With International Youth Day coming up on Friday, it’s a good opportunity to share why it’s so important to work with youth, especially youth between the ages of 10 and 24. Youth engagement is a way for adults and young people to work together, share decisions and learn from each other.

What is youth engagement, anyway?

There are many definitions, but the Centre of Excellence for Youth Engagement defines it as the sustained and meaningful involvement of a young person in an activity focused outside of themselves. This definition doesn’t really help to explain the concept, so instead, it might be easier to keep these four words in mind…hands, heart, head and feet.

  • Hands: Youth DOING (taking part in an activity)Hands making heart shape
  • Heart: Youth FEELING (excitement or feeling a need for social change)
  • Head: Youth THINKING (learning something new or reflecting on their own personal views)
  • Feet: Youth ACTING (working with other youth and adults to make a change in the community)Group of teenagers feet
So, why is engaging youth important?

Young people bring fresh perspectives, new ideas, creativity and energy to community groups and organizations, helping them stay relevant. If young people have a say in the programs and services that are targeted to them, they’re more likely to use them.

We also know that youth engagement leads to healthier and happier youth. Research shows that youth engagement decreases the likelihood that youth will use tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and hard drugs. When young people get opportunities to have their voices heard, they gain leadership and problem-solving skills. Through positive relationships with other youth and adults, youth feel more connected to their communities.

Here are 8 tips to help community groups and organizations be more youth-friendly:

  1. Get ‘buy-in’
    For youth engagement to work well everyone needs to be on board. Staff should be trained in the principles and practice of youth engagement, and policies and procedures should support working with youth.

  2. Create a space for youth
    Spaces should make young people feel safe and comfortable to be who they are. When possible, youth should have input into décor and furnishings.

  3. Help youth get to you
    It’s pretty rare that youth will have access to a car, so locations should be easy to get to by public transit or bicycle. Consider subsidizing transit passes and tickets, making it easier for youth to get to you. Youth on city bus
    It’s also important to schedule meetings and activities at times that are convenient for young people, like in the evenings or on weekends.

  4. Include parents
    It may seem like extra work to include parents, but they can have a strong influence over whether or not youth get involved in the first place.

  5. Keep things moving
    Youth like to see results. They tend to lose interest if things move too slowly (don’t we all?), so try to incorporate ‘quick wins’ like easy-to-organize activities, especially for long-term projects.

  6. Feed them
    Enough said…

  7. Build knowledge and skills
    Find out what young people are interested in and tailor learning opportunities to fit with these interests.

  8. Celebrate!
    Recognize youth efforts and reward their contributions.

For more information about youth engagement, visit the Centre for Excellence for Youth Engagement and the Search Institute. If you have questions about how to make your community group or organization more youth-friendly, contact Public Health.