by Aly Tropea
Working with Young People means actually having to listen.
Do you ever think “Why ask me for advice if you’re just going to ignore it?”. Whether it be a colleague asking for your input on a group project, a friend planning a trip somewhere you’ve been many times before, or a spouse asking for your opinion on redecorating the house, it happens to us all at some point that you get asked for help but that advice you take the time to give back gets ignored. It can be frustrating when people seek you out purposefully for your input, only to completely disregard it in the end.
I attended the workshop Actionable Knowledge & Helpful Tools for Engaging Young People from Diverse Backgrounds on the morning of day 2 of our conference and this was a theme that I think many people did not consider before. When working with youth, YATI presenters Garett and Leila explained that youth should be included in decisions, and not in a tokenism kind of way. For example, you want to include a young person on your board but don’t want to give them a vote? Unfair. What’s even more unfair is when you assume that that 1 young person can represent an entire community of young people. Integrating youth into more of your planning will make for better outreach. That doesn’t mean having to give them carte blanche, though. The role of the adult is still one of authority and security, but by giving them more time and guidance to develop their own process to problem solve ways to uphold community efforts, you may just be surprised by the outcome.
To young people, they should feel like the sky’s the limit in their ability to grow their potential and excel in this world. So maybe you can provide them with a creative outlet to express themselves. Setting goals of achievement are important and adults can be consulted for direction on how to achieve goals, but youth should be able to come to the conclusion on what those achievements are by themselves. If in your diverse community, you want to instill a sense of ownership and responsibility among your teens, ask them to take charge in planning an activity or event that children will partake in and that the teens will have to plan from beginning to end. By offering leadership and guidance, but by also providing a safe space for creativity and ideas to flow freely, young people will become less apprehensive to breach more important subjects such as substance abuse or family issues with you later on.
We explored Roger Hart’s ladder of participation (see below):
We took a look at how adult influence in youth activities can range from manipulation to equality. Our goals should not and cannot always be to have to achieve youth engagement at the rung 8 level, but implementing the uses of a mixture of the top 5 rungs, young people should begin to feel a sense of confidence in their work and be able to take on more responsibility and autonomy.
By allowing them this autonomy, they will begin to take charge and excel in new ways that you may not have thought up in your initial planning. Although certain barriers may seem to exist currently, such as the need to have set plans and timelines, a more effective strategy of engaging youth even in the planning process will reap better rewards. This may mean having to rework your planning and scheduling to accomodate more inclusive conversation around upcoming programs. It is sometimes hard to ask for several people's input on program development simply because of the "too many cooks in the kitchen" idealogy. But, the reality is that if programs are being developed for youth, they should be developed with youth in mind right from the planning stages -- and that means having to ask them. Once a new timeline and scheduling system is in place and youth are feeling more confident that they are being heard, programming for youth should come more naturally and you may find that having more hands on deck might actually be a great thing!