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Do You Have These 10 Critical Character Traits?

Building a collegial partnership with teens is altogether different from the traditional power dynamics so common with a parent, educator, or authority figure.

When introducing the concept of infusing teens into various organizational operations, the flood of reactions from most adults is predictably negative. 

My nephew is obsessed with online gaming. 

My friend’s 16-year-old daughter is so lazy and clueless. 

These kids don’t want to have anything to do with us. 

This crime wave . . . I’m scared of them. 

Adults must take off their hat as a parent, aunt, educator or other authority figure to see each young person as an individual. To unlock the minds of the rising generation to imagine a better society, analyze problems, and develop strategies to pursue real change together, the responsibility rests with adults to demonstrate authentic respect and build genuine rapport. A collegial partnership is altogether different from the power dynamics so common with a mom or dad, teacher or principal, etc. 

  Encourage us. Build on our ideas. That gives us the confidence we need.  – Melissa K.

Essential Soft Skills for Sustained Collaboration

  1. Optimist – Hold onto hope as the antidote to cynicism
  2. Listener – Develop a “Third Ear” to be open to new thinking
  3. Learner – Keep your imagination faucet open
  4. Advocate – Share your own pragmatic idealism 
  5. Communicator – Text or talk 1:1 outside of meetings 
  6. Comedian – Joke and laugh
  7. Infomaniac – Explain relevant organizational efforts and future plans
  8. Choreographer – Connect teens with other staff and organizations
  9. Honest Broker – Establish feedback loops to respond to ideas
  10. Catalyst – Implement proposals as quickly as possible to show change happens

The passing of my very dear friend and wonderful colleague inspired this list of character traits. Pat Moore Harbour, PhD possessed them all. She served as the catalyst for my involvement with one of the Kettering Foundation’s Research Learning Exchanges that builds off her book, Community Educators: A Resource for Educating and Developing Our Youth

Contagious Curiosity

Given my dogmatic and persistent nature, I challenge the prevailing mindset of adults doing “to” and “for” youth. Pat and I had dozens of conversations where she showed such respect and curiosity about my approach that young people be recognized as wise community educators, influencing their peers as well as adults and the community at large. Instead of viewing youth as “under construction,” we often talked about our kinship with older colleagues who are committed to anti-ageist multi-racial collaboration. 

When discussing the concept of youth infusion – especially those under age 18 – in adult-run nonprofits and government agencies, Pat always was intrigued and honest. Her sense of possibility led her to emphasize the role of young people as “co-producers.” She embraced collaboration “with” youth – the key preposition and title of the recent book by David Mathews, founder of the Kettering Foundation (read more about WITH  here).

I was eager to discuss with Pat these two studies that conclude most adults lack her curiosity and interest in intergenerational interdependence. She would have shared her contagious optimistic outlook. 

Every conversation with Pat was a joy. Children laugh 300 times a day and the average for adults drops to only 15. She had me laughing and rethinking all the time.

Many of my closest friends and colleagues are not open to this concept of engaging with teens as genuine thought partners but I will not give up because of Pat’s spirit that will endure. How fortunate I am to carry Pat in my head and heart!

Photo credit: Dr. Pat Moore Harbour

Boost Your Org’s Talent Pool

Two film clips will challenge your thinking about the impact of intergenerational teamwork!

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez was in his mid-teens when his speech in Washington, DC to protest construction of the Keystone Pipeline XL captivated my attention. Now age 21, he has built his own leadership pipeline, as youth director of Earth Guardians and acclaimed hip hop artist. It is no surprise this multi-talented activist is one of the youth plaintiffs in a landmark climate lawsuit.

This pending case claims the federal government’s actions “violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.”

This is a trailer for Youth v Gov, a documentary on Netflix.

In the new documentary Youth v Gov on Netflix, you will meet 20 other plaintiffs who joined this case back in 2018. Each individual has gained a repertoire of talents, for example, the youngest plaintiff Levi, now 14, appeared on 60 Minutes

Many teens get involved trying ‘to right a wrong’ as very young children. Many start volunteering in their community or do a service-learning project which can lead to what I describe as the pistachio nut habit: once you get a taste for activism, you want to do more.

