Youth engagement happens way into young adulthood. During one of my recent training events, participants were fixated on the end of youth. “When is youth over?” “How do youth move on?” “Can we just declare a youth finished?”
“Youth” is never finished. We are all always youth, and we can never truly leave our youth behind us. I believe that “Youth,” as a time of life, is about change at home, in school, and throughout our lives. However, its also a place in-and-of-itself. To paraphrase Alfie Kohn, youth aren’t just adults-in-the-making. Youth are people right now. Sure, youth change and move and shift, but adults do that too.
Youth engagement is no different from this. The foundation of engagement we experience (or do not experience) as youth stays with us for all of our lives. As youth become young adults, communities and organizations can foster and sustain their engagement. One important way to do that is to teach youth about giving back what they have received, or reciprocity. This powerful transition moves young people from being those who are engaged to being those who engage others.
Young adulthood is a cautionary place in time though. The forces of work, college, and social life pull at the desire to be involved throughout communities. As a consequence, many young adults become disengaged from the activities that once sustained them. That makes it essential to develop and maintain partnering relationships with young adults as they move along this transition. Our programs, organizations, and communities need to encourage young adults to stay connected through concrete action and involvement throughout their communities.
Do not let go of young adults. Spend time together so they learn what responsible adults do, from bill-paying to participating in committees to leading protests. Teach young adults that adulthood is about responsibility and privilege in equal measures, and they will neither turn away from it nor lose their connection with youth.