning that made them happy, or just took the easy classes to get through.

I have regularly heard and seen these reasons effectively stop young workers from getting and keeping the jobs they need today. President ObamaRepublicans, the pope, and many, many other leaders around the world see youth unemployment as a major issue.

Before we can address youth unemployment in a real way though, we need to see what the real causes are. Since we’ve read some of the reasons employers readily share, I want to uncover the main cause for why youth today aren’t employable: Discrimination Against Youth.

The Real Problem

Discrimination against youth is the main reason why employers think youth are unemployable. Discrimination, which is defined in several ways, includes the meaning, “the recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another.” Employers are constantly discriminating; however, in the case of employing young people, they are discriminating against youth.

Whether we’re reviewing job applications, interviewing prospective candidates, hiring youth, training them to do their jobs, or supervising and managing them everyday, employers are constantly discriminating against youth.

For 17 years, I have run a boutique consulting firm. Of the 25 employees I’ve hired, more than half were under 21, and many were under 18. Throughout my career in education, I’ve supervised hundreds of employees for other organizations, with the vast majority of them being under 18. I have worked as an adult living skills instructor, teaching youth skills they needed to become successful adults including the ability to get and keep work. Most recently, I oversaw a youth employment program serving more than 500 young people across the region where I live, which is mostly rural along with seating the state capital.

I discriminate against youth. Surely, I judge them by their appearance, their actions, their attitudes, and the outcomes they produce too; however, I start by judging them by their age.

I don’t do that with adults.

Instead, I study adults’ resumes carefully, engage deeply with their interviewing processes, and thoughtfully inquire about them to their references. I review their education and training, and delve into their thinking if I call people back in for a second interview. I don’t do it the same way with youth, and I know that many employers are just like me.

All of that is to say that this isn’t a hypothetical essay written by a well-meaning do-gooder. Instead, its meant to be a practical treatise that examines a common, under-explored, and urgent reality facing the world today.

Why We Discriminate Against Youth

For more than 50 years, marketers have been ripping away at youth engagement as economic actors. This includes their roles as customers, employees, clients, and producers. We discriminate against youth because doing so makes us money.

Before the 1950s, youth were not treated as distinct figures in the marketplace. Instead, they were generally treated as young adults and were marketed to using the desires of adults to captivate their attentions. Realizing their potential as consumers, marketers identified them as an under-attended segment starting with the post-WWII economic boom.

Slowly and steadily, marketers repositioned youth from being the passive recipients of the adult-driven economic towards becoming active consumers. Initially relying on the concept of a generalized type of “every youth”, ad campaigns and new products frequently suggested that youth without discretionary incomes could earn their way to wealth. Marketers began exploiting difference social values among youth, increasingly pushing market segmentation along socio-economic class lines. They casted images of “punks” and “jocks”, “surfers” and “cool cats”, “Blacks” and still others upon American youth, leaving them to identify with the clothes, music, and other trends marketers foisted on them.

What the ad men and corporate leaders soon discovered was that this line of thinking ignored the economic reality of youth: Without money, there was no way to market high dollar items to low- or no-income youth.

That led marketers began keying in on youth with passive, discretionary income as their ideal targets, and cuing up others for cheaper, lower quality purchases. Children and youth became identified as the penultimate consumers, as their young purchasing habits informed their older purchasing habits. With their singular position in life as the compulsory attendees of public schools, the vast majority of youth were literally a captive audience for both explicit and passive marketing campaigns. Students in schools who wear particular logos identify along particular social and economic class lines, forming clear brand identities that are associated with their personal and familial worth. Those same students take certain classes, attend the right social events, and do the same activities both in and out of schools. Their apparent desire for conformity and community make them the ideal audience for high pressure peer-to-peer marketing tactics that marketers have honed since the advent of youth.

Simultaneously, the promoters of mass media realized that sensationalizing the challenges facing young people and making youth the problem instead of seeing them as the solution sells newspapers. Falling into the trap of commercialization, many nonprofit organizations and educational leaders have fell into this perspective too, actively discriminating against youth in order to secure funding for their seemingly beneficent activities. Politicians respond in kind, boosting police funding, entrenching standardized teaching and assessments in schools, and continuously and deeply demonizing youth themselves. All of this further segregates youth from society.

