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Extension > Youth Development Insight > February 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012

Can citizenship programs help to solve the bullying problem?

Jessica-Russo.jpgBullying is in the news again. It may have contributed to yet another school shooting in Chardon, Ohio this week. Bullying is not a product of a modern age, but has been increasingly scrutinized in the past decade. After the Columbine High School massacre U.S. Secret Service officials found that bullying "in terms that approached torment," played a part in two-thirds of the 37 premeditated school shootings they analyzed.

The effects and causes of bullying are complex. According to Limber, individual, familial, societal and community factors play roles, and the impacts can be physical, emotional and psychological for victims, perpetrators, and witnesses.

With such a complex topic, how can the field of youth development make an impact? I believe that an emphasis on citizenship in out-of-school time youth programs can contribute to a solution.

In 2010, National 4-H began to shape a 4-H Citizenship Mission Mandate to ensure that the 4-H Youth Development Program can provide the best opportunities for young people to become engaged and make a difference in their communities.

In Minnesota 4-H, we are working to define what constitutes solid citizenship programming for our youth and adults, not only to help youth acquire personal skills for success, but to help them acquire interpersonal skills that benefit society. This is where the anti-bullying effort comes into play.

Sherrod, Flanagan, and Youniss point out that in the context of youth development, "Citizenship ... has to involve multiple components if we are to understand its development in diverse populations in this country." A definition of global citizenship, offered by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, is "a continuum going from being aware of the interdependent nature of our world, to understanding how local and global issues affect the well-being of people around the world, to committing or taking actions to create a more equitable world." Taking this point of view into account, these components effectively describe what we hope our youth will gain through participation in Minnesota 4-H Citizenship Programs:
bullying.jpg
  • The ability to move beyond self-interest to expressing concern for others

  • A sense of connectedness to a group (including the nation and world)

  • The ability to respectfully listen to and consider differing experiences and opinions

  • The ability to compromise

  • Understanding of the rights and responsibilities of a citizen in a democracy and how action or inaction contributes to one's nation state, as well as to the world

  • Commitment to creating a more equitable world

The teaching of empathy is a common element in violence prevention, and youth programs focused on developing citizenship provide a natural platform for helping young people understand how they connect with others. Foundational research on resiliency has found that the opportunity for meaningful involvement and responsibility can be an important protective factor for youth by helping them connect to society. Perhaps this feeling of connectedness, coupled with the ability to empathize, is the key to combating bullying as a cultural phenomenon. And what better way to do strengthen this ability than by showing young people how they are and can be, now, responsible, positively contributing citizens.

Could an emphasis on citizenship help to create an environment in which young people consider several points of view (victim, perpetrator, witness) in a bullying scenario? What strategies have you used to encourage youth to reflect and act on their values?

-- Jessica Russo, assistant Extension professor and director, Urban Youth Development Office

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Intentionality means more than just paying attention to youth

Dale-Blyth.jpgFor years I have talked about becoming more intentional about how we think about and work with youth. Too much of our efforts often go to trying to get attention for youth and the issues that impact their lives, and not enough goes into being intentional about our work on their behalf.

Paying attention means selectively narrowing or focusing consciousness to sort out what is important. Paying more attention to youth may help us spend more time thinking about them but it does not help us act more effectively without a clearer purpose or goal in mind. Paying attention to our children is helpful, it is not enough.

Intentionality, on the other hand, is purposeful. It has an end in mind. It is much more than simply paying attention to what is happening (though that is a critical foundation). Intentionality is about knowing what we want for young people and working to support their learning and development in purposeful ways.
Intentionality around and with youth means designing the contexts they experience. It binoculars.jpgmeans being deliberate about the way we interact with them. It means having expectations of them as well as expectations of what we do to encourage and enable them.
Intentionality requires not only focusing our attention but knowing where we are trying to go. And therein lies the dilemma - we do not have a shared sense of where we want to go with young people as a country. We need to create a clearer, shared vision of what it means to be Ready by 21 for work, college, and life.
Intentionality in youth development is not engineering. It cannot be directed like a construction project, where the look of the finished building is largely known before we start. It must be a much more dynamic intentionality, in which what we do at any moment as a parent or a youth worker builds upon and responds to where the young person is and what they are trying to accomplish. It is emergent. It is about supporting the development and intentionality of a young person in their own life as it evolves. It is about the supports and opportunities that increase the odds that young people will succeed.
I know of some excellent organizations that bring intentionality into focus: the Sprockets and Youthprise efforts here in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, Ready by 21 efforts nationally and Strive-like efforts underway in many cities. These organizations talk about what success for young people looks like, giving us a vision and goals, and ways to measure whether we are succeeding. They provide ways to get the collective impact that is so badly needed.
How can we shift from trying to get more attention paid to youth to becoming more intentional in providing opportunities and supports for young people and their development?


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Creating global citizens out of generation Y - are we prepared?