Idealism and impatience — traits that fade with age — lead young people to test dozens of ways to recruit diverse allies, promote their cause, build coalitions, present effective testimony to elected officials, etc. Real world hands-on learning is remarkable and fast.

Truly a Win-Win

Civic spark plugs like Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (pictured above at the podium outside the US Supreme Court) have mind-boggling skills. But each of the other plaintiffs contribute unique talents that accrue at a phenomenal clip. Each experience, including legal setbacks, fuels new learning and strategic thinking that benefit the cause.

The impact of intergenerational interdependence on older people deserves more attention. Youth v Gov reveals how younger minds oxygenate and augment adult-run organizations. Watch these two short clips from the documentary.  

  • Can you imagine this level of intergenerational camaraderie at a future retreat of your organization? (Cue to 10:30 – 13:26)
  • Can you visualize the senior leadership team being so energized by their collaboration with a solid cadre of young colleagues? (Cue to 1:27:39 – 1:28:18) 

No Attrition or Burnout

One common concern is that it’s not worth collaborating with young people because they will move on within a few months. Often the opposite is true. Genuine respect, authentic collaboration, and new dynamic opportunities increase the odds for long-term commitment.

It’s been seven years since filing Juliana v. United States by Our Children’s Trust. The staying power of these 21 plaintiffs persists. Adversity often strengthens resolve.

Recently the four plaintiffs from Florida initiated a statewide petition for renewable energy that resulted in a proposed regulation that was announced last month at a news conference with two of these activists. Many of these individuals are building their own leadership pipelines that will last a lifetime.

UPDATE West Virginia v. EPA decision:

Our Children’s Trust issued a news release on 6/30/22 that the US Supreme Court’s ruling to limit the Environmental Protection Agency regulatory authority over carbon dioxide pollution does not affect its federal or state youth-led climate lawsuits.

If anything, today’s ruling further demonstrates how important these children’s constitutional climate lawsuits are to address the deadly effects of our government-sanctioned fossil fuel-based energy system.

Photo Credit: Our Children’s Trust

Please share your thoughts and also let us know how your organization is infusing the youngest generations in its work. Call 301-785-1702 or contact us!

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Elsewhere Online

10 Reasons to Work with Young Researchers to Generate Solid Data

This survey and analytical process provide a stellar example why young people are needed to help evaluate existing programs as well as shape policy deliberations and decisions.

Post-millennials, who never have operated in a world without the internet, are pros at using an array of social media platforms. Less recognized is that many are adept with various online options that promote collaboration. It is second nature for many Gen Zers to use Google Docs, Slack, Zoom, etc.

One skill-set boosted by these digital tools is Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR). It is no longer rare to see sophisticated data collection, analysis, and recommendations generated by this youth-led process. One driver of this trend is young people – especially minors –who know this advocacy strategy improves the odds that they will be taken seriously by the powers-that-be. 

Organizations, coalitions, and think tanks could benefit enormously by incorporating a YPAR strategy. Here are just a few reasons and the first one is the most valuable.

10 Reasons for YPAR

  1. To produce data that reveal potentially more honest responses from the most diverse generation ever; 
  2. To augment the expertise of professional researchers;
  3. To rethink typical survey questions and refine the language; 
  4. To deepen the qualitative and quantitative research skills of everyone involved;
  5. To use innovative dissemination strategies to reach target constituencies;
  6. To gather pertinent data to evaluate the effectiveness of programs, reassess priorities, and develop new initiatives; 
  7. To use data to strengthen the overall work and impact of your organization;
  8. To garner attention from the news media and policymakers;
  9. To save money since most employees and many consultants cost more than part-time young researchers; and
  10. To infuse young people – often the primary stakeholders – into the heart of your organization for the benefit of everyone

Formidable Skills Produce Pertinent Data

A first class example is Race to Learn by the Kentucky Student Voice Team (KSVT) based on 10,725 responses from 114 of Kentucky’s 120 counties. It was released during debate on state legislation to curb what is taught about race and ethnicity in the classrooms. 

