Editor’s note: This post was written by John L., who was one of the six youth who attended the DigCitUtah Positives Pilot Launch on November 10, 2015. The purpose of this meeting was to model the process of engaging youth in discussing and creating project ideas around the positive uses of technology.
Tuesday night, I went to a digital citizenship meeting hosted by EPIK. The whole purpose of the meeting was to teach people how to facilitate discussions with youth about using technology productively and effectively. What Kathy, who was the facilitator, did was gather me and my classmates in the front. For about twenty to thirty minutes we had a discussion with her and each other about our ideas of how to use technology. We used sticky notes on poster board to get our ideas on paper. The adults in the background did the same, but they just listened to us talk. Then we turned around and had some group discussions about other ideas. This all sounds very benign and not really that impactful. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
This meeting was amazing. There is really no other word for it. What the facilitators were able to do was give the youth power. Throughout my life it has always bothered me that youth don’t have the say that I believe we deserve. We are all underage, no voting abilities, no real jobs for the most part, in general just lesser beings in society, being groomed to take our parents’ place. Now this sounds really sarcastic and critical and it really isn’t true. But youth are often underrepresented and not given much say. Of course parents and teachers listen, but it’s just listening. This was different.
Having a discussion like this one with several high-powered adults was the most empowering feeling I have felt in my life. To know that the adults were not only listening to all my ideas, but were able to actually make them happen gave me a lot of confidence. And it made me realize something.
Yes, youth are not given a lot of the same power and responsibility that adults are vested with. But this means that youth are not given the limitations and hindrances that come with that power. Adults are trained to work in the system, for the most part. As an example, one of the adult listeners came up after the meeting and talked about as the youth shared their ideas, he went through each mentally checking which ones were actually possible or feasible. Juxtapose this with the youth, and we get a different story. For the youth, it was nothing but possibilities. And this is what I realized as I was sitting and listening as the ideas floated around the tables. Youth are not given as much power which means they don’t have the same limitations as adults. That means that youth have permission to and the ability to dream big. To dream vividly and crazily and brightly. And this fascinated me.
If it were left to just my classmates and me, it would all be just talk. Brilliant talk to be sure, and intelligent. But just talk. When adults can come into a room with several youth, children really, they can be the steadying influence and the power behind the words. And this excites me because that means that adults need us as much as we need them. Adults by themselves come up with brilliant ideas everyday to be sure. Ingenious even. But as was stated at this meeting [by Devorah Heitner, who kicked off the meeting by video connection], most of the ‘small’ problems of the world have been solved. We have apps for everything now and services for those that we don’t. But there are still a lot of big problems that need to be solved. And frankly, they will never be solved without dreamers. Without those that can think and imagine a world of possibilities without the hindrances of responsibility. But once those dreams come to life, there has to be some steadying influence to bring it back down to earth. Enter the youth and adults working together.
That feeling that I felt Tuesday night cannot be unique. It should never be unique. If we let this feeling of empowerment and of understanding pass, we are missing out. We are losing a valuable resource that is vastly critical to the continued progression of solutions for our big problems. That emotion, once captured, is what can lead us to real change and more importantly, total change. Change that is across generations, countries, ethnicities, and cultures. This, from one small meeting, can be replicated. So let’s do it.