Does Your Youth Program Transact or Transform?

Transformational or transactional youth activities
Are your youth activities transformational or transactional?

When was the last time you thought about WHY young people come to your youth program or classroom?

  • Do they come to get jobs, earn money, and in order to become gainfully employed?
  • Are there rewards for attendance or contests for participating?
  • Are youth punished in some way for not attending?

These are traits of a transactional youth activity.

  • Do youth see their capacity to create, build, change, and make the life they want to live as the most important reason for coming?
  • Are adults seeking to learn with youth or take action together for change?
  • Can young people choose whether or not they want to be there and adapt for changing times?

This is a transformational program.

Transactional Youth Activities

A lot of youth programs in general are built on transactional relationships based in giving and receiving, i.e. “I give you this and you get that.” Forming the premise for much of our economy, this type of relationship is evident in…

  • Many schools where students earn grades by performing certain tasks;
  • Stores where youth pay money for food, clothes, music and more;
  • Friendships that are reliant on trading attention when needed.

A lot of youth involvement, youth voice, and youth engagement activities are transactional relationships where young people become involved because they can get a reward for being there. This might be a grade, kuddos from adults, or a bullet point on their resume.

Transactional youth activities have several elements. They…

  • Focus on extrinsic motivation
  • Appear practical
  • Resist change
  • Discourage independent youth actions, thinking and reactions
  • Reward performance
  • Constrain thinking
  • Rely on passive youth voice
  • Deliver directive youth activities
  • Emphasize formal structure
  • Focus youth on their own self-interest and reassure adults’ self-interest

They are also common, and easily compared to other youth-serving activities. Sometimes these relationships are necessary, especially at the outset of a youth activity. However, the challenge is that many adults believe this is the only way to involve young people.

Transformational Youth Activities

Alternatively, Youth Infusion insists that youth and adults join in together because each age group changes because of the interaction. These transformational relationships allow everyone the room they need in order to be whole, become engaged, and make a difference in their own lives as well as the lives of the people around them.

Transformational youth programs have many elements. They…

  • Check adultism
  • Are clearly co-led with youth and adults
  • Encourage healthy risk-taking
  • Engage youth in difficult decision-making
  • Share organizational consciousness between youth and adults
  • Inspire and foster new thinking
  • Adapt, pivot and respond
  • Are proactive
  • Are visionary

Transformational youth activities are unfortunately rare throughout the youth service sector, and throughout education. Throughout their processes, they are revelatory, teaching youth and adults new things while expanding the impact each has on the other and on themselves. By their nature, transformational youth activities are creative, necessitating unique, divergent, and eclectic thinking, actions, and outcomes. Because of this, they are also particularly lifting to those who are involved.

Is your program transactional or transformational? Are you ready for transformation? It’s exciting, rewarding and enlivening to be engaged in transformational work, but can be frustrating to change from one style to the next. It can also be necessary to focus on basic human needs and interact in a transactional way with youth, at least for a period of time.

If you’re ready to explore whether your youth activity, youth program, youth organization or K-12 school can move from transactional to transformational approaches, we want to help. Contact us to learn more about Youth Infusion right now »

That Certain Something

One assumption behind youth infusion is the belief that deliberately, strategically, systemically, sustainably, and powerfully weaving youth throughout organizations will lead to less exclusive, more popular, and more common experiences of youth engagement for every youth in every community, all of the time.

One assumption behind youth infusion is the belief that deliberately, strategically, systemically, sustainably, and powerfully weaving youth throughout organizations will lead to less exclusive, more popular, and more common experiences of youth engagement for every youth in every community, all of the time. 

Unfortunately, that’s not the norm. Instead, a lot of programs are missing that certain something that makes youth infusion different.

Many youth engagement opportunities are based on establishing an ambiguous set of experiences for a certain number of young people to achieve particular outcomes according to the will of adults. Unfortunately, these approaches can result in inequitable, unsustainable and sometimes imperceivable changes in organizations. Worst still, they can feel unjust, unequal, and ill-considered by the very youth who sought to become involved.