Two excerpts reveal the integrity of their methodology, including an intentional strategy to include the most underrepresented students.

We designed our methods in consultation with our “Research Advisory Dream Team,” a group of adult allies with expertise in youth participatory action research (YPAR). We generated and refined our survey tool over the course of both asynchronous and synchronous sessions soon after the start of the 2021- 22 school year, and we did so in consultation with young people outside of our membership and with school and community-based educators throughout the state. 

The qualitative team analyzed the 23,094 responses to the six open-ended questions…the quantitative team analyzed 21 scaled questions. Our analysis included the identification of patterns in the data as we disaggregated it in order to compare the experiences of students of color and those of white students and make connections to what students were expressing in their open responses. From there, we were able to come to group consensus and prioritize some key data points and themes.

Race to Learn: Findings, Recommendations and Reflections from the Kentucky Student Voice Team’s Race, Ethnicity and School Climate Student Survey (March 2022)

Interspersed with the presentation of data are quotes by students that reflect a wide range of views but reinforce one finding that “46% of students report that their school needs to do more to confront racism.” Each of the recommendations drawn from the analysis deserves to be read in full (see page 13). 

There’s no doubt that the careful creation and wording of questions plus the dissemination through both formal and informal networks were what resulted in over 10K responses during only a two-week time frame. 

Model and Motive

The Kentucky Student Voice Team outlines its overarching goal on the first page of the report:

By operating as a transparent, inclusive, and collaborative team, and by documenting our process, we hope to provide a model for how young people and other stakeholders can act as citizen researchers to ensure more just and democratic schools and communities.

This research is a labor intensive undertaking, but young people like these Kentucky citizen researchers prove that the effort is worth it.

As you read about this impressive work, please share with us how your organization might infuse young people as interpreters of the grievances facing their generation and pragmatic solutions.

Additional Resources

For more information about the impact of intergenerational interdependence, contact us.

ALL Youth Are Already Engaged

Many adults don’t understand what youth engagement actually is. This article explores alternate visions.

“Kids these days don’t care!”
“When I was young, we were always busy.”
“I’m worried these teens are just zoned out!”

Whether its parents, researchers, youth workers, politicians, teachers, or just the older man gabbing to his seatmate at a coffee shop, it seems that young people are always getting a bad rap for being disengaged. They are decried for playing video games, doing drugs, having sex, and vaping, as if these are the signs of disengagement we should all be concerned about.

While its true that we should be concerned about negative behaviors, it’s not true that these youth are disengaged. However, it is true that many adults don’t understand what engagement actually is.

This is a definition of the word engagement: "Engagement is simply choosing the same thing over and over." - Adam F.C. Fletcher (2015) The Practice of Youth Engagement.

In my 2015 book, The Practice of Youth Engagement, I sought to simplify and redefine the word engagement in order to pragmatically reflect my work and what I’d learned in my research about youth engagement. I wrote, “Engagement is simply choosing the same thing over and over.” I understand this even more today than I did then.

Since the pandemic began three years ago, there have been a plethora of damning headlines focused on children and youth today. This includes:

  • Schools: K-12 schools raging about student disengagement in education, railing against learners who appear to be disengaged from learning and the purpose of schools;
  • Economy: The World Economic Forum is talking about “youth disillusionment” disillusionment and disengagement in employment is a top concern among youth workforce development;
  • Social Change: Despite massive efforts by young people worldwide to raise awareness and fight for systemic change in the climate crisis, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and other issues, nonprofits and other social change organizations are railing against what they see as a youth disengagement in their issues;
  • Families: Children and youth disconnecting from their home and family lives, choosing online social interactions and gaming rather than family interactions;
  • And much more.

This engagement is equated to simply showing up, attending, and participating in the places and activities that adults want, when they want, and how they want.

