A lot of well-meaning adults are concerned about “authentic” youth engagement. This is often a code-phrase, one determined to separate the youth who really want to be engaged from those who really don’t want to be engaged. The problem is that is a false premise for any kind of youth engagement.
Adults routinely fail young people throughout our society. Whether its the parent who constantly screams at their six-year-old because “he won’t listen to anything else” or the teacher who resorts to spanking out of frustration, we constantly rely on the tools of oppression to negate the voices and roles of children and youth.
Unfortunately, these types of routine disenfranchisement instills in young people a distrust of adults, resulting in what we label as “apathy,” which is nothing more than a conditioned response to the routine sense of disconnectedness thrusted on all people from the day we’re born.
The results of this perception include adultism, which is the social addiction to the opinions, words, and actions of adults; ephebiphobia, which is the fear of youth; and gerontocracy, in which older people run the show simply because of their age and the assumption that age equates to wisdom or otherwise.
The way to defeating this misconception has little to do with “authentic” youth engagement; rather, it is the commitment adults make to young people that can turn the situation around. Too often adults simply pick the most involved youth to become more involved because they are simply too lazy, too scared, or too disrespectful of different perspectives to engage the historically disengaged youth in our society. I have heard many adults ask, “How can I commit to these youth when I don’t know what will happen? I don’t know if they’ll do what I want them to, or, they don’t know what they really want, so don’t they have to know that before I commit to helping them get it?”
Lots of adults think of committing to youth engagement as a trap. When we truly and authentically experience engagement throughout our lives, our partnerships with young people become windows and doors through which our interactions with the larger communities and world we live in become richer and more meaningful. I prefer that to any simplistic fix offered by the easily engaged. How about you?