I believe the single best thing adults can do to engage young people throughout society is to become engaged throughout society ourselves. Building feelings of connection, purpose and belonging should be the central goal of all our life work, whether we are youth workers, teachers or janitors. By actively engaging in the world around us, not only do we enrich our lives but the lives of young people around us.
As a parent I struggle to stay connected throughout my daughter’s life. At six, I think it’s important to actively demonstrate to her the ways that I belong in the world around me. But volunteering isn’t the only way I do that. Every time I walk to my landlord’s house to pay the rent, I take her with to show her the value of that interaction. I like her seeing me banter with tellers in the supermarket, and being polite to people serving us in different places. The times we roam through the park we make a point of cleaning what we can, and I try to explain whatever I can to her when I help strangers or do the other things that we just do.
I believe we have to take this same approach in any situation where we interact with children and youth. We have to illustrate the connections we have with the community around us whenever we have the opportunity. Adults can engage in work in meaningful ways; we can engage in our neighborhoods and community groups in meaningful ways; we can engage in our families and with our friends in meaningful ways. My experience as a youth worker and parent have shown me this is the most effective way to teach young people about engagement. Its only from that place that we can tell the stories and share the exercises useful in rounding out the perspectives young people have about the world around them.
Developing and acknowledging opportunities for engagement throughout our lives is the first step to modeling engagement with young people. The next is more personal… stay tuned!