This is post 1 of 5 exploring popular perceptions of young people today.

Over the next few blog entries I’m going to write about what the common motivations are for engaging children and youth. Today I start with seeing young people as inevitable.

There’s this idea out there that somehow young people are inevitable and that’s why we’ve got to listen to them. Everybody was a young person, lots of people are going to make young people, everybody needs to listen to young people.

The problems with this perspective starts with the assumption that young people are just an extension of adults. By sourcing our understanding of children and youth within ourselves, we disassociate ourselves from what is different in them, making it okay to deny who they are in order to make them just like us. This downplays the racial, cultural, social, religious, economic, and other differences between young people and the adults who work with them.

Then, in order to continue to work with the people who are different then us, adults come to see children and youth as sources of entertainment. It becomes okay to mimic the African American youth who hang around the gym after school; it becomes okay to laugh behind the back of a youth who flubs up word usage during a meeting.

In the same way, seeing young people as inevitable makes it okay to reduce their role in society to that of income generator, as demonstrated by the entire field of youth marketing. In this capacity there are dozens of businesses that profiteer from treating youth as a simplistic time of life in which the desires and dreams of an entire market segment can be distilled into sound bites and visuals that appeal to the mass market that was created for distribution. This may be the most cynical and pervasive view of youth today, as countless schools, nonprofits and foundations have adopted businesses’ perspective of youth as consumers, and outcomes as the “bottom line” in their production operations. Its a pretty demeaning reality youth face today.

There are lots of other ways that young people are viewed, to be sure, and I will explore those more in my coming blog entries. I just wanted to open the door with this view, which I fear is most common.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!
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I'm a writer, trainer, speaker, and consultant. My work focuses on helping schools, nonprofits, and government agencies become more effective at engaging people.

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