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5 Ways to Overcome Barriers to Youth Engagement

The article, 5 Ways to Overcome Barriers to Youth Engagement by Rebecca Reyes and Malana Rogers-Bursen was published in 2016 on the Everyday Democracy site. The authors shared 5 common challenges to getting youth to participate and offer solutions to address each of these challenges. These tips are helpful when designing events that are more inclusive for youth and also good to keep in mind for other groups of people. Read a condensed version of the article below and find it in full on Everyday Democracy’s here.

From Everyday Democracy…

Challenge #1: Scheduling conflicts
Everyone is busy, including young people. They have packed schedules with school, extracurricular activities, work, and helping out at home. Some may be responsible for caring for younger siblings, or they may have young children of their own. If they are going to be giving up some of their time, they need to know it will be time well spent.

Possible solutions:
Recognize that “young people” as a group are very diverse – they have different levels of education, racial/ethnic backgrounds, and lifestyles. Think about the group you’re trying to reach and the scheduling challenges they might face. Evenings and/or weekends might be the best time to meet for many people. But, it depends on the group.

Challenge #2: Experience barriers
It is often assumed that more experience is always better. In addition, certain types of experiences like attending certain schools or working in a particular profession tend to be valued more than others. These values and assumptions privilege only certain types of experiences and they don’t leave room for young people. We need to recognize that young people do have valuable skills and knowledge and make room for different kinds and levels of experience.

Possible solutions:
– Aim to include people with a range of skills and knowledge in your group, instead of focusing only on those with many years of experience.
– Acknowledge that young people do have knowledge and skills to contribute, even if they don’t have related professional experience.

Challenge #3: Young people have a limited voice in meetings
As a young person, it can be intimidating to speak up in a group of adults, especially since young people are often outnumbered in meetings. Once they are at the table, it’s important to create an environment of respect that allows their voice to be heard.

Possible solutions:
-Set ground rules that you agree on as a group. Make sure the rules will make space for a respectful conversation.
-Practice active listening. As a group, talk about what it means to be an active listener. Consider doing a listening activity during one of your meetings.

Challenge #4: There is a racial gap between younger and older generations
The demographics in communities across the country are changing as younger generations become more diverse. This might present a recruiting challenge since you’ll have to be conscious of how to recruit young people and people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds at the same time.

Possible solutions:
When you’re strategizing about how to recruit young people, consider using targeted messages for different groups. Find a teacher, youth group leader, or community member that can be a liaison between your current coalition and the group you’re trying to reach.

Challenge #5: Making meetings and events appealing to young people
Inviting young people to attend bi-monthly organizing meetings with a group of adults is going to be a hard sell. It’s important to think about what aspects of the program you want youth to be engaged in, and then brainstorm strategies to achieve your goal. If young people currently do not attend any meetings or events, it may be too ambitious to recruit them for every aspect of the project right away.

Possible solutions:
Many young people are looking for something meaningful to put on a resume. Let them know how this experience will help them and assign real projects to lead and contribute to. Let them know you can be a reference for them. If they can’t commit to something long-term, think of a one-time activity they could be a part of.

Read more solutions to each of these challenges on Everyday Democracy’s site here!

About Everyday Democracy
Everyday Democracy
Everyday Democracy (formerly called the Study Circles Resource Center) is a project of The Paul J. Aicher Foundation, a private operating foundation dedicated to strengthening deliberative democracy and improving the quality of public life in the United States. Since our founding in 1989, we’ve worked with hundreds of communities across the United States on issues such as: racial equity, poverty reduction and economic development, education reform, early childhood development and building strong neighborhoods. We work with national, regional and state organizations in order to leverage our resources and to expand the reach and impact of civic engagement processes and tools.

Resource Link: http://everyday-democracy.org/tips/5-ways-overcome-barriers-youth-engagement

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