And understand this, please: I’m not even talking about young people having substantive roles throughout their own lives like we talk about in Youth Infusion. I’m not talking about anything specific like engaging youth as decision-makers, researchers, advocates, or anything else, either. I’m merely saying that adults are calling youth “disengaged” because youth aren’t doing what adults want them to.

Of course, this kind of treatment isn’t new. Instead, its part of a widespread, multi-millennial trashing of young people that’s been happening since time immemorial. Supposedly it was Socrates who said, “Children; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. They no longer rise when elders enter the room, they contradict their parents and tyrannize their teachers. Children are now tyrants.” That was 3,000 years ago.

More recently, it was in the 1930s that teenagers were labelled the “Lost Generation” by the mass media. Scoffing at young people who left America to experience the Great Depression in Europe, Gertrude Stein invented the phrase. However, newspapers soon took up the title to describe the apparently listless, roaming hoards of teens who were riding the rails and moving from town to town for work instead of going to school and “making something of themselves.” Although it took nearly 50 years and might’ve been complete hyperbole, these same youth in this same generation were eventually lionized as “America’s Greatest Generation” by Tom Brokaw as he celebrated their contributions during World War II and afterward.

I bring up those examples to say that the continued labeling of youth today as disengaged is inaccurate at best, disingenuous, and ultimately, oppressive and appalling. Whether its the evergreen critical analysis of Mike Males in the late 1990s or the ongoing take down of neoliberal nonsense by Henry Giroux and others, anyone who is actually an adult ally to young people has learned to view these indictments with skepticism, if not immediate dismissal. Because they are bunkus.

The Reality of the Situation

This graphic shows two types of engagement by Adam F.C. Fletcher.

Right now, there are young people all around the world who are choosing the same things over and over. They don’t need, want, or seek adult approval for many of these things, and because of that adults don’t value their engagement, and we label them “disengaged.”

This includes young people who are doing positive activities filled with potential, including creating art, developing social messaging, fostering community, and devising innovative solutions to everyday problems. This type of engagement is convenient youth engagement, because it works for adults. We generally like what we see, what is shown, why it happens, and what happens because of it.

Look across the Freechild Institute website for examples of youth people of all kinds everywhere doing things to change the world in positive, powerful ways. Learn specifics from Youth Infusion, including how and where and why this change is happening.

However, youth engagement also includes young people who are doing things adults don’t agree with. They do these things to meet their own needs, including:

  • Self Medicating: Seeking to meet their mental health needs, youth are choosing drugs, alcohol, sex, and other activities over and over to make themselves feel better where access to healthy mental health are inaccessible;
  • Making Opportunities to Belong: Whether they are leading or joining gangs, tagging and graffiti-ing their neighborhoods, or having parties, young people are making opportunities to build belonging, support, and trust where none exist;
  • Expressing Themselves: When geographic and social communities don’t welcome youth voice, young people are sharing social media memes, producing videos, tagging buildings, making music, and otherwise expressing themselves when and where adults generally don’t want to be;
  • Entertainment: Where life is devoid of self-defined purpose and meaning, young people create opportunities for themselves to become entertained instead of substantially engaged. The outcomes of this might mean texting or gaming with their peers for hours, which isn’t inherently negative or wrong, but often rubs parents, youth workers, and teachers the wrong way because those spaces are harder to control than so-called IRL forms of entertainment.
  • And many other ways, including making and spending money, critiquing and challenging authority, and building hope for the future where there appears to be none.

I call these activities inconvenient youth engagement because of the nature of their existence: They aren’t prescribed by adults, and the outcomes can’t be predicted by adults. I don’t mean this facetiously; instead, I mean it truthfully that adults are almost wholly and completely uncomfortable with reactionary, self-driven, and situational youth engagement in which young people continuously choose things for themselves over and over that adults wouldn’t choose for them. However, in the absence of not choosing anything, adults inadvertently choose for young people to create their own ways to meet their needs.

And ultimately, please learn to see the reality right now: All youth are already engaged, whether its in ways adults want or not, for reasons adults approve of or not, and at times adults think they should be or not.

