Democracy demands active, involved and engaged citizens taking almost-constant action to make societies better places. Counting as more than 25% of the human population, children and youth are routinely, consistently and constantly left out of governments at all levels today. However, growing numbers of local, state, national and international government bodies are engaging young people. Bringing together youth and government can transform societies and change the world in countless ways.
“Words like ”freedom,’ ‘justice,’ ‘democracy” are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous and, above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.”— James Baldwin
Ways Youth can Change the World through the Government
Youth as Policy-Makers — Empowering young people to participate as full-fledged policy-makers includes providing educating nontraditional youth leaders, providing substantive opportunities for action, and training adults as allies throughout the process. Through meaningful youth involvement, young people can transform systems, empower communities and infuse adult-driven institutions with youth power.
Community Youth Development — When young people are systemically involved throughout their communities, applying powerful skills and knowledge along the way, they can shift governments into action and encourage powerful transformation. Community youth development can also build the capacities of children and youth, their peers, families and others to change the world, too!
Service Learning — Combining meaningful service with real classroom learning goals can give students substantive opportunities to improve government services, engage more people in democratic processes, and ensure people stay informed and empowered through action. Service learning can teach students vital knowledge and build their skills to change the world. When infused in government, it can be more real than ever!
Things Youth Need to Change the World through the Government
Opportunities — There must be substantial and inclusive opportunities for young people of all ages to affect governance. This can happen at the neighborhood level through community associations; at the village, town or city level by getting youth on board, creating positions for youth as city council members, or lowering the local voting age; at the county and parish level by creating youth action boards and lowering the voting age; at the state and provincial levels in many ways, including youth as staff and youth empowerment activities; and on the federal and international levels. These must be fully empowered, fully trained and focused on youth mainstreaming.
Training — Young people need high quality, practical training on the ways government operates, what difference it makes and why it matters to be involved. Focused on skill development, training can include communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Emphasizing knowledge-sharing, training can focus on democratic purpose, government functions and interacting with the public.
Inspiration — Young people need to know what government is, what government does and most importantly, how government operates. Without pedantic traditional classroom teaching styles, they should learn function, purpose, operation and outcomes, as well as how to successfully advocate for what matters most to them, their families and their communities.
- Authentic Youth Civic Engagement: A Guide for Municipal Leaders by the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families
- Youth participation in government programmes in Uganda by International AlertUganda Parliamentary Forum on Youth Affairs
- “Youth Voice in Local Government” City of Makato, Minnesota
- “Child and youth participation resource guide: Involvement in political decision-making” by UNICEF
- Division of Youth Engagement and Employment, City of Boston, Massachusetts
- Youth Commission, City of San Francisco
- “Establish Opportunities for Authentic Youth Voice in Government” by the Center for the Study of Social Policy
- “Future Civic Leaders Fosters Youth Participation in Government” by Bridget Bowman for Roll Call
- Building Effective Youth Councils A Practical Guide to Engaging Youth in Policy Making by Shanetta Martin, Karen Pittman, Thaddeus Ferber and Ada McMahon for the Forum for Youth Investment
Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support youth engagement in government in your community or organization, contact us.