Youth who are excluded from the mass socialization in schools had room made for them, too: Getting low grades and dropping out makes them ideal candidates for service sector jobs, while the school-to-prison pipeline situates them squarely as income generators for corporations that profiteer off delinquency.

All this is to show that adults discriminate against youth because we make money by doing it. There are many ways that happens, and following are three:

  • Segregation: Ensuring their self-identification in social class segregated consumer spending groups through schools allows marketers to appeal directly to appropriate potential youth consumers according to their income levels.
  • Condemnation: Originally condemning to service sector work adults wouldn’t do gave them disposable income marketers could appeal to with high demand, low-cost, high profit products;
  • Stagnation: Repealing those job opportunities from the lowest income young employees virtually assures their economic and educational stagnation, perfectly positioning them to move along the school-to-prison pipeline that generates major revenues.

Basically, we rely on discrimination against youth to drive our economy. Our perception that youth today are unemployable is intact because of discrimination against youth.

How It Happens

These realities apply to young employees in a variety of ways. In an age of economic downturn, young people are seen as expendable participants in the employment pool because of their socio-economic statuses. Denied those formerly presumably disposable incomes, they are viewed as irrelevant actors in a sea of adults who apparently need jobs more than youth. Employers rationalize this during hiring processes in many ways, attributing their discrimination against young people with the cliche condemnations:

  • “Youth today don’t know how to wear their clothes! Their pants are too saggy or their hair is too colorful!”
  • “These kids don’t have the right work ethic. When I was young…”
  • “I don’t like their attitudes. I need someone who wants to come in here and work hard, do the right thing, and get paid money to get a job done, not just because they think they’re owed something.”

These attitudes are typical and common among adults today. While every single adult doesn’t discriminate in these ways, we all discriminate in some ways, whether at home or throughout our communities. However, the irony is that people who are in hiring, supervising, and managing roles today had the very same things said about their generations when they were younger. The cyclical nature of marketing insists that companies return to the same tried and true strategies every generation in order to assure repeat customers and brand loyalty. Large corporations do this continuously; small companies and upstarts rely on previous generations’ attitudes towards young people to sell product too.

All of this is inherently discriminatory towards youth for many reasons, chief among which is that implicit and immediate condemnation of youth because of their age. Rather than being based in non-biased research and reality that acknowledges the varying and evolving abilities of all young people, we routinely and systematically lump them all into the same category, assign them the same attributes and deficits, and figure they’ll do the same things, no matter what.

How to Make Youth Employable

There are many different things we can do instead of relying on discrimination against youth to forward our economy. We can recognize the possibilities that are inherent within every single youth, no matter what race, socio-economic class, cultural background, or educational ability they are. We can actively, purposefully engage youth as economic actors who are capable and responsible for engaging future generations of youth. We can change the world.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours working with a group of educators focused on youth employment. After discussing my recent article called “5 Lies Employers Tell Youth Today“, we talked about what everyone can practically, actually do to make a difference. Here are several options anyone can do right now make youth employable.