5 Ways to See Youth Engagement Differently

If you’re concerned about youth engagement, there are practical things you can do right now. Don’t be concerned with whether youth are engaged or not; simply be aware that if they aren’t engaged in what you want, when you want, where you want, and in ways you don’t want them to be, you’re going to have to provide a more compelling, honest, and authentic reason for them to be engaged in other ways.

Here are five ways you can see youth engagement right now, and do other things to engage youth.

  • Real Talk: Have REAL conversations with young people and actually listen to what they want to say;
  • Real Action: Provide practical, meaningful, and purposeful alternatives to what they are already engaged in;
  • Real Power: Create substantive and powerful ways to infuse youth throughout the operations of your organization in ALL ways;
  • Real Reality: Recognize the ways young people choose to be engaged on their own by engaging them in similar ways, and;
  • Real Reinvention: Sustain, evaluate, re-invent, and re-invent in youth infusion every season for every young person who becomes engaged.

Starting with these steps as a guide, move forward knowing that ALL young people are already engaged, right now.

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Attn Non-Profits: Five Recommendations for Anti-Racist Representation

Significant Youth Infusion is happening at this United Way in Seattle that is advancing beyond ‘youth voice.’

Back in 2002, I collaborated with United Way of America and co-authored Youth as Equal Partners which didn’t get much traction. Two decades later, there’s real reliance on young experts by the United Way of King County in Washington State. 

This prioritization of BIPOC youth can be traced to some tenacious Gen Z leaders who know firsthand that their grassroots organizations cannot compete or survive with the “Non-Profit Industrial Complex.” For over a year, the King County Youth Commission identified how voices of the historically excluded continue to be “devalued, dismissed and disregarded” and demand “a paradigm shift to dismantle this system that is so exploitative.”

We are tired of fighting for representation. It should be a given that the most impacted members of our community be given access to opportunities that are not only compensated but have actual decision-making power. 

Organization Seized the Opportunity to Collaborate with Youth

Typically young change makers guard their autonomy because they are distrustful and impatient with established institutions. In this case, these experienced young advocates are demanding systemic organizational transformation and fortunately, some equally committed staff at United Way share the same vision. An extensive 8-month research project by a team of young experts, who were paid about $25/hour by United Way’s Reconnecting Youth Initiative, generated Youth Tell All: Youth Centered Analysis on Youth Development in King County. 

Urgent, unequivocal, and uncompromising is how I would describe the eloquent young researchers who presented straightforward recommendations based on their in-depth interviews with nearly 40 Black, brown, Indigenous, and queer youth. 

Recommendation 1: Make young people integral to all decision-making, implementation, evaluation, and feedback processes.

Recommendation 2: It is vital to develop healthy and safe, as well as honest and consistent, relationships with young people.

Recommendation 3: Our decision-makers should represent our communities.

Recommendation 4: Build authentic relationships with our communities while centering the experiences of the people most affected.

Recommendation 5: Pay us for the ideas, time, labor, and leadership we contribute to your organization.

At this online presentation, the research team invited the executive director of the Seattle-based organization FEEST that lives by these five recommendations. High school students are involved at “a high level in strategic planning,” compensation is above $15/hour, and cardboard pizza has been replaced with nutritious Indigenous food in school cafeterias along with other significant wins.

Youth Tell All is not another report gathering dusk.  This spring, United Way of King County will begin a youth-led participatory grant process where youth will directly decide $100,000 funding to youth-identified priorities. 

When you work with young people, they provide feedback, and we realize they’re the product of the society we built. They have yet to be jaded and yet to be trained to mask what they’re feeling, so they are brutally honest. And when they’re brutally honest, they can call out where the discrepancies are in our work, so that we can listen to exactly where we need to and must make changes to better support youth.

Ruel Olanday, Jr. with United Way of King County

Influence is Inadequate

Read Youth Tell All  for a deeper understanding on how mainstream institutions, headed mostly by white adults, have the power to intentionally infuse young people into structures with real power to help produce lasting community change that benefits everyone.

