In organizations around the world adults are want new ways to engage young people in successful ways. For more than 30 years, meaningful youth involvement has provided a way.
Today there are community organizations, government agencies, foundations, and schools around the world that are striving to deliberately empower youth voice by turning to young people themselves for ideas and solutions. Through youth involvement, young people are not running organizations or taking over budgets. Instead, they are engaged in youth/adult partnerships that help organizations be more successful.
This article shares strategic, purposeful and empowering ways to understand the logic of youth involvement.
“Youth involvement makes a difference in our community by bringing the policymakers and the youth that are directly affected by the policy together. This open communication allows youth to discuss what works for them and what doesn’t and the policymakers get to realize that sometimes even the best of intentions can be harmful if the people that the policies will directly affect are not consulted. The very presence of youth in policy meetings breaks down the invisible ‘us and them’ barrier that develops when doing things for and to people instead of with them.”—Stephanie Lane, M.S.W., a former youth coordinator of with Health N’ Action in King County, Washington, as quoted in Matarese, M., McGinnis, L. and Mora, M. (2005) Youth Involvement in Systems of Care: A Guide to Empowerment. Washington, DC: Technical Assistance Partnership. p.70.
Why Youth Involvement?
In order to foster youth involvement, you have to help other people become motivated. Here are twelve ways to answer the question of why youth involvement.
- YOUTH INVOLVEMENT CAN SAVE MONEY. Youth involvement can save time, energy, and money. Young people know what works for young people, and that knowledge can work for your organization. For a long time adults have decided to do activities for youth without youth. Activities will only benefit youth when youth themselves are real partners in those activities. This increases effectiveness, showing funders, decision-makers, and the wider community how successful the organization is at its mission. The bottom-line is that youth involvement can save money.
- YOUTH INVOLVEMENT CAN BE MORE EFFECTIVE. Youth involvement can be a successful way to support positive youth development. By involving youth in systems, adults can be better teachers, mentors, and coaches; organizations can meet real needs better; and government agencies will engage more people more actively.
- YOUTH INVOLVEMENT CAN BUILD CULTURE. Youth involvement can transforms personal attitudes and shared beliefs that underlay the culture of organizations and communities. Addressing personal challenges and barriers can lead to healthier, more democratic places, spaces and opportunities where all youth are engaged as partners. It can also challenge indifference and apathy by challenging every adult to change their perspectives about youth.
- YOUTH INVOLVEMENT CAN SUPPORT EQUITY. Youth/adult equity is the intentional practice of changing policies, practices, systems, and structures by supporting fair and appropriate relationships between youth and adults that aren’t based on assumptions but on justice. Youth involvement can ensure equity. Since youth are the focus of so many organizations, programs and activities, the perspectives, ideas, and actions of young people are also important to consider. However, even if your organization doesn’t focus on youth, it should still build youth involvement.
- YOUTH INVOLVEMENT CAN DELIVER DIVERSITY. Youth are not monolithic. Their opinions and ideas are as varied as those of any adult, and their ages are only one shaping force in their lives. Just like adults, the perspectives of youth are deeply affected by their experiences, their identities, and their personalities. Therefore, you can’t involve one youth or a small group of youth and assume that they speak for all young people.
- YOUTH INVOLVEMENT CAN SUSTAIN DEMOCRACY. Youth involvement can teach the skills needed to be a powerful member of democracy. Civic engagement requires knowledge, skill, and insight, and youth involvement can develop each of these capacities in young people. To make democracy work, all people need to be heard, including young people. Showing youth that their ideas, knowledge, wisdom, opinions, beliefs and perspectives matter can lead to a healthier democracy that lasts.
- YOUTH INVOLVEMENT CAN LIFT CIVIL RIGHTS. Youth involvement can fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence, which states that “All men are created equal,” and all are entitled to “certain unalienable rights.” That includes the right to participation throughout society, especially in democratic decision-making.
- YOUTH INVOLVEMENT CAN SUPPORT PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT. Mental health, social well-being, cultural support and intrapersonal skill-building can all happen through youth involvement. Supporting critical thinking, fostering positive mindsets, and developing growth-oriented community partners can help individual youth with their personal development as well as adults and communities as a whole.
- YOUTH INVOLVEMENT CAN ENLIVEN COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT. Youth involvement in community development can create practical avenues for effective planning, assessment, and policy-making throughout communities. Young people can provide powerful insight and energy in environmental, social, economic, and educational growth for community planners, civic leaders, elected officials and others..
- YOUTH INVOLVEMENT CAN CHALLENGE CULTURES. Youth involvement can transform the cultures of organizations, schools, and communities by actively engaging their wisdom, ideas and knowledge in planning, research, teaching, and decision-making. Addressing personal challenges and organizational barriers can lead to healthier, more equitable cultures where everyone is engaged as partners.
- YOUTH INVOLVEMENT CAN HELP TODAY. Youth involvement can challenge the “youth flight” or “brain drain” suffered by inner-city and rural communities by establishing and strengthening powerful bonds between young people, adults, and elders throughout our communities. It can lead to tangible, identifiable, and meaningful changes in individual peoples’ lives and communities at large, and ultimately, it can push the bar higher for justice, peace and possibilities throughout the world
- YOUTH INVOLVEMENT HELPS TOMORROW. Youth involvement can substantiate the urgency of change by challenging complacency, ignorance and neglect. By learning the practical considerations of leadership and civic engagement through youth involvement, young people and adults foster mutual authority and ability to meet the needs of the future.
These are some of the ways youth involvement just makes sense. What would you add to the list? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!