Through youth infusion, we’re proposing that organizations can go further with intention. Some of these intentions include:

  • Transform Traits: The innate values, ideas, beliefs and opinions of the people involved including youth and adults
  • Sharpen Skills: The actionable, practical abilities that young people and adults need in order to work together to change the world
  • Capture Knowledge: The concepts, strategies, facts, and other thinking accumulated and created by the people involved in youth infusion
  • Accentuate Actions: These are the tangible steps young people and adults take to make a difference in their own lives, communities and beyond

Once organizations, programs, projects and communities state their intentions in these areas, they separate themselves from typical youth engagement, traditional youth involvement, and stagnate youth voice. Instead, they step forward and make a conscientious choice to transform the world through transformative action with young people.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Self-Care for Youth & Adult Allies

Whether you are younger or older, here are some points you can learn to help with your self-care.

If you are engaging in youth infusion during the pandemic, you might be affected by online activities differently than other people in your family or organization, including other youth and adults, too!

Youth and adult allies need to take care of their mental health, social health, emotional health and physical health. Since people involved in youth infusion can feel more responsibility than many others, we need to be intentional about taking care of ourselves.

Whether you are younger or older, here are some points you can learn to help with your self-care.

1. Watch Your Thinking

Online activities can be isolating for everyone, and being apart from youth and adults can be hard. Adults—including youth workers, teachers, nonprofit leaders and others—should reinforce to young people that they need to maintain their friendships and other relationships. We should do that too! It is actually an important way to develop and build lifelong communication skills, and can also make stressful situations a little more bearable.

Youth and adults should learn together to…

  • Listen to your self-talk. You should give yourself credit for building youth infusion and not be too self-critical
  • Keep things in perspective, try not to gossip, get the facts, and assume the best intent when possible
  • Acknowledge to themselves and others when things are weird, whether during the pandemic or otherwise
  • Remember changing to online activities can be hard work for yourself, and remember that nobody should be expected to get everything right
  • Its essential to take breaks when needed

2. Keep In Touch

Youth infusion can be hard on emotional and mental health, especially when we’re working online! It is common for both youth and adults to feel more depressed or anxious during conference calls, video trainings, or other online activities, especially during the pandemic. Many people are still figuring out how to adjust to programs, learning and activities that requires so much self-motivation. This can make young people and adults feel guilty or stressed for not infusing youth enough into their organizations, movements or lives. 

Adults and youth should learn together that…

  • Communication and collaboration makes the distance feel less distant between partners, including young people and older people
  • It’s important for youth and adults to take time to do things with people other than youth infusion activities. They should know that living youth infusion all the time can make it hard to separate from non-infused life from the rest of life
  • Many young people and adults are dealing with similar hard things in online activities, and they aren’t alone

3. You’re Not Alone

It can be boring and feel repetitive to be on the computer for every interaction with youth and adults. Learning we’re not alone, even if we’re one our own at home during the day, is important for youth infusion.

Youth and adults should learn to…

  • Talk to other people—including other students and adults—about what they’re struggling with and how they are taking action
  • Find hobbies, ways to relax, and healthy places to process difficult feelings brought on by youth infusion, whether online or in-person
  • Be encouraged to focus on the positives as much as possible

4. Move Your Body

Sitting in front of a screen all day is hard on your eyes and your whole body. Feeling responsible for youth infusion can add to those difficulties. Remember that, even though young people and adults are exercising our minds throughout the day, our bodies needs care too. In addition to helping with learning, moving can help with mental and emotional challenges too. Things like stress and depression can affect the body in physical ways too.

Youth and adults should learn to…

  • Stretch, take walks and breaks, and get outside if they can
  • Pay attention to posture and go easy on their backs
  • Keep a routine with things like food, sleep, etc.
  • Exercise to release toxic thoughts and stress, whether its simple or complicated activity


These are just a few thoughts about what young people and adults should learn about self-care. What would YOU add?