Successful youth engagement depends on developing mature, respectful relationships between the generations. This model illustrates a continuum of adult perspectives of youth, starting at apathy and leading to the ideal of solidarity.
Apathy occurs when individuals or groups are indifferent towards youth and young adults. Apathy is obvious when an organization involved in civic life or community development doesn’t have outreach specifically for youth and young adults.
This perspective represents a completely top-down perspective by older adults toward youth and young adults. Pity takes away the ability of youth to change the world by erasing their self-esteem and their sense of urgency and purpose. Pity is apparent when programs present activities to youth and young adults with no consideration of whether they want or need those activities or whether they could provide them for themselves.
Sympathy is apparent when adults give youth what they apparently cannot acquire for themselves. These may be physical things, time or money, offered from a position of compassion. Sympathetic actions may make older adults feel better about themselves, but the process disengages youth from actively creating knowledge or resources. Sympathy is another topdown perspective, positioning adults to give without acknowledging the receipt of anything in return.
Reciprocity is at the core of an empathetic perspective of youth, which allows adults to see youth in a more equitable way. Each person acknowledges the other as a partner, and each is invested in the outcomes of the others’ perspective.
Solidarity allows for complete equity, fully recognizing the benefits and challenges in relationships between older adults and youth. Possibilities abound.
Adults can use this model to critically and creatively reflect on their own attitudes, behaviors and perspectives toward youth. As individuals and groups develop the skills and attitudes to achieve solidarity with youth, their efforts and programs will become more successful.