Discussion at the SRCD civic preconference focused on three key developmental questions. Below are the key themes that arose from the conversation.
What are some of the key developmental outcomes of civic
engagement (e.g., in terms of identity development, relationships, connection with community)?
-Community membership: Engagement fosters a sense of community and causes youth to see themselves as essential assets to their community. This increases youth’s motivation to become active contributors to the good of their neighborhoods, cities, and political institutions.
-Heterogeneous social encounters: Engagement transforms peer relationships and expands youth’s social networks to include individuals from different backgrounds and circumstances.This helps youth to become more attentive to prejudices and stereotypes, and opens youth’s eyes to different points of view. Encounters with individuals from diverse social conditions also increases awareness of social injustices and increases desire to confront these injustices through active civic and community participation.
-Working with adults: Engaged youth develop relationships with civically active adults, who can mentor the youth. However, youth are also given opportunities to engage in community and civic activities right alongside adults. Thus, civic engagement transforms adolescent/adult relationships from hierarchical to more egalitarian relationships, allowing youth to take on meaningful leadership roles.
-Individual competencies: Engaged youth develop the skills necessary for adult civic involvement.
Question for future discussion: What specific skills are most important for youth to gain from their civic experiences?
What are the developmental roots of civic engagement? How early does civic identity develop?
Civic engagement springs from the day-to-day contexts and proximal relationships that make up adolescents’ lives.
-Historical Events: Momentous local and national events (e.g., 9/11, inspirational or contentious political candidate) may spur engagement.
-Society: The cultural values promoted by society shape citizens’ orientation toward the greater good (individualistic/competitive v. collective). In the United States, civic participation is rarely prioritized above other obligations (e.g., work, leisure).
-Schools: For many young people, their first service experience occurs in school as part of a structured graduation requirement or service-learning activity. Community service requirements have been shown to prime adolescents’ motivation for continued service. Schools ask youth to get involved – this is key!
-Non-Parental Adults: Relationships with non-parental adults (e.g., youth leader) characterized by mutual respect, reciprocity, kindness, and consistency allow young people to expand their network of healthy adult role models and create new opportunities to get involved in their communities.
-Family: In additional to inculcating values, family’s structure engagement activities and provide opportunities to talk about and refine one’s political viewpoints. The opportunity to care for younger siblings may make some adolescents more aware of the need to care for others and the shared environment.
-Individual: Some suggest that willingness to engage in civic endeavors stems from an individual’s temperament and personality characteristics (e.g., conscientiousness, tenacity). Personal experiences of oppression may motivate action (or, reversely, may lead to disengagement).
What are the most influential contexts for civic development?
Contexts need to offer supportive social networks and relationships; shared power, particularly between youth and adults; opportunities to discuss critical issues and reflect on experiences; and ways to feel that efforts have made a difference.
In the context of globalization, new technologies can facilitate new types of activism.
How can we get people motivated for civic engagement?
Building relationships, create a space for youth to express themselves and make sure multiple perspectives are heard, create opportunities for young people to take on responsibilities and be leaders, build communication skills, teach leaders how to respect others and practice equality, help youth understand issues of social hierarchies, and get adults to see young people as equal partners.