Encouraging Young People’s Participation
Young People’s Participation
Young people’s participation (or lack thereof) receives a lot of attention in the media, research reports and academic articles. While many of the recommendations for encouraging young people’s participation focuses on establishing forums, groups and physical spaces there is often little attention on the role of parents and families. I too have fallen into this mindset, with many of my own recommendations focusing on policy and programs – which I maintain are necessary and important but I feel there has been an element missing in my approach. An element that has become so much more apparent now that I am raising a child of my own. Dr Brene Brown in her audiobook The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting says, “you cannot give your children what you don’t have”. I am not one for audiobooks but this is a book I have kept on phone and listened to with my husband numerous times before the birth of our child, and many more times since. That one phrase changed my approach to parenting and, I believe, is a good place to start when considering young people’s participation. If you want to raise children and young people who are involved in and contribute to community you must introduce them to a community. If as parents you are not engaged in volunteerism and activism, it becomes harder for children and young people to do so. Introducing children to community, participation, and engagement beyond themselves is a steady foundation on which they can build as they grow. As a child’s first role model you are the example he or she will mimic. Participation and engagement stems from an understanding of community and issues and a sense of belonging to a group or community. Encouraging young people’s participation is a long-term investment. A single conversation about being a useful member of society probably will not eventuate in much. Small steps throughout a child’s life, steps where parents are involved might yield better results. We have a friend who has taken her child to a rest home every week since the child was a few months old to keep the elderly residents company. A touching gesture which provides great joy to the residents but is also teaching the child a lot about interaction, age, empathy and community. We have started a tradition with our son in which for his birthday we ask for a donation of books to be made to the children’s reading space we help support in Levuka, in lieu of gifts. In keeping with this, for my 30th birthday, I asked guests to donate to my World Vision maternal health fund. I hope to nurture in him values that I have (but continue to work at) in myself. On Christmas Day, we share in a communal lunch with the elderly and homeless in our community. You might consider letting you child offer some food to a homeless person on the street. Or simply offer kind greetings to them, instead of hurriedly walking past trying to avoid the reality of issues in our country. In doing so, what are we teaching our children? How are we encouraging them to participate? Will these things, taking children to rest homes, being kind to the homeless, forgoing presents, change young people’s participation overnight? No. Most certainly not. But it might create a shift in thinking. It might nurture a curiosity to understanding why some people are different. It might help raise children who have a strong sense of worth without being self-indulgent. If nothing else, they might be little moments in an otherwise hectic life that you stop to consciously and intentionally improve your habits and create memories and experiences for yourself and your children. While policy makers and practitioners have important roles to play, let’s look at what we can do today, by example, to demonstrate and support our children and young people who will participate and engage, and ultimately make a difference to the society we live in.
Where possible and appropriate our son Rafa joins us in our work in the field, in community events and philanthropic projects.