8 Steps to Youth Employability

  1. Accept Responsibility. If you actually believe youth are unemployable, you are actually responsible for that condition, as well as for addressing it. If just 10% of all adults everywhere accepted responsibility for doing something different, youth unemployment would become rare around the world. No matter if you are a parent, a teacher, a police officer, business owner, politician, store manager, or simply a neighbor, you have a role to play. Read on to learn what that is.
  2. Teach Young People About Mindsets. From birth, teach all young people everywhere to be willing to learn. Build lessons in how we think into early childhood development programs, and mandate all educators teach about learning styles and mindsets, and more.
  3. Promote Practical Hopefulness. Many adults have largely given up on young people today, whether they recognize it or not. Instead of piping false hope across social media and television, we have to promote practical hopefulness that engenders real action.
  4. Create Partnerships. As they enter their teen years, actively engage every young person in every community in an equitable partnership with an adult, whether as a mentor, in an apprenticeship, or otherwise.
  5. Build Connectivity. Throughout their youth, continuously connect and reconnect every young person throughout their community through active learning, volunteerism, and otherwise.
  6. Redo Education. Re-envision the core curriculum of schools to focus on practical, applicable skill-based and knowledge-building learning, rather than large topical swaths that are seemingly devoid of practical applications to students themselves. Student voice should be at the center of ALL education.
  7. Promote In-person Internet. Weave together online identities with in-person identities. With the ubiquity of the Internet today, its increasingly vital that young people move seamlessly within their social networks, whether on the Internet or in real time.
  8. Foster Entrepreneurial Lifestyles. Entrepreneurship is about more than work; its about life. More commonly than ever, society accepts that change is the only constant. Teaching young people to make the most of that is one of the best ways to make youth employable.
  9. Stop Fighting Change. There’s so much resistance to diversity, to people who aren’t white or wealthy or male or straight or educated or accessible to the mainstream. We must stop fighting the impending changes our world inevitably holds for all of us, and instead embrace them ALL. We can guide and move some change, but at the least, we must simply accept it.
  10. Make Lifelong Learning An Accessible Expectation. There is a lot of value to teaching oneself and learning what you want to, when you want to. However, in our increasingly commodified societies we’re making lifelong learning more and more expensive and inaccessible. We should throw the doors everywhere open for everyone, all the day. Andrew Carnegie knew the value of this; we should acknowledge that’s more important today than ever.

Perhaps the most important thing we can do is the first thing on this list: Accept responsibility, because from that place we can change the worldA lot of research and policy work that has been done that supports my contentions; read them for more information.

Regardless of how you see it though, ending discrimination against young people is truly what is needed to make all youth everywhere employable today and in the future.

Adam Fletcher is a speaker on engaging young people in business, education, and communities. He is also the author of several books, including Ending Discrimination Against Young People. Learn more about him by visiting adamfletcher.net.

5 Easy Ways YOU Can Change the World

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More people are doing more to deliberately change the world than ever before. They are creating jobs, building the economy, and circulating wealth in brand new ways that we can all learn from. Here are a two examples:

  • Australian Nick D’Aloisio began teaching himself to code on computers before he was 15 years old. He built a few small apps, but launched a major app called Summly. Last year, when he was 17, D’Aloisio sold it to Yahoo for $30 million. In the process he hired dozens of programmers and made others wealthy, too.
  • At the age of 12, Charles Orgbon III founded a nonprofit called Greening Forward. SIx years later, his youth-driven, youth-led, and youth-imagined environmental organization is teaching young people across the U.S. how to make money through the green movement. His program has reached hundreds of communities across the country and helped thousands of students learn about the environment in a productive way.

The stories of people changing the world can go on for days, and as we all know, this has always happened. However, more than ever, its the youngest among us who are actually doing the most, and have been for more than 100 years—and throughout all of history: Joan of Arc, Mozart, and countless unheralded people under 18, 21, 25, and 35 have changed the world.

Youth are changing the world in ways we all follow all of the time, whether we’re aware of that or not. While we routinely don’t acknowledge them for doing it, the fact is that society is dragged forward chained to the heels of young people, today and throughout all times. There is a lot we can learn from them.

Ways Youth Change the World

Robert Kennedy famously summarized the cliche ways young people change the world in a speech from 1967, saying, “This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.”

Its important to move beyond cliches though, and towards a practical, responsive logic that shows clearly why and how young people are changing the world. Here are five ways that’s happening right now.

