Youth As More Than Youth

Talking with young people about youth engagement, they say they want something meaningful more often than ever. Without me prompting them or sharing any particular tools, more youth are asking for depth and purpose in the different ways they are involved than I have ever heard. But there is usually a stumble in the conversation when I ask what makes something meaningful.

After saying they want, you know, “cool” things to do or “better” adults to spend their time with, youth often shrug and resign to not finding the words to express their wishes. That is where I assume an obligation, as an adult ally to youth, to share some thoughts with you. You see, I’ve had, literally, hundreds of these discussions with young people, and although they are all unique and often yield different results (and they really do), there are trends that emerge throughout almost every discussion.

One of the different ways I have heard youth describe what puts the “meaning” in “meaningful” youth engagement is that the opportunities acknowledge youth as more than youth. A lot of youth engagement opportunities put youth on pedestals by pretending that what youth say or do is different from everyone else in their communities. While youth perspectives and actions are unique, it is unjust to segregate youth from adults, from children, and from their communities. 

Youth integration is the way to solve this challenge. Acknowledging youth as powerful, purposeful partners throughout society positions them in significant, substantial ways. That’s a key to successful youth engagement.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Published by Adam

For almost two decades, Adam F. C. Fletcher has led international outreach focused on engaging people successfully. Working with thousands of youth-serving nonprofits, K-12 schools, government agencies, international NGOs and other organizations around the world, his work spans the fields of education, public health, economic development and social services, and includes professional development, public speaking, publishing, social media and more. He founded the Freechild Institute for Youth Engagement, SoundOut and CommonAction, as well as writing more than 50 publications and 500 articles. He has also established 150-plus community empowerment projects.

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