Making Room in Our Work for the Youth Perspective
Thursday, February 15th, 2018
By: María Cristina Pacheco Alcalá, Project Coordinator, with significant contributions from Patricia Celis, Bilingual Content Coordinator
Do you remember when you were 12? According to Eric Erickson, author of the Psychosocial Development Theory, this age marks the start of adolescence, a period which is characterized by identity crisis and confusion of roles. With this blog, we want to share some reflections aimed at helping promote a youth approach, including concrete steps from a viewpoint of respecting and empowering youth.
Approximately 33% (107 million) of the total U.S. population is between 0 to 25 years old; of that portion, 9% are between 19 and 24 years old and 24% between 0 and 18. Between the ages of 12 and 18, youth are not yet adults nor are they children. This development transitional period from childhood to adulthood often present a difficult duality where as children they still need limits, guidance, and protection while as adults they also start to carry adult responsibilities.
Applying a youth perspective to our work involves taking their developmental characteristics into consideration and recognizing their capacity to contribute to society. This work approach also understands the importance of assigning youth roles that are appropriate to their age.
Certain social contexts such as poverty and instability, can lead adults to assign youth roles that don’t correspond to their age. While providing direct services, we have seen parents assign youth responsibilities of caring for younger siblings and/or elderly relatives while they are at work. It also becomes challenging for parents to find care and activities for teenagers that are suitable for their age.
Applying a youth perspective means inviting young people to constantly maintain a dialogue that allows us to understand their opinions, needs, and interests. This should happen as part of a framework that recognizes their needs and contribution capabilities. The goal of applying a youth perspective is to give youth an active role as indispensable players in the decision-making process in our society (in families, communities, school, etc.).
The youth perspective should be applied not only when working with youth but should also be incorporated as a tool in all areas, so that their wisdom and contributions can be taken into consideration at all levels. That’s why it is essential to use this approach as a tool to attain a better future created not only by the influence of adults who carry the responsibility of transforming society but also by considering everyone’s opinions.
In society, some ideas and stereotypes are often attributed to youth, but those ideas often lack real foundation or haven’t been validated from a youth perspective. For example, some people may say that young people are lazy; however, they don’t ask them whether they are interested in a job or what type of employment would interest them. This is why it’s important to foster a dialogue to promote opportunities for youth and to dismantle prejudices and stereotypes that exist around them, thus creating a culture of continuous exchanges that bring youth and adults together and allows for the exchange of mutual knowledge.
When the opinions, needs, and interests of the youth are not considered, this can create a feeling of exclusion that could affect and slow their development. The youth approach seeks to eliminate that exclusion and create integration to close the gap between youth and adults. Young people who regularly feel heard and included develop a healthy self-esteem that gives them more security to express their opinions.
The youth perspective is a theoretical-practical approach to social action and community engagement. It consists of working collaboratively toward creating ideas and alternatives that benefit everyone. Although it can sometimes become a challenge to develop projects that prioritize young people’s best interests in the decision-making process, it’s worthwhile to accept the challenge and work in that direction.
Some questions we can ask ourselves to assess whether we are integrating a youth perspective in our initiatives are:
- When we have made decisions, have we considered the impact they will have on the lives of the youth?
- Who took part in the decision making process?
- Was the youth included in the decision making process?
- What can we do to increase the youth participation in the development of our work plans?
- Do we give it importance to integrating the opinion of the youth in the decisions that we make?
There are several initiatives that promote change in connecting with youth. Ban Ki-moon, UN General Secretary, has said that “young people should have opportunities to play an active role in the decision-making processes at local, national and global levels.” At Casa de Esperanza, we developed and implemented several initiatives alongside youth program participants, making sure the initiatives fully incorporated their input. These initiatives have allowed our work to positively impact youths’ lives long-term, and as a result they have become leaders and activists.
We invite you to dedicate time to converse with youth — exchange plans and ideas, evaluate options together, propose initiatives, present alternatives and, of course, negotiate. It will not be a short nor easy process but it will show that you are committed to including the youth perspective in the achievement of better collective results.
If you would like more information about our youth programs, feel free to contact María Cristina Pacheco, Project Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d also love to hear from your organization about any work or initiatives that incorporate youth voices.