  • Youth are in school. Learning conformity through standardization, having their schedules delineated for them, and being forced to learn what others want them to teaches some youth to stay in line. For others, its an excuse and even permission to get out of the box and think in radical new ways. They’re learning about politics, they’re learning about the real world, and they’re launching their lives during current times, right now. Transforming education by demanding public accountability for public schools and forcing educators and education leaders to become responsive to the democratic citizens they’re responsible to and for is ensuring these young people change the future.
  • Youth cannot vote. The demands of democratic civic engagement overburden many adults, effectively preventing them from voting, becoming involved, and owning the political process. Since youth cannot vote, many are driven towards apathy and disregard for the system. Those lessons will be applied to many things throughout their lives, and for some, that is civic life. These young people are becoming enraged, motivated, and empowered to take action and deliberately pave the road to the future.
  • Youth are living in “my house by my rules”. Homes and neighborhoods around the world are ruled by tradition and culture that routinely, systematically, and wholly takes power away from children and youth. Growing up with the melancholic conformity of middle class suburbs, the deafening roar of poverty, or the privileged access wealth provides will each force a percentage of young people to deliberately seek to change the world throughout their lives. Warren Buffet was young once, as were Maya Angelou, David Gilmour, Dr. King, Napoleon, Da Vinci, Pho Khun Sri Indraditya, Julius Caesar, and Imhotep. All these world changers grew up in someone’s house and sought to change the world later. Those seeds are always planted in our youth, just like they are still today.
  • Youth are connected. Like no generation before, young people are connected to each other, often in ways adults cannot imagine. The mapping of human ecology has never been nearly effective in history as it is now, with the appearance and immutability of social networking and technology to support connectivity becoming as ubiquitous as it is. These connections are becoming more obvious than ever before, and while the benefits are still becoming apparent, today’s generation of youth are growing up with it. Because of this, they are changing the world in ways we’ve never imagined.
  • Youth are able of acting beyond expectations. As we age, most adults seek familiarity and ease. Growing increasingly distrustful of change, we latch onto consistency, segregation, and tight knit connections for our lives. Young people operate in ways that are counter to each of these, actively fostering and thriving within the unknown, the deeply entwined, and the actively frayed edges of social connectivity. Generation after generation, they are actively paving the road to the future because of this reality.

These may be obvious, simplistic perspectives on how young people are changing the world today. However, It can be hard to see what adults can do to practically do to make a difference themselves.

5 Easy Ways YOU Can Change the World

Parents, teachers, businesspeople, and adults everyday can help ensure that young people are paving the road to the future with five easy steps.

  1. Keep forcing youth to do what adults want them to. The more we cause children and youth to do what we want them to, the more likely more young people are rebel. If you want to change the world, do not allow young people to use their voices, disallow them from becoming involved in civic life, and force them to follow arbitrary rules based on negative adult assumptions rather than scientific realities. This will change the world by encouraging so-called “youth rebelliousness”, which is generally anything in defiance of tradition and adult-identified “acceptability”.
  2. Smother youth with adult-created culture. Promote young peoples’ sense of inability and indifference by pushing music, clothes, movies, tv, and other adult-created culture throughout the lives of every young person. Push them to believe sub-cultures and identities are segregating factors, and encourage them to negate their own self-worth. This will change the world by forcing more youth to make media for themselves and for adults who don’t buy into adult-created culture.
  3. Limit the access youth have to technology. If you’re attending the average school or youth program today, you know its common to find rules against cell phone usage, classrooms completely devoid of computers for students, and limited Internet access throughout a lot of schools and nonprofit organizations intending to teach youth today. With the impending end of net neutrality, we will see the demise of free and unimpeded access to knowledge via the internet. If you want to change the world, continue to restrict youths’ access to technology and prohibit their free access to information and resources. This will push them to further innovate in technology and free the boundaries of knowledge however they can.
  4. Force youth to follow the rules created by adults. Despite advances in science and clearly demonstrative examples of the contributions they make throughout society, for more than a century adults have clearly denied the increasing capacity of youth to self-manage and negotiate the world they share with us. Instead, we routinely infantalize youth, talking down to them, incapacitating and disenfranchising them with wholly discriminatory laws, policies, and rules that reflect traditional assumptions. This causes young people people to actively dismantle age-based, race-based, gender-based, and other bias-based perspectives that limit growth around the world.
  5. Stay away from youth. Forced age-based segregation between youth and adults disallows young people from forming healthy, proactive, and equitable relationships with people older than them. This segregation is systematically enforced within schools, through after school and summer youth programs, throughout our business sector, and across governmental decision-making and policies. Dissatisfied by inept adult-driven, ineffectual economic choices, more young people will become more motivated to change the world in the coming years.

