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Gen Z and youth voice

By Karyn Santl

Panel of youth on stage speaking at event
I recently listened to a youth panel share their perspective on issues, trends and assets in their lives. I was gently reminded of the importance of youth voice and gaining their perspective. Yes, I work for a youth development organization, but I mainly work with staff and volunteers so I do not interact with youth on a regular basis.  

The youth panel was convened at our statewide Extension Conference and the youth were from different parts of the state. They had all participated in Minnesota 4-H in different programs and lengths of time. They are all part of Generation Z, born in the mid-late 1990’s to early 2010’s. The panel facilitator shared this quote from the EY Gen Z Insight Report, 2021:
Gen Z is different. They will not be put in a box. They defy labels. And they are here to challenge your perspective of the world. Gen Z is shifting societal paradigms, creating new norms around activism, wellness, and success.
Here is what I learned from this panel of youth around critical issues that matter most to Minnesota youth:
  • They are concerned about the mental health and wellness of youth, especially LGBTQ+ youth.  They need to be heard and not live in fear.
  • Equity and ending discrimination are important to them. They specifically called out religious discrimination and hope for equity for all faith based organizations.  
  • Social media plays a huge role in their life. They are trendsetters and trend enders. This generation is known for being part of the "cancel culture". One panelist had this to say about cancel culture. "We should understand why we are canceling or ending."

The last question asked to the youth panel was “What do we adults working with young people need to know and do to help?”  Below is a summary of the notes I took from their responses.
  • Give youth voice.
  • Push everyone to contribute to society.
  • Have one-on-one conversations.
  • Develop relationships that are safe and comfortable.
  • Provide them safe space to express themselves.
  • Empower and build confidence.

I gained so much listening to this panel of youth! These issues, trends and assets impact how we engage older youth, and how we provide opportunities for them to become changemakers. How are we responsive to youth-identified issues and needs? What stands out to you and how can you apply this in your work?

-- Karyn SantlExtension educator

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