When young people are involved in a community or organisation, everybody benefits. To build support for this idea, find allies and champions to work with, communicate a clear message and create opportunities to bring people together. This will help shift attitudes, so young people are seen as active contributors to a community.
For communities and organisations to really benefit from involving young people, they need to make a commitment to involving young people. This involves time, effort and resources to build a ‘youth-friendly’ culture, where all community members value and celebrate young people.
There are generally four community attitudes towards young people: problems, recipients, resources or partners.
As we’ve seen with the Yerp guiding principles, taking an attitude that young people are partners maximizes the benefits of involving young people.
So, to create a ‘youth-friendly’ culture, first reflect on where community attitudes are currently at. Then work to shift attitudes, away from viewing young people as passive recipients towards seeing them as active contributors.
There’s strength in numbers, so it helps to find some allies – people who think the same as you and can help you build community support. Perhaps start with those people or groups already involving young people, like youth services and schools. And don’t forget young people themselves – there will be lots of them waiting for an opportunity to change community attitudes.
Build relationships with respected people within your community or organisation who have the power to influence others. They could be local councillors or your mayor, senior managers in your organisation, community elders or popular figures.
Which of your allies can you turn into champions? Champions are important – they’re the people who will enthusiastically promote the idea of a ‘youth-friendly’ culture and persuade others to join in.
Work together with your allies and champions to define a shared vision, purpose and goals.
Plan how you will:
Work with your allies and champions to let the community or organisation know why it makes sense to involve young people. Communicate a consistent message that’s clear and easily understood.
Describe why it makes sense for the community or organisation to involve young people. Clarify that this is evidence based on academic research and best practice.
Show that it’s common practice to involve young people by using examples. The more people see how other groups have involved young people, the less unsure they’ll be about doing it themselves. Discover the history of young people’s involvement in your local area. It’s likely you’ll find some interesting – and often surprising – facts about the impact young people have made in the past.
Frame your message as a story about young people as the solution to a thriving, sustainable community. Show people how they can become the hero of the story by involving young people. Appeal to their values – e.g. their desire to help others, their hopes for a happy life or their sense of local pride.
Young people are often represented negatively in the media. Counter this by contacting your local newspaper or radio station with positive news – they’re always looking for stories. Use the news media to your advantage by getting in touch and sharing:
Encourage your allies and champions to keep spreading the message through their networks. Use social media to help with this. You could also create a website like the Banyule 100 to show the good things young people are doing in the community:
Sometimes it’s not enough just to tell the community about the benefits of involving young people. To help shift attitudes, it’s best to help people experience the benefits for themselves.
You can do this by providing opportunities to bring older and younger people together. This will help both groups break down any misconceptions they might have about the other. Work with your allies to plan activities or events that are fun, social occasions that can build mutual trust and respect. Think about how you can promote shared learning and communication across generations. Some ideas could be:
As well as involving young people in the planning, support them to organise and lead things on the day.
Keep building support by making sure your allies and champions are connected, up to date and inspired.
Work together to evaluate what you're doing so you can demonstrate the outcomes and impact you’re making, and learn where you need to concentrate your efforts.
Remember that building support – and shifting attitudes – takes time, so stay stress free, remain focused and celebrate the journey.
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