Engaging the Whole, Entire, 100% Young Person

I often ask groups to explore different parts of the lives of children and youth. “Schools,” “video games,” “home,” “church,” “friends,” “downtown,” “families,” and on they list. Its funny how we conscript young people to the places they belong and the things they do, rather than who they are. There are different activities used in my workshops to get at that question in different ways, and I like to think that eventually participants leaving thinking about young people as people first; that is, complex, multi-faceted and broad human beings who, like themselves, are unfinished, and who will hopefully never think of themselves as finished (and who we should never think of as such). 

In that image of the “whole young person” I find that as adults, and even as young people, we’re unable to envision the whole life of children and youth. We don’t easily identify the interplay between health and service and family and government and learning and friendship and culture and all those dynamics that enliven, enrich and otherwise make us who we are. Instead, because of our programmatic thinking, we tend to see young people as a singular phenomenom. This youth acts that way, as if it were that simple. In reality, this youth acts this way when they are with us in this setting at this particular moment with these particular peers present that that particular song playing the background. In another moment *poof* they may literally become a completely different person.
What does this mean for programs that attempt to foster engagement throughout the lives of young people? Highly adaptive, totally personalized approaches. There are more programs and resources attempting to address this today than ever before. I have reviewed and seen employed the ASCD’s Whole Child model, which takes multiple perspectives – including students’ – into account. Yesterday a colleague at the Washington State Department of Health also shared this important paper by Joseph Grady and Axel Aubrun of Cultural Logic LLC. My allies at the Innovation Center also offer a dynamic resource from a meeting they held in 2005 about youth engagement across cultures. A First Nations-serving organization in Canada developed a landmark agenda for Ethical Youth Engagement a few years ago, and Jessica Bynoe of the Academy for Educational Development released a paper this year called “Confronting the Glass Ceiling of Youth Engagement.” Each of these resources digs into the reality that no matter what our best intentions it takes more than simple gestures towards engagement for every young person to make meaning from their life everyday.
As youth voice receives more attention in our programming, as youth involvement becomes more of a normative trait throughout our communities, and as engagement is more clearly defined as a desired outcome throughout life, it becomes more imperative to look at all the factors affecting each of these areas. We must begin by considering how we engage the whole, entire, 100% young person – and move forward from there.

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