Making Youth “Partners” in Your Organization Back »

As I have been working on developing a program that will require teens to complete a “community challenge”, I have been looking at resources and research on how to make youth and adult partnerships work cohesively and be productive.  I found the following article from Michigan Extension that shows how to make youth “partners” in the process.

Youth-adult partnerships (Y-AP’s) can empower youth to assume meaningful leadership roles. Y-AP’s do not happen automatically when adults and youth are together in a group. Many times adults believe they are doing great when they bring a young person to the table to give their input to the adult group or to help with a program the adults are planning. Though this is a step in joint planning and including youth voice, a token young person in an all-adult group rarely provides a setting where youth are comfortable and are in a position to assume a meaningful role.

In the “Spectrum of Attitudes: Building a Theory of Youth Development,” Bill Lofquist identified three adult attitudes toward youth. These include youth as objects, recipients and resources. The Innovation Center for Youth Development and Community Change expanded that model to include a fourth attitude, youth as partners. A description of each attitude includes:

  • “Youth as objects” Adults are in charge and provide programs TO youth. The adult attitude is that youth have little to contribute. Adults believe they know what is best for the youth. There is no meaningful involvement of young people.
  • “Youth as recipients” Adults determine the needs and provide programs that are FOR youth. The adult attitude is that the experience will be in the best interest of youth. Unimportant tasks are assigned to youth. A few token youth may be invited to attend a meeting. Trivial tasks are given when it won’t matter if youth mess up.
  • “Youth as resources” Youth help adults in planning, implementing and evaluation. Programs are FOR and WITH youth. Contributions of youth are beneficial but adults are still in control.
  • “Youth as partners” Youth and adults share decision-making power and responsibility equally. Progress and activities are WITH youth. Youth are valued and respected and treated as equal partners. Mutual respect between the partners exists.

Not all organizations are ready to be at the “youth as partners” end of the spectrum. Adults and youth must both be ready. Relationships trust and skills must be developed, as well as an attitude of acceptance and value for one another. It is important for adults and organizations to understand where they are at on the spectrum and determine where they would like to be.

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