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Why Not A Century of Youth?

Image: Year of Youth

The United Nations has designated August 2010-11 as the International Year of Youth, subtitled Our Youth Our Voice.

According to the United Nations web site, “The International Year is about advancing the full and effective participation of youth in all aspects of society. We encourage all sectors of society to work in partnership with youth and youth organizations to better understand their needs and concerns and to recognize the contributions that they can make to society."

Who can argue about a year of nations focusing on youth? Well, I can!

It is understood by most that this Century will be full of change: changes in the world of work (many children today will work in jobs that yet to be developed), changes in the world of economics (systems across nations impacting each other), changes in politics (balancing individual rights with social responsibilities) and changes in relationships (personal and social networking).

As these changes occur youth can either be the catalysts or passive recipients of change. I believe youth are interested in being catalysts for change but do need to gain the knowledge, skills and dispositions to adequately create and sustain change for the common good.

It is not enough for adults to “recognize the contributions that they (youth) can make to society” rather they need to create conditions where youth can acquire and enhance the capabilities to consistently contribute to the common good.
This is why I advocate for a Century of Youth, establishing institutional, organizational and societal policies and practices that truly engage youth as leaders.

The following are suggestions that institutions and organizations can take to establish a culture and climate to maximize the contributions of youth.
Be willing and ready to really listen and learn from youth;
  • Create a safe, nurturing and equitable environment for youth to feel valued and offer their input and ideas;
  • Share leadership with youth;
  • Provide opportunities for youth to serve on boards and committees as full-fledged members (offering the same responsibilities as adults);
  • Create opportunities for youth to share their experiences, insights and wisdom to determine policies and effective practices;
  • Engage youth as providers/facilitators of professional development and technical assistance to increase the knowledge and skills of adults and youth to effectively work together;
  • Encourage other adults, organizations and institutions to effectively engage youth as full-fledged participants and leaders; and
  • Monitor adult-youth collaborations, continuous improve interactions and celebrate outcomes and impacts of effective youth engagement.
If adults, organizations, groups and institutions effectively engage youth there will be challenges but following the strategies suggested above the results will be greater than short-term efforts “to better understand their needs and concerns and to recognize the contributions that they can make to society.”

These are long-term “game changing” strategies that will make significant positive differences in our society today and far into the future.

About the Author: Terry Pickeral received his undergraduate degree from the University of Hawaii and his graduate degree from the University of British Columbia (Canada). He co-chairs the National School Climate Council and serves on the following boards: Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning (CIRCLE); Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools (CMS); Organization of American States Inter-American Program on Education for Democratic Values and Practices and the Service Learning Panamerican Network. You can e-mail Terry at terry.pickeral@cascadeeducationalconsultants.com

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