Wording Youth & Social Change (Language 102)

The following are some explorations of the multitude of terms that I’m working out in relationship to what is addressed at Freechild and what I often hear “in the field” – youth agencies, schools, and other kinds of places. I hope that by defining these we can begin to make these terms less ambiguous, and consequently less likely candidates for the co-opting and abusive use many currently suffer at the hands of “well-meaning”, yet under-informed, youth and adults.

Youth Participation – After surfacing in the US during the 1970s, today this phrase generally includes any form of activity for young people, at home, in their community, at their school, or throughout society. Recreation, education, welfare, employment, civic activities and familial action are all included. This phrase is particularly popular in international circles, including the United Nations and many multi-nation CBOs (nonprofit orgs).

Youth Involvement – Popularized by the youth voice movement of the 1990s, today this phrase popularly entails a variety of activities that focus on formal roles created for young people in organizational leadership. These may include planning activities, research projects, decision-making positions, evaluation and monitoring duties, as well as training, teaching, mentoring, tutoring, and similar activities.

Youth Engagment – Broadly interpeted by any activity specifically designed to heighten young peoples’ sense of belonging, ownership, and purpose in their places of belonging.

Youth Empowerment – Instilling, bestowing, granting, imposing, or imbuing a sense of ability or “power” through acknowledging, educating, positioning, or otherwise authorizing young people with knowledge, skill, strength, or traits.

Youth Civic Engagement – The sythesis of all activities where young people become constructively active in the life of their community. Often misunderstood as being only formalized opportunities for activity, such as voting or joining city commissions.

Youth Social Entreprenuership – Mission-focused, youth-led private entrepreneurial ventures that organize, create, and manage social change activities. Popular forms include youth cafes, socially-oriented Internet firms, and t-shirt companies catering to youth groups.

Youth Voice – Any expression of any young person’s vision, ideas, thoughts, opinions, knowledge, or beliefs. This may include verbal, visual, or artistic activities (or inactivity) that is constructive, destructive, reflective, expressive, infomative, intentional, or accidental.

Youth Activism – Deliberative activities that seek to create change in a community. May be individual or group-inclusive; outwardly expressive or inwardly reflective. Includes traditional forms of direct action, such as picketing, teach-ins and marches, as well as modern forms, like cultural jamming, ethical living, and participatory action research. Related term: Youth-led Community Organizing – anytime young people intentionally engage their larger community in social activism.

All this is to say that there are many facets to the spectrum of activities that are happening around the world today. The Freechild Project attempts to address these by acknowledging the spectrum of activities and issues addressed by young people; perhaps our future includes the acknowledgement of the diverse thinking that happens before, during, and after all that work. We’ll see!

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