Many people want young people to feel connected and enthusiastic about their communities, their organizations or their learning. However, there is a large segment of the population that simply do not know what to do when it comes to meaningfully and deliberately engage youth in a sustainable way. For those folks, their best intentions are sometimes undermined by their own ignorance.
Now, this list is clearly a farce, and I am not serious. However, instead of naming names and showing the ugly side of Freechild and SoundOut’s work to the world, I thought this would be a safer, more just way to show that sometimes youth engagement dies. These are just some of the ways that happens.
The following are 10 ways that you can kill youth engagement.
10. Make decisions for youth without youth. Rules? Program themes? Evaluation topics? Activities? If you want to really disconnect young people, make as many decisions for them – without them – as possible. BONUS STRATEGY: If doable, have children and youth in the room when you make decisions for them.
9. Be the designated driver. Somebody needs to tell youth what to think and where to go – why not you? Simply whisper in the ears of children and youth as frequently as possible, or when there is a loggerhead, see strategy #10.
8. Filter what is said and done. Don’t let your perceptions of young peoples’ inability and lack of knowledge get in the way of the group! Step up and say for children and youth what they can say for themselves. BONUS STRATEGY: Tell them that you don’t believe they can speak for themselves, and speak for them.
7. Throw them into the fire. Don’t teach children and youth about the issues they are supposed to be addressing, or about the possibilities they might not know about. Instead, simply take ’em outta the pot and throw them into the fire.
6. Defeat young people behind their backs. After young people have attended and participated, and once they leave the room or the program or the class, simply refute everything they said. Explain that you do not have the time, patience or interest in what they say, and work to undo everything young people said or did in a deconstructive, anti-collaborative fashion.
5. Privately deny young people. You can do this overtly by saying things to the effect of, “We don’t want to hear from you right now,” or, “Kids are better seen and not heard.” BONUS STRATEGY: When young people speak up or show up, stand in front of them or speak over them – no matter the time or place. Show your adult power and gloat to young people about your power as often as possible.
4. Sabotage young people as often as possible. Once children and youth have experienced successful activities or outcomes from initiatives where they engaged, go behind their backs and undo everything they did. You connect with other adults better than youth – show that! You know they system better than those kids – act like it! You can vote, drive, go to movies and generally do whatever you want to without fear of status offenses or adult retribution – show that!
3. Publicly deny young people. After children and youth have been successful creating change or transforming cultures, stand in front of the TV cameras and microphones and refute their actions. Go to parents and teachers and youth workers, politicians and officials and others, and explain to them that “those” youth were wrong. Be adamant, show evidence and research, and simply exert your strength and willpower over the actions of youth.
2. Manipulate youth – and then tell them. Now we are getting really dastardly, and anyone who does these things should wear a mustache like Snidley Whiplash. First, lure children and youth into your activity by promising them rewards like class credit or cash. Then squeeze their words and actions out of them: Have them write a book, lead a course, facilitate a conference or some other such thing. Then, when its all said and done, tell the young people that you simply used them to fulfill a grant objective or assessment item! Mo-ha-ha! BONUS STRATEGY: Tell them what they did does not really matter, and then see Strategy #3.
1. Punish young people for becoming engaged. It sounds preposterous and self-defeating, and maybe that the point! As soon as young people become enthusiastic and connected to the task at hand or goal in mind, explain that they should not be so connected. After they spent all morning on the bus to get there, then they get there, tell them you are not going to meet today. When young people finish, take their accomplishment away from them by letting it “rot on the vine”. Show children and youth that caring hurts, and act like it.