These recommendations mean nothing if they are not acted on. The power of this report is that we did the research for you. From our Methods, all the way to our Glossary, which even includes related readings for you to deepen your understanding, the data is there. We interviewed the youth, we read the countless studies supporting our findings, and the youth led this project from the start to the finish.

The only thing that is left to do:

  • Pay the Youth who make it so your organization can thrive. This means Paying them with more than just experience, opportunities, or minimum wage. 
  • Give them decision-making power, not influence. This means making your decision-making processes so seamless that youth are already included from the start, and not when it’s time to “bring in the youth for feedback.”
  • Ensure that your organization, from staff, to board, represents the communities you serve.  Yes, this means hiring the same youth from your programs into these roles when they are ready! Yes, this means stepping down from a role that would best be served by a BIPOC community member. 
  • Mentor the Youth and develop safe, healthy, and honest relationships with them. This means giving them honest guidance, and not projecting your own trauma, or paternalistic feelings onto them and what you think they should be doing. 
  • Build authentic relationships with the communities you serve. This means all-year-round support, not just when your organization needs to check off a box for a grant deliverable.

Devan Rogers, Anti-Racist Community Organizer, and Abolitionist

Tracking Progress

More updates will follow here @ YouthInfusion.org on how United Way of King County is leading the way on authentic intergenerational interdependence to represent all constituencies in a county with over 2.25 million people.

Photo Credit: FEEST: Making Justice Irresistibly Delicious 

Resources

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Avoiding Roadblocks with Youth

Teens join an academic research team in creating survey questions that so far have generated over 350,000 responses.

Intergenerational Symbiosis?!?

Check out this innovative organization that succeeds at circumventing roadblocks that stop many nonprofits and agencies from pursuing substantive and sustained collaboration with those under age 18. 

One of those onerous challenges that I personally dealt with in graduate school was to get approval by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to interview students about their experiences participating and advocating for restorative practices. An effective way to avoid this obstacle is to be explicit that young people are sharing their opinions, perspectives and ideas, not revealing their personal experiences. Because activities are determined to be of minimal risk to minors, no parent/guardian consent is required as in the case of this powerhouse organization.  

Associate Professor Tammy Chang at University of Michigan founded My Voice National Poll of Youth, a text-message platform that surveys youth and communities typically “invisible” to researchers. 

Dr. Chang includes teens on the academic research team to develop questions through an iterative writing and piloting process. “A reason why you have youth is because adults – including me as a physician – might think it is totally normal to ask a question but it could be really disturbing or damaging.” Her team is intentional in its participant pool: “We are not trying to get all student council presidents and valedictorians and that is why we use SMS that’s accessible to all.” 

One of her colleagues, 17-year-old Abby Frank, describes her role. 

I’m involved in the entire data collection process, brainstorming questions, coding responses, discussing outcomes and implications of research with the entire team…They are flexible and always ask what time frame works for my schedule. If I miss a meeting, I let them know in advance and then get caught up on what was discussed. 

In addition to carefully vetted questions that resonate with Gen Z, participants understand the big picture which is why over 350,000 responses have been generated so far.

  • REAL WORLD PURPOSE.  Clear explanation of why: “Our research team uses your responses to inform policymakers and community leaders in real-time about the needs and priorities of youth.”
  • AUTHENTICITY VALUED. “Tell us what you really think!”
  • CLEAR EXPECTATIONS.  Respond via text to 2-5 questions each week for 12 weeks in a row on a given topic
  • CONFIDENTIALITY.  All responses anonymous
  • COMPENSATION.  Gift cards
  • FEEDBACK LOOP.  Share summaries of opinions and interesting findings
  • NEW EXPERIENCES.  Continually offer unique opportunities

We create lots of opportunities. Get as many young people on our team – the answer is always YES! If they can come to one meeting or 100 meetings, every time they engage we are always learning something new. The secret sauce with My Voice is they understand our whole goal to uplift their voices in the spirit of generosity, trust, mutual respect. 