These steps are easy because they are already happening right now. If you want to ensure change the world, just let these steps keep happening!

My career is focused on working with adults and youth to build their awareness and ability to change the world on purpose. I believe that every conscientious adult has a responsibility to themselves, their families, and succeeding generations to take actual, practical, and positive action that changes the world, no matter how they do that. The list in this article does not represent that.

If you want to actually make a positive difference in the lives of young people, here are some simple things you can do right now:

Whatever you choose to do, simply do something. Any action is generally better than no action, and with young people you actually can make a difference.

There Is No ONE Youth

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There is no ONE youth. Adults constantly talk about youth as if they’re one person that acts one way and faces one reality. In truth, there are millions of young people acting millions of ways and facing millions of realities, right now.

The Myth of One Youth

Adults routinely address all youth as one youth. It happens like this:

  • “Youth today need to suck it up!” says one upset grandparent who is frustrated with their grandchildren. Rather than addressing their specific relations, these people are generalizing all young people to meet their expectations, positive and negative.
  • “I have lost my hope in youth,” suggests a politician who is looking at recent violence in his city. He is not scanning the whole scene, seeing everything that’s going on. Instead, he’s addressing his own myopic view, and distrusting even the potential of the youth he serves.
  • “My youth was lost,” explains a teacher to her classroom while she’s trying to dissuade them from using drugs. Painting a wide swath of disregard for herself, she’s actually undermining herself by invalidating the things she learned, the experiences she had, and the ideas that were born while she was young.

Everyone is different from everyone else. We don’t lump together adults into one singular pile to say that all adults are the same, no matter what. Yet we routinely do that with children and youth, putting them all into the same pile. This leads to standardization and conformity, enforcing mediocrity and complacency rather than incentivizing transformation. This conflicts with the common understanding that change is the only constant in life: Life changes for young people, too!

It is in the Words

A long time ago, my friend and colleague Wendy Lesko took me to task about using the word “youth” to refer to young people as a singular group. This is when people say, “Youth are the future” or “Youth today…” It lumps all young people as one group, and denies them their plural nature as youths. She said we don’t do this to adults, and when we’re very young we even get a plural tense of our age group, going from child to children. Wendy explains all this in her quintessential book, Youth: The 26% Solution.

I dismissed this concern as semantics for a long time, and kept using the word youth in its singular and plural form. However, today I realize the error of my ways; thanks, Wendy, and all the youths I’ve worked with, for being patient with me for so long.

Today, I understand that simply clumping all young people into the same boat by calling them “youth” disempowers their identities and negates their individual personhood. I get it.

Its in the Realities, Too

The reality is that all youths are different. Every young person grows up in circumstances that are uniquely their own because of the ecology and history they are in and from. Families, spiritual beliefs, social realities, educational experiences, economic backgrounds, cultural heritage, political biases, and many other factors differentiate youths from each other. This is for both positive and challenging factors.

Despite its commonality as a seperator, in most cases age isn’t even a worthy seperator. Ability, understanding, knowledge, and wisdom do not follow strictly linear lines of thinking. There are many ignorant adults and intelligent young people who are evidence to that reality in either direction.

In the past, leaders saw standardization as the solution to controlling massively growing populations. For a variety of reasons though, today the mechanisms of familiarity and conformity simply aren’t enough for the masses. Instead, as our world becomes more populated by more people, its becoming more important than ever to differentiate and individualize than ever before.

Leaders must see the necessity of mass customization and individualization, no matter what sector of society they serve. Politics, education, religion, recreation, and many other areas are wrestling with this right now.

The secret formula here is that youths are the canaries in the mine shaft here. They are the ones demanding that the world change, making change happen, and inculcating society with a new vigor and ability to foster transformative thinking and realities.

Are you ready for this changing world? Are you ready to acknowledge all youths as different, rather than seeing and treating them like they’re all the same? Here are three ways to do that.

