Wednesday marks a holiday created by the United Nations to highlight different aspects of the youth experience: International Youth Day. Regarding this year's theme, civic engagement, the UN stated, "The engagement and participation of youth is essential to achieve sustainable human development. Yet often the opportunities for youth to engage politically, economically and socially are low or non-existent." Thinking about the idea of celebrating young people and acknowledging the role they play in society also calls attention to all the other ways that children can be undervalued and unappreciated. Children are vital members of our society, and Youth Day is a great reminder that adults should work to engage and empower them.
Because children are young, they are left out of a lot of really important things that run our society. They can't vote or otherwise participate in politics, even though legislation and policies directly affect their lives (especially in terms of education and access to healthcare). Their opinions are often belittled or dismissed because of their age. Children should be respected as nuanced individuals with opinions, ideas, and feelings deserving of respect. Here are some simple ways we can build kids up, and empower them to participate and engage in society.
Give Them Genuine Compliments
Instead of speaking down to children and having fluff conversations, give them genuine compliments about their opinions, school work, personality, hobbies, and intellects.
Get Them Involved
In the spirit of this year's International Youth Day theme, we can all start thinking about how to get young people involved with government and politics in a meaningful way. Children and younger teenagers can't vote, but there are still many ways that adults can help amplify youth voices so that they are heard. Bringing youth concerns to local government and school boards, as well as helping them to organize demonstrations or protests for issues that are important to them, will show that we truly care about what they think about important issues.
Respect Their Feelings
Most adults are guilty of writing off a young person's feelings because of their age. Children are treated as less mature people than adults, and therefore the legitimate feelings they have are easily dismissed as a product of their inexperience. Adults will say things like "They must be going through that stage," "You're too young to understand now ..." and so on. Offer respect and empathy to young people by treating their feelings and needs as valid. By letting them know that you honor and understand their perspective, you are helping to encourage their self-worth and self-knowledge.
Advocate On Their Behalf
If you have the opportunity to use your powers as an adult to improve the lives of children, go for it! Again, kids can't often be a part of policy-making decisions on pretty much any level, so as adults, we need to find ways to bring their voice to the table. Talk to the children and teenagers in your life about what is important to them and changes they'd like to see, and bring these ideas to the table when having policy-related discussions with other adults, especially if decisions are being made that will affect young people.
Consider Getting Involved With Youth Organizations
Whether you want to learn more, work directly with young people, or make a financial contribution, take some time to check out organizations that are doing meaningful work with youth. Some good places to start are the National Youth Advocate Program, Black Youth Project, UNICEF, and Adventure Scouts USA.