International Youth Day is August 12, 2015, and this year’s theme is youth civic engagement. The importance of involving youth in civic awareness and activities cannot be underestimated. Kids in grade school today are the people who will be raising families and making decisions for their community and their country in the future. It is important to show them the power that they have as citizens and to teach them to wield it effectively and responsibly.

For young children

One of the most powerful ways to engage young children in civic activities is to start small and keep the activities short. Examples of this could be picking up litter, putting together back to school kits for homeless children (and having a conversation about what that means), and donating food to a local food drive.

Other ideas include:

  • Celebrating things like Earth Day at rallies and festivals
  • Modeling good civic behavior and involvement by taking your kids with you to vote
  • Encouraging your child’s interest in a cause that means something to them (e.g., helping them organize pet food donations for a local animal shelter if they are animal lovers)
  • Recognizing efforts such as recycling and water conservation

The very youngest children may not fully understand why it is important to be active and engaged in the community. Civic activities with young children are meant to be fun, planting seeds for deeper civic engagement as they get older.

For middle grade and high school kids

In these grades, kids are beginning to understand more about their effect on the world around them. They are also forming their identity during this time and can be uncertain and unsure of their place in the world. Helping them to become involved in their community can offer them a sense of place and help them develop their strengths. The possibilities for this age group are limited only by time.

Encourage voting

While kids under 18 cannot vote, they can still engage in discussion about candidates and campaign for their candidate. At this stage, kids may or may not agree with their parents’ choice of candidate, which can offer some lively discussion opportunities around the dinner table. Do your best to encourage them to keep an open mind to all opinions while still allowing them the freedom to learn their own minds.

Participate in community service

Chances are good that your community offers ample opportunity for service projects. Many organizations do have age restrictions for volunteers, but this should not hold your kids back. Encourage them to identify something they feel strongly about and brainstorm ways to support their cause. They can also look online for opportunities posted by charitable organizations.

Projects may include letter writing, volunteering, or raising funds through yards sales and lemonade stands. Older students can get involved in high school debate clubs, model UN, and the school newspaper to get their voices into the world for change.

Utilize social media

This is not your grandma’s civic engagement! Social media now makes it possible for one cause to reach millions of people with a single tweet. Hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter and #ItGetsBetter mobilized thousands of people and motivated them to act and learn more about hate crimes based on race and sexuality. For young adults, finding a cause they believe in and then spreading the word via social media can be a powerful form of civic engagement.

Invent something world-changing

This may be a long shot, but young people around the globe are solving problems that adults have not been able to touch in years of research. Consider 19-year-old Boyan Slat, a young man who has invented a way to clean up the 20 billion pounds of trash in the world’s oceans in just ten years. Or Param Jaggi, who, at the age of 15, invented a filter to attach to a car’s exhaust pipe that would filter 89% of carbon monoxide emitted.

International Youth Day for kids in pain

Chronic pain in children is a condition that affects every aspect in life. It can be very difficult to encourage a child who is suffering to look beyond themselves to the larger community, especially if that child is very young. There are things that you can do to encourage them to move beyond the boundaries set by their pain to become more engaged in the world around them.

  • Go out in nature: Nature is a powerful healer. Simply being outdoors instead of cooped up inside can work wonders for a child in pain. Using nature to focus on healing and civic engagement can be a powerful way to help kids see beyond their present circumstance.
  • Encourage a sense of play even as you give back: Play can help children to heal, both emotionally and physically. For young children in pain, participating in a mural or other art project or completing a fun run (or walk) for a charity close to them can be a great way to get involved.

If you and your kids are participating in International Youth Day and the activity you have chosen becomes overwhelming or too difficult to complete due to pain, it is okay to take a break and rest. August can be the hottest month of the year, so physical care comes first, with plenty of hydration and frequent breaks in the shade. Listen to your kids and allow them to choose the activity and set the pace of the day.

For International Youth Day, encourage kids to get out into their community and get involved, taking pictures and tweeting them out with the hashtag #YouthDay. It’s never too early to develop the habit of civic engagement!

Image by Visions Service Adventure via Flickr


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