Its Not Rocket Science

We need to do things entirely different than we ever have before. That much is generally agreed upon by anyone who believes in youth voice, engaging young people, children’s participation, and youth rights.

However, from that point, some adults treat youth integration as if it were rocket science. We go about creating elaborate schemes to listen to youth voice, make special accommodations to give children control in special circumstances, and develop sophisticated strategies to appeal to young people of all stripes. However, none of these approaches are the answer.

There is no one answer.

We know that if we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got. The issue is that many well-meaning adults inadvertently perpetuate the ways things have always been done. I believe that any activity that falls in the realm of convenient youth voice is one generally one that will give us what we’ve always got.

These activities set aside youth voice, creating particular circumstances and conditions where young people get special treatment and produce special outcomes. This is just like all other youth leadership activities have always done. Programs, activities, and events designed to engage young people in special ways will always inherently fail, as they put youth on pedestals and create anomalous experiences that do not reveal the effectiveness of all young people everyday.

That is what our programs, activities, events, strategies, and schemes to promote the integration of young people should do. Things that are non-typical, unexpected, and marginally- to mostly-inconvenient for adults should dominate our work as they push boundaries and rock the boat. In the same way that many young people have learned to be suspicious of adults who are reasonable, we should reconsider whether our activities are too easy.

This thinking is not rocket science. Instead of creating another special conference, holding another particular youth day, or making another program that pulls kids out of class to show them how to change their class, we need to integrate the positive power, potential, and possibilities of young people right into the very places that serve children and youth everyday. Classrooms, homes, community groups, faith communities, and every place young people are should learn how to integrate young people. Our programs should focus on that.

Albert Einstein taught us about this 60 years ago when he wrote, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Creating another leadership program, another conference, another advisory council or action team, all of these are the same kind of thinking. Rather than appeal to traditional youth leaders with convenient youth activities, adults and youth-serving organizations need to create nontraditional approaches to youth engagement and new avenues towards appealing to all young people.

Well-meaning adults often assume they’re doing children and youth of all stripes a favor by hosting them. Its time to reconsider our actions and plot a new course. Its not rocket science- it takes commitment, creativity, and compassion, but its not rocket science.

  • What are the farthest reaches of action adults can take with young people? 
  • Where are the spaces young people can occupy with adults as allies? 
  • How can adults make safe, supportive environments that foster sustainable connections for all young people? 

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