The job of youth development professionals is to provide opportunities for young people to develop the competencies they need to become successful contributing members of their communities (Pittman & Wright, 1991). Empowerment can be one of the most effective strategies for providing young people with opportunities to develop competence.
Over the past decade "empowerment" has become the buzzword in business, evaluation and youth development. Because of its wide use, the word "empowerment" has many different meanings to people.
According to Webster (1998. Empower means (1) "to give official authority or legal power to; (2) enable; (3) to promote the self actualization or influence."
The strategy proscribed by the first definition can be quite effective provided that the party being empowered (that is, the "empoweree") already has the competencies needed to achieve the desired outcome. The strategy does not work well when it is plugged into a framework of youth development in which empowerment itself is being used as a strategy for developing competencies in youth. For youth development, the third definition is more suitable.
Too often youth workers assume that "empowering" is a synonym for relinquishing all guidance, control, and responsibility for a project to the young people with whom they work. Typically, this approach is met with failure on the part of the youth, frustration on the part of the youth development professional, and more evidence that the notion of "empowerment" is a concept that looks good on paper but does not work in the real world of youth work.
"Empowering teens" refers to a Process through which adults begin to share responsibility and power with young people. It is the same idea as teaching young people the rules of the game. Youth development professionals such as (REYNET), is helping young people develop non-academic competencies that will help them to participate in the game of life. Because it is a process, empowerment is something that is achieved over time, not overnight.
Empowering teens is important because empowerment leads to competence and competence is linked to self-esteem. Additionally, teens with increased competence grow to become great resource for Reynet, because they will assume increasing responsibility within the day to day activities and in running the overall program. In a study conducted by DiBenedetto (1992), teens identified nine factors influencing their feelings of empowerment:
- Non-authoritarian adult leadership.
- Being able to experience and exercise power.
- Receiving education and training.
- Participating in critical analysis of issues.
- Experiencing an environment of safety, closeness and appreciation.
- Being able to honestly express opinions and emotions.
- Accepting diversity.
- Developing a voice.
- Being able to take action.
- Share information.
Sharing information with young people about all the aspects
of the program, from budgets to organizational policies, is the
first step to fostering empowerment. Such sharing ensures that
teens clearly understand the parameters within which the program
has to operate. It also conveys a message of trust. Withholding
information sends the message that adults do not think teens can
understand or that they will not act responsibly with the
information they receive. Sharing information encourages teens to
act like "owners" or shareholders of the program.
If sharing information is difficult, the youth trainer may want to examine his or her assumptions about teens. Are youths viewed as being able to make useful contributions? Do adults always know what is best for youths? Several authors have developed useful self-assessment surveys (e.g., Carter & Betts, 1996; Lofquist, 1989)
- Create autonomy through boundaries.
Community highlight:. Many people assume that empowering means giving
teens carte blanche to set up whatever, however they
want. Actually, it means just the opposite. Creating autonomy
through boundaries means teaching youths the rules or boundaries
within which they can operate (such as budgets, policies). Each
event, activity, or program must operate within certain
parameters, be they financial or policy requirements.
Youth based bodies must outline those outer limits to youths. Blanchard, Carlos, and Randolph (1996) suggest thinking of the limits as the banks of a river. The banks are what give the river its direction and momentum. Without the banks there would be no movement. The riverbed itself may be several miles wide, but the banks still exist.
Empowerment also means teaching young people specific "plays" within the game. People have to learn new ways of thinking and working. It does not come automatically. Let's take the fashion review as an example. In setting up a fashion review, teens need to know all the steps involved, that is the "plays" of the game. These could include finding a location, how much can be spent on rent, negotiating and signing a contract, charging admission, selling tickets, contracting for lighting, getting stores to donate clothes, getting teens to model, selecting music, insurance/liability issues, snacks, and so forth. Often teens do not follow through because they don't know what to do.
- Examine the role of the youth development professional. When the actual steps in the empowerment process are reviewed, the role of a youth development professional begins to sound much like that of a facilitator, a very different role for many people. Adults frequently get caught up in making every decision for young people and feeling responsible for making sure every event turns out "picture perfect." The role of youth development body is to help young people develop competencies and feel empowered. Remember that empowerment, like development, is a process.
- Meeting with interested youths:-
Get some indication of how many young people are interested
in the project or program. If few youths show up, it indicate that
the topic is not one of interest to them. If this is the case, it
is unlikely the project would provide opportunities for
competency development. If youths are excited about the project,
- Showing youths the budget and policies within which they
have to work:-
Just as there are laws in our community, there are rules
within which organizations must operate. These are the "rules of
the game." For organizations, these rules are typically embodied
in policies, mission statements, and budgetary constraints. It is
critical that young people understand the rules because they
dictate the outer limits of what can be accomplished. Too often,
adults make the mistake of asking young people what they want to
do without first delineating the outer boundaries of what can be
done. Rather than limiting creativity, such an approach limits
the frustration young people feel when their ideas are met with
an immediate "we can't do that" response from adults.
- Facilitating a brainstorming session about all the issues that need to be considered to make the event a reality:- This step involves delineating the "plays" in the game. Ask youths to list all the things that have to be done before the program or project can happen. Give them an opportunity to list all their ideas first, then bring up issues or tasks they might not have thought about. Keep in mind that the goal of this process is to teach youths, how to achieve what they thought impossible before. They need to learn the process of what goes into making any event happen. Instead of telling them what they need to do, ask questions.
- Facilitating a task outlining session and prioritization of tasks in a timeline. Revisit the list generated in the previous step. Conduct another "mini" brainstorming session around how to complete each task.
- Figuring out who wants to take responsibility for each task:- Once tasks have been outlined and the timeline is in place, ask participants to volunteer to take responsibility for specific steps. This is the step in which youths become "hands-on" involved in the process. This becomes their responsibility to the team.
- Setting up several interim meetings to check on progress prior to the actual event. Steps six and seven are the most critical in the process. It is imperative that the youth development bodies provides support and guidance for young people as they attempt to fulfill their tasks. Many times young people are afraid or embarrassed to admit in front of their peers that they do not know how to do something. The youth development bodies need to check in with each young person to see how they are doing. Give them some lead time--don't wait until the day their task is "due."
- Being available to offer guidance and support:- The youth development professional body is the coach who needs to be available to support the young people. Role play with them so they can practice their communication skills. Remember, do not do the job for them, but support them in their doing for themselves.
- Revisiting the process upon completion. Once the program or project is completed, get back together with the group to celebrate success and to examine what the group learned as well as what they would change for the next time around. As part of a true experiential learning process, it is important to help youths recognize the skills they gained during the process and how those skills can be applied to other situations.
Blessing Oyanimigha for (REYNET)