Last week was one of contrasts.
On Wednesday last week- in the wake of the recent school shooting in Parkland, hundreds of demonstrators, many under the age of 18, rallied at our state Capitol asking for stricter gun control measures.
On Thursday last week- back in Tallahassee, with a much different atmosphere, more than 850 4-H members and their supporters also rallied at the Capitol. They likewise came to discuss issues which concerned them, including a one million dollar cut to their 4-H program budget the previous year.
Different situations, yet both examples of youth civic engagement. Civic Engagement is at the core of 4-H Citizenship programs and can be defined as, ““individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.”
In 4-H we care about civic engagement. That is to say- in 4-H we care to help young people find their voice, and express their voice. We care to help them do this NOW, not once they turn 18, or 21, or whatever other age society designates they have enough life experience to have a say.
When you have worked in positive youth development for as long as I have, it’s easy to forget that not everyone shares our paradigms. Not everyone is grounded in positive youth development theory. Last week I saw a meme on social media that particularly snapped me back into reality. The meme suggested youth should not have political opinions until they are a legal adult. As it stated, “Last week they were eating Tide Pods, and this week they are quoting the Constitution.”
Perhaps you saw it too. I’m not sure how you felt, but I was shocked. I suppose that makes me foolish but I naively never saw this coming. We’ve heard the reverse for generations, kids are apathetic, kids don’t care, and the like, and now we are mad that they do care? This meme made me wildly uncomfortable, however for as uncomfortable as it made me, I needed to see it. I needed to see it as a reminder as to why our work with 4-H is so very, very important.
Whether you agree with their individual views or not, youth need the opportunity to express them. And no, youth don’t always know everything about the world quite yet, but it’s our job as caring adults in their lives to help fill in the gaps. (Sidenote- I don’t know everything about the world just yet, so I hope someone out there will help me fill in my gaps).
Positive youth development research repeatedly provides evidence to the importance of youth engaging civically and exercising their voice. Youth who are engaged this way are more likely to grow up into what I like to very scientifically call, “good humans.” And much like riding a bicycle, or tying your shoes, or learning to swim being civically engaged requires practice. Allowing youth to practice civic engagement now leads to better prepared adults of voting age. 4-H has a critical role in and responsibility for allowing youth to practice civic engagement.
Last week’s Florida 4-H Day at the Capitol was a great example of youth engaging civically, but it’s just a start!
For more ideas to capitalize on youth interest in civic engagement, check out:
Authentic Youth Civic Engagement