 –  Dr. Tammy Chang

The ongoing interactions and obvious rapport between this visionary leader and her younger colleagues are part of the magic. Dr. Chang makes intergenerational symbiosis look easy and actually, it is. After all, everyone regardless of age brings unique skills that have the potential to be inclusive, intergenerational and impactful as long as all of us are open and willing to figure out how to circumvent the age-based roadblocks.

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We’d love to hear how you are thinking about infusing young people in your organization.

“Intergenerational” Becoming More Widespread

The term “intergenerational” is gaining traction. Will this approach replace “youth-led adult-supported” programs or “youth-adult partnerships” which typically preserve traditional hierarchies? Will this paradigm shift become the new norm in another decade when Millennials and Gen Zers take over from the old guard?

Young people have played decisive roles in nearly every major social movement. Similar to previous generations, many teenage activists operate with autonomy. Their sense of urgency and distrust of being co-opted even by potential allies persists. This independence can build crucial solidarity that can exert unique power.

Clues of Change

While many youth stick to mobilizing exclusively with their peers, a significant segment of Gen Zers opt to collaborate with adults. Here are a few possible explanations for this new trend.

  1. Teens who have participated for several years with “entirely youth-led campaigns” decide to see if they can achieve more by teaming up with adult-run organizations and coalitions.
  2. Camaraderie can blossom naturally because frontline and mid-level staff, who also became civically active as teens, remember being ignored, tokenized or controlled by older folks and are ready to stop this cycle.
  3. Nonprofits and government agencies operate youth advisory councils, internships and one-off projects that introduce teens to these organizations, however, these engagement programs keep teens on the sidelines that contrast with the Youth Infusion process.

I have been immersed in youth-led activism for decades and surprised that the term “intergenerational” seems to be gaining traction. Will this approach replace “youth-driven adult-supported” programs or “youth-adult partnerships” which typically preserve traditional hierarchies? Will this paradigm shift become the new norm in another decade when Millennials and Gen Zers take over from the old guard?

Evidence of Change

Two important reports reveal this trend.

The Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO) published its 20-year national scan based on data provided by community-based organizations in every region of the country. 

  • “Intergenerational” is the description of a whopping 70 percent of organizations in this survey of over 300 groups. 
  • Younger youth are increasingly active: a doubling of those between the ages of 11-13 since 2013 which means a growing pool of potential collaborators.
  • Intentional outreach by youth to build alliances with older generations. In the words of one immigrant rights activist:

Young people that were doing their own thing and then realized, wait a minute, we don’t want our parents or other family members who aren’t DREAM Act eligible not to be organizing with us. They were working with adults or even younger, bright young people who weren’t DREAM Act eligible either. But they were doing multigenerational organizing.

The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) assessment of six community-based grantees described as “intergenerational partnerships” focuses on significant adult attitude adjustments, including:  

  • Rethink age binaries and one suggestion – drop the label “youth” altogether;
  • Redefine “adult allyship” that reflects adults’ individual assessment of their ability to listen to, respect and support young people – regardless of the participants’ own age;
  • Build rapport through informal exchanges with youth outside of meetings even though these interactions may feel “unprofessional” to adults; and 
  • Recognize that knowledge transfer is mutual and evaluate both youth and adult civic learning. 

Intergenerational interdependence is in its early stage of development. It is a complex process because it hinges so much on relationships. Instead of asking youth to conform to established modes of operation and prevailing practices, staff must be genuinely curious and actually reliant on perspectives of those not represented or misrepresented. If youth know their role is not to be cheerleaders or clones but co-designers and yes, even critics, serious collaboration can actually make history.

Resources:

20 Years of Youth Power: The 2020 National Field Scan by the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing

Working and Learning Together for Equitable Impact: An Impact
Assessment of Intergenerational Civic Partnerships in The Civic Spring
Project
by Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

Our workshops and consulting are customized to support your organization’s efforts to engage in radical inclusion with the rising generation. Contact us to brainstorm possibilities!