Youth Involvement as a Kludge

The Freechild Institute Youth Involvement Toolkit

A kludge, pronounced klooj, is a clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem or difficulty. As it stands, many different types of youth involvement including youth advisory boards, hosting youth forums, and engaging youth as evaluators often serve as a klooj for youth engagement.

Freechild defines youth involvement as any deliberate way to include youth in organizations. We believe youth engagement happens anytime youth choose the same thing over and over. There is a difference between the two.

The reality is that somewhere along the way adultism factors in too heavily in many adults’ imaginations. Our personal capabilities to relate to young people become compromised by a lifetime of conditioning where we are subjected to the intricacies of age-oriented oppression.

At first we grow accustomed to the discrimination all young people routinely and generally face: 

  • At home, where parents use corporal punishment and manipulation to ensure their predominance over young minds;
  • At school, where educators rely on compulsory attendance to ensure young peoples’ compliance with their will;
  • By businesses, where owners alternately rely on consumerist insecurities or “nobody under 18” signs to ensure their success;
  • By the government, where officials deny the voices of non-voting constituencies, and;
  • By community leaders, whose independence is largely questionable when they are routinely responsible for ensuring one of the previous roles.

As we grow older those intricacies continue to obliterate any conceptions we may have held over from childhood, as the burdens of adulthood ensure its difference and indifference to children and youth (for most young people). Bills and jobs and healthcare and cars and banking and relationships are among the many differences; Schools and policing and youth work and relationships are among the many indifferences that adults feel towards young people. 

All of this is to explain why we, as adults, feel we must create systemic efforts to engage youth. We create training programs for youth workers; design action planning to encourage effectiveness; implement programs and make adaptations along the way; systematically evaluate youth involvement, and; re-envision the program for next time or end it. How natural is any of that? How authentic is any of that? 

In reality, as adults and as a society, we are largely inept at youth engagement. We end up of creating these kludges that are neither familiar to young people nor particularly responsive to their needs. Instead, they are familiar and responsive to our needs as adults! How preposterous is it to claim that in order to more effectively meet the needs of young people adults are going to have them more effectively meet our supposed need for their validation of our programs and organizations? 

We must whittle our intentions down to their most genuine responsiveness to the needs of children and youth in order to name them accordingly and then react accordingly. Those according acts must be real – not otherwise. That may mean an end to the convenient activities we have come to know and so easily engage in. That may mean that we come to know and seek to actually understand the young people we work with as equals, or even partners.

This type of realistic and authentic approach to engaging young people can help move our work beyond the kludge youth involvement has become in most situations. Freechild believes we should always aspire to engage youth, and we can begin to do that by making youth involvement meaningful.

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