Nicole-Pokorney.jpgIn 2009, the youth population was recorded at nearly 3 billion strong, almost half of the world's population! Generation Y is technologically savvy, generous, diverse, and global. However, in his book, Generation iY, Tim Elmore takes a reality check on youth. Through interviews, literature and many other methods, his research describes youth as overwhelmed, overly connected, overprotected and overserved. Tim writes, "These kids really do desire to change the world; they just don't have what it takes to accomplish their lofty dreams". His bottom line? Adults are not prepared to lead youth into the future!

girl-with-phone.jpgNever before has there been a greater need for competent and skilled youth workers to prepare our youth for citizenship and careers. Youth workers must be flexible and transformative to access global challenges, such as meeting the needs of the growing youth population, addressing economic realities and developing vocational opportunities. In her recent Youth Development Insight blog post, Occupy Youth Programs, my colleague Deborah Moore stresses the need for educators to take the lead in engaging youth into global citizenship with social media.

We know what we need to do. But how do we do it?

In a recent post on his own blog, Tim Elmore pleads for adults to also gain the skills to become effective global citizens in order to lead the generation that lies in front of us, "I am asking that adults wake up to the need to lead. We must re-establish our moral authority. For many adolescents, we have no credibility. Many of our kids around the world are a part of a 'leader-less generation.' We didn't stick to the values we claimed to live by, we haven't been transparent about our mistakes and we haven't offered a clear compass for our kids".

What skills do you believe youth lack to become effective global citizens? How can youth workers partner with youth to help them acquire these skills?

-- Nicole Pokorney, Extension educator, educational design and development

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What would you ask young people?

Beki-Saito.jpgIf we created a regular poll of young people in Minnesota, what would we ask? What would they want to be asked?

During the late 1970's and early 80's, Diane Hedin and I and a few others did something called the Minnesota Youth Polls out of the Center for Youth Development and Research which existed at the time at the University of Minnesota. The (sometimes) annual polls collected data from young people around the state about various topics that were relevant to them, such things as:
  • their views on school and school disciplineMN-youth-polls.jpg
  • the threat of nuclear war
  • their future aspirations
  • politics and public issues
We would analyze the data, choose the best quotes, and write up and print these youth polls and then disseminate them for free.

With today's technology, it would be much easier to do this now. I remember doing by hand, a "content theme analysis" on every open-ended question on every survey from the youth polls, and we had to talk about the number and percentage of responses, versus the respondents when we described the qualitative data from the youth polls. I guess we still might want to do that, especially for the focus group data.

The polls always combined qualitative and quantitative data, which gave them the ability to explain not only the breadth of data from closed-ended questions, but also the depth of understanding that open-ended survey questions and/or focus groups gave us. The reports were always full of quotes and photos and you really came away understanding what young people believed on various topics, and how much they agreed and how they differed. It was a lot of work!

So, if we were to re-instate the youth polls, what should we ask? Where should we begin? If you have access to a group of young people, especially teenagers, would you please ask them what they'd like to be asked and share that with us? Or tell us what you'd be curious to learn about them. We may get the chance to do it, and want to be ready for that opportunity. Thanks man!

-- Rebecca Saito, Senior research associate

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Is youth work a career?

Thumbnail image for nextgen-main-logo.jpgIs youth work something you do while you figure out what you really want to do, or is it a career? Most definitions of career include three elements: a defined occupation that is taken on over time with progressive achievement.

While many other things may also make up a career, the issues of time and progress are most distinct. In other fields, there is no push to leave direct work to join administration without a path of promotion, clear expectations of and preparation for management. Further, there is credibility in remaining in your chosen position. Is youth work somehow different from other fields? If it is, why is it?

Photo of Mo BarbosaGood youth workers often become supervisors and managers without adequate preparation in leadership. Practitioners leave the field because of narrow opportunities for promotion and little expectation of improvement in pay. Funding shifts, low wages for frontline staff, and murky professional pathways impede the development of the workforce and introduce a great degree of volatility in field.

The effect is that youth work looks like many entry-level jobs:
  • low skill expectations
  • high turnover
  • little promise of promotion

Photo of Laurie Jo WallaceWe should not be surprised that this construction does not prepare many for leadership and loses talents to other better paying jobs with better hopes of advancement. Those practitioners that endure are underpaid and often subsidize their wages with other jobs. The few, again often those very best with youth, are moved into programmatic supervision and management roles without preparation, coaching or building skills in supervision or management. Additionally, the multiple entry points into youth work, have created the illusion that anyone can do this work. High school and college students, VISTA and AmeriCorps members, volunteers, interns and virtually anyone without a job has been suggested as someone to work with youth, often with little prior training or experience, and mostly with no defined expectation of a commitment to the field.

It is critical that we move youth work from its status as an entry level job to an occupation that is skill based with a clear path to advancement within direct service and from there to management.
Significant progress has been made by some local organizations and state systems to ensure that professional development is included for all levels of service and that there is preparation of practitioners for management. These efforts need to be studied and expanded. Some concrete suggestions appear in "Capturing Promising Practices in Recruitment and Retention of Frontline Youth Workers" by The National Collaboration for Youth, 2006.

We must also avoid positing youth work as a preparatory step to other careers like teaching; this has been successful, but it is a brain and skill drain on the field. See: Afterschool: A Powerful Path to Teacher Recruitment and Retention, promoting afterschool programs as a pipeline for teacher recruitment.

How can we specifically reinforce the belief that it is indeed a career and not just a pipeline to other professions?


Assistant Director, Training and Capacity Building

Laurie Jo Wallace, Health Resources in Action


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