Perceptions about Civic Engagement and Community Involvement

Drawing on the positive youth development framework, helping youth perceive the importance of and develop an understanding of how to contribute is essential for youth to thrive in their transition from adolescence to adulthood (Lerner et. al., 2002).  Contribution has four dimensions: self, family, community, and society.  When youth successfully develop their understanding about contribution, they will understand that contributions to each of these arenas are mutually beneficial rather than feeling like one must be done as a cost to the others.

Perceptions of social trust, connectedness, and concern for others all demonstrate an increased propensity to contribute.  While children and youth may not currently be contributing, that may be a reflection of opportunity rather than desire to contribute.  In addition some programs may not have the capacity to support youth in directly contributing, but they may still help youth develop the desire to contribute.  Program managers need to examine the theory of change in their programs to determine which indicators will be most appropriate.

In addition, poor, urban youth may first need to develop “critical consciousness” which “builds the capacity for young people to respond and change oppressive conditions in their environment” (Ginwright & Cammorata, 2007).  These youth may not build social trust in ways traditionally understood and measured.  Instead, they learn to trust and build community through neighborhood-based organizations which help them understand the relationship between personal and community problems.

By Urban Institute


Sources Cited

Ginwright, S. & Cammarota, J. (2007). Youth activism in the urban community: Learning critical civic praxis within community organizations. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 20:6, 693-710.

Lerner, R.M., Brentano, C., Dowling, E.M., Anderson, P.M. (2002). Positive youth development: Thriving as the basis of personhood and civil society. New Directions for Youth Development, 95, 11-33.