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
- Optimist – Hold onto hope as the antidote to cynicism
- Listener – Develop a “Third Ear” to be open to new thinking
- Learner – Keep your imagination faucet open
- Advocate – Share your own pragmatic idealism
- Communicator – Text or talk 1:1 outside of meetings
- Comedian – Joke and laugh
- Infomaniac – Explain relevant organizational efforts and future plans
- Choreographer – Connect teens with other staff and organizations
- Honest Broker – Establish feedback loops to respond to ideas
- 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.
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.
- Youngism: The Content, Causes and Consequences of Prejudices toward Young People – Greater understanding of young-targeted ageism is necessary in “our increasingly multigenerational and aging world — one that is ever dependent on the solvency and viability of its youngest members.”
- What Goes Down When Advice Goes Up: Younger Advisers Underestimate Their Impact – “Common wisdom suggests that older is wiser. Consequently, people rarely give advice to older individuals — even when they are relatively more expert — leading to missed learning opportunities.”
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