Skip to main content

Occupy youth programs

By Deborah Moore

From Occupy Wall Street to government and campus protests, to overthrowing leaders -- there is definitely something happening with youth today. I remember sitting in a class last winter watching a live link to the protests in Egypt and feeling like the world had shifted. So much has happened in such a short time, and youth are playing an important role in it. What does that have to do with youth programs? Perhaps everything.

This statement by Shannon Service in YES! magazine sums it up for me "After three decades of dormancy, youth activism is again flowering. But today's flower children are a hardy new variety. They're economically, ecologically, and electronically sophisticated. They're also globally organized, dead serious about democracy, and determined to have more fun than their opponents."

So my question to all of us is this: What are youth programs going to do to respond?
I think the answer may lie in engaging youth in ways we have yet to imagine. I like to call it Youth Engagement 2.0 and it was the theme of our annual youth program quality conference last week.
The idea is simple: Let's innovate how we engage youth on their issues using social media. We know engaging youth is important inside our programs and in our communities, so why haven't we tapped social media?

There are a few of us locally who are paving the way. MGIZI and Intermedia Arts are ahead of the pack with youth-led media projects on Facebook and Youtube and more to catalyze youth action on issues. But they are hardly enough. I know it may feel like letting some kind of genie out of the bottle, but if youth workers can't find ways to support youth engagement using the power of technology, what will we lose? Perhaps everything.

Youth and social media is a trend that is not going away. I think Thomas Friedman is right -- the world has become flat. His book of that name is a powerful accounting of all the ways the world has already become flat, thanks to the powerful force of technology. Think democracy and capitalism on steroids. Through the Internet, all kinds of people in the smallest corners of the world now have access to business opportunities, making social change and innovation, being a part of global conversations and a part of local solutions. And the flat world includes a whole bunch of young people. Shouldn't programs be a place for leadership as youth explore their roles in a flat world? Aren't programs places where youth navigate their roles in the community and the world? If we want to prepare youth for tomorrow, let's engage them in the work of today.

It is scary for the adults, I know. We have so many things to do each day, to make happen inside our programs. But our roots should hold us true -- roots in experiential education, in social change through settlement houses, in advocating for human rights -- to name a few. So find some inspiration. This is not a time for a slow, tepid testing of new ways to engage youth using social media. They are doing it already and we are far behind.

Look to some of the brightest researchers and thoughts leaders on the subject. A recent symposium held here at the Extension Center for Youth Development on the Digital Youth Network in Chicago is a good place to start.

Look to others who are further ahead:

But don't just look ... Do. Then join me in answering the question: How will you support youth engagement 2.0? Will you find space for youth to occupy your program, their community and their world?
-- Deborah Moore, former director, Youth Work Institute

Print Friendly and PDF


  1. Hi Deborah,
    Last week I attended a training offered by Erin and David Walsh, and they talked at length about some of the issues that you addressed. Something that they noted was the importance that adults can play in supporting youth's use of the Internet and social media- specifically in teaching about responsible use and ways to use media to support youth to make social change. Even though youth interact with technology in an effortless manner, the experience of youth workers and adults is critical for youth to develop skills and boundaries to more efficiently use technology.
    I definitely see this as a role that youth workers should play in programs. Having a tech-resistance approach isn't working with the assets that youth bring to our programs.
    Thanks for starting the conversation,

  2. Hi Deborah,
    I am glad you have brought this subject to our attention. I have been visiting our community education after school classes, Everyday Leaders, and the facilitators are using technology in their work. A facilitator at LInd found that her youth focused better with brainstorming issues when she used a power point slide show. Her students are becoming pen pals with boys from a school in Kenya. I am hoping they will use the web as a way of interacting with the boys on a regular basis. We really are a global community now thanks to the internet.
    A facilitator at Anderson let's the students use ipods to make mini anti-bullying movies. They will put these mini movies on the the school wide TV channel.
    I am guessing that the youthworkers new to the field are not at all resistant to using technology, social media and other interesting ways of engaging our youth.
    Let's hear it for youth activism and new ideas.

  3. Jeri,
    It is good to see some real, tangible ways youth workers are doing this. It would be great to find some space for all of us to share what we are trying out - and how it is working to get beyond any concerns we have about using technology - and especially social media. Maybe MCE could sponsor a mini-session with the YWI to start conversations amongst youth workers? I have heard MUCH concern by some older youth workers about the safety issue around thing like Facebook - and I think that in part - it is causing some hesitation. As always - Minneapolis Community Ed folks are moving the edgy ideas on the ground. MCE 2.0.