Types of Youth Experiences

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Adults often think all the different ways we listen to youth voice equal to youth engagement. I believe youth voice is not the same as youth engagement. Young people can be engaged through youth voice experiences, and many others. These types of youth experiences should be clarified before we talk about youth engagement specifically. They are:

  • Youth awareness
  • Youth observation
  • Youth participation
  • Youth involvement



Types of Youth Experiences
I have seen the following types of experiences emerge among youth repeatedly over my 20+ years of youth work. Working with a group of youth at a recent conference, I describe the following four types, including where they most frequently happen.

  • Youth Awareness. The most basic way youth experience anything is through awareness, which is to understand something exists. Employing their mind, most youth awareness happens through exposure, and that is the extent of their experience with it. Youth awareness most frequently occurs through the media, family settings, and social memes
  • Youth Observation. Those who take that a step further use their powers of observation. Different from youth awareness, youth observation happens when young people watch something in a one-way fashion. This can happen through videos, in-person, or any way that moves beyond mere awareness without interaction. Now we are observing it using one of our senses. Youth observation most frequently occurs through the Internet, social and educational settings, and the general public.
  • Youth Participation. From there, experience tilts towards interaction. If youth are passively interested in something, they might become involved with whatever they’re connecting with, moving towards youth participation. This happens when young people start to kinesthetically interact with something. They attempt to alter, move, or otherwise change a thing with their presence, whether by choice or coincidence. Youth participation most frequently happens in school, at home, and in other non-peer driven spaces. 
  • Youth Involvement. When young people decide they deliberately want to interact something, they might look for logical entryways into the system that thing belongs to. In sports, this may mean choosing to join a team; in politics, its becoming a Legislative page or candidate campaigner; in nonprofits, it may mean fundraising or joining a board of directors. This is youth involvement, and it happens whenever a young person intentionally becomes involved in a system. Youth involvement most frequently occurs in youth-driven spaces and social environments.

When young people become sustainably connected to something within or outside themselves, they become engaged. One of the four avenues above must happen before youth engagement occurs; however, none of the above automatically causes youth engagement. The locations of these types of engagement is not mandatory, and all types of engagement can occur within one space, and vice versa. Each of these types of engagement can also affect and be affected by perceptions of youth.



CommonAction is available to train, coach, speak, and write about this topic across the US and Canada. Contact Adam to learn about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360) 489-9680.



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