Recently, I was called to a meeting where it was requested that we BYOD, Bring Your Own Device. It seemed ridiculous to me at first, as I thought that people who were inclined to bring their own devices already would. But when I got there, we were led through activities that could only be done online with a device. People without a device—a phone, tablet, or laptop—were left out or had to mooch off their neighbor.
There is absolutely no way I’m advocating for this in youth programs, even though I’ve seen it in some. Its ignorant, privileged, and genuinely excessive to assume that young people, no matter what social strata they’re from, have the capability to access technology in the ways adults want them to, whenever they want them to.
However, one of the most effective ways to engage young people is to meet them where they are right now, rather than insist they come to where we want them to be. This happens in one of two primary ways:
- Literally—Rather than have programming at your facility, have programming where young people in your community already spend their time. If they spend a lot of their afterschool time at a neighborhood park, hold programs there. If they spend time at other nonprofit programs, hold programs there. Same thing with shopping malls, gyms, even homes.
- Figuratively—In activities, attitudes, and culture, rather than insisting young people act like you, behave like you, think like you, and do think you do as an adult, you can meet them where they’re at by using the technology they use, interacting with the culture they absorb, and utilizing the values and attitudes they hold.
Both of these require adults to step out on a limb. They mean that we have to step outside the relative safety of our defined programming spaces, our intentional curriculum, our social class or culturally-accepted practices, or our adult-biased attitudes. In order to do any of that, we have to acknowledge and accept that our way may not be the only way.
More importantly though, this approach shows us that we can work together with young people. That lays a foundation for establishing real partnerships with children and youth, and opens the door to creating substantive, sustainable opportunities for young people to become meaningfully involved throughout the operations of the programs that target them every day.