Three Ways to Treat Youths Individually

  1. Throw away the script. Don’t use standardized curricula, training, positions, or programs for young people today. Instead, work with them to mentor them, creating youth/adult partnerships that transform your home, school, neighborhood, business, or government.
  2. Create spaces to dream. Denied opportunities to be creative in many schools today, youths are growing up believing they’re incapable or unable to dream new dreams. Create new spaces for that to happen. Teach them visioning techniques, use brainstorming activities, and foster wider thinking than anything they have in their brains right now. You never know how far that can go!
  3. Take action today and tomorrow! Instead of simply stopping with thinking or visioning or planning or researching or teaching or training or reflecting, move with young people towards action and outcomes right now. Show them how to move from passive pasts to active todays and intentional tomorrows.

All adults can make differences in the lives of young people, whether at home, throughout their communities, at their workplaces, or beyond. Where are YOU going to make a difference 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!

Voices of the Damned Youth

damnedyouthWe should never give up on any young person, or any person as far as that’s concerned. There is nobody – absolutely nobody – in our society who is too far gone to simply relinquish them to the trash can of society. Especially children and youth.

In reality though, many young people are born into indifference, apathy, and intransigence. Depression, inability, and oppression are holding legions of children and youth from realizing the dreams they could have.

They face families, communities,and nations that are wholly indifferent to their realities. Because of this, these children and youth struggle with society’s norms, cultures, customs, and behaviors. They can be gifted or struggling, adult-pleasing or anti-authoritarian. A few times, they lash out. Mostly, they internalize.

I know of this because its lived experience for me. Identifying in turns as an impoverished homeless immigrant child, white-kid-grown-up-in-an-African-American-neighborhood, nearly dropped out, couldn’t-pay-for-college, been-a-youth-worker-all-my-life kinda guy, I have struggled with those senses of alienation all of my life. My story has been told by a half-dozen journalists who think they should expose the scars as well as the stars in my life. Its not their story to tell though, its mine.

The same is true for many youth today. Their stories deserve—mustbe told, but not by well-meaning adults. Not by reporters or grantwriters, poets or politicians. Instead, we must make space for damned youth to speak for themselves.

To be specific, I want you to know that I believe we should routinely, systemically, and completely engage the voices of young people who identify as academically failing. Poor, Low Income, and Working Class. Homeless. Minority culture. GBLTQQ. African American, American Indian, and other communities of color. Immigrants. Runaway, foster, and Ageing Out. Incarcerated. Court-involved. Juvenile Delinquents. Addicts and Abusers. And many, many others.

We shouldn’t deny any young person the opportunity to share their voices, and I’m not suggesting that we shut down one youth in order to create another. I am fully in support of expanding every possibility available throughout our society in order to create more space for the voices of youth. Youth Voice includes any expression of any young person anywhere, anytime, about anything. (Luckily) It doesn’t depend on adult approval. I’m suggesting that we, as adults, make space for youth voice, and especially those of the damned youth.

These youth are damned because they’re inconvenient for adults to listen to. They’re damned because they say things we don’t want to hear in ways we don’t want to listen to. They’re damned because adults are the majority culture and youth are the minority culture. They’re damned because they’re youth. More importantly though, they’re not really damned at all.

In sharing my own voice, I learned that I wasn’t damned; moreso, I am vastly privileged. I believe my younger brothers and sisters must learn this too, and so I call for them to have the space I was fortunate enough to experience as a young person, no matter how rarified it was.

Voices of the damned youth require:

  • More youth voice from the children and youth who we don’t routinely hear from.
  • More youth involvement from the historically disengaged.
  • More empowerment for youth who are oppressed.
  • More democracy for everyone.

Then we’re going someplace spectacular, together.

Measure of Intergenerational Community Engagement (MICE Model)

The Measure of Intergenerational Community Engagement, aka the MICE Model, is a tool I developed for The Freechild Project. After working with intergenerational groups for more than a decade, I found it increasingly necessary to explain intermediary steps an organization could align themselves with while seeking to engage youth and adults as partners.

As it evolved, the tool took a life of its own. Ultimately, it has become a wonderful piece for participants to reflect, consider, and grow youth engagement. It can be used in any setting where young people could work with adults.

Let me know what you think of my MICE Model in the comments below! Thanks!