Transitioning to Teaching Online – Contemporary Issues in Youth Development, OER Project

This is another post in my series on developing my Adolescent and Youth Development for Youthworkers class as an online course for this fall. The series begins with Part 1.

The last 6 posts about this teaching transition have been about course content. They are:

So, finally, the first 5 chapters of my OER textbook are complete! Or… at least, drafted! I still have quite a bit of work to do adding references and maybe a bit more content in places, but so far, I’ve got a solid outline. I will keep making modifications as I go to start getting things set up in Canvas. So now, the rest of the OER textbook – the project!

Assignment Description

This summer some incredible students in our Masters Social Work program created a police abolition teach-in in response to the murder of George Floyd. Their use of technology to teach us about this subject was inspiring to me. I learned a lot about police abolition, was deeply engaged for 90 minutes, and left feeling like I had some action steps. The more I thought about it, the more this struck me as a model for organizing our class together.

There are an infinite number of issues we could consider in youth development, especially when we start combining topics together. For instance, an issue that’s come up for me this summer is doing participatory, democratic youth work in an online-only context. Another person might be interested in police abolition organizing in black communities because they’ve been involved in organizing work this summer. Yet another person may, because of their own background or that of a friend, be interested in the ways queer youth on the autism spectrum participate in and experience youth programs.

I’m moving forward on the theory that the stuff that YOU are most interested in is also the stuff the rest of us are likely to find most interesting! In the first 5 weeks of class, I will work hard to demonstrate a diverse set of approaches to online learning that create engaging, thought-provoking workshops around a topic in youth development. While your topics may range far and wide and will likely be more specific, in the first 5 weeks I hope to give you an overview of some of the frameworks and models we (Youth Studies) use to understand the idea of “youth development.” My hope is that we’ll apply these to your own issues in youth development.

During the first few weeks of class, while we work through the content I’ve created, you’ll start exploring issues in youth development that are most interesting to you and start doing some research on those issues. Your goal is to become something of an expert – able to guide us through a workshop that teaches us all about the issue you chose! Your workshop should be well-designed, engaging, clear, and based in good research on the issue. We’ll spend the rest of class (until close to the end) running teach-ins for each other about the issues you chose! Along the way, we’ll have a few related assignments to help you prepare (and I hope you’ll work closely with me too).

Here’s where things get exciting though (at least for me). Rather than make this just a school exercise – you know, the ones where you write a paper for me, I grade it, and then you throw it away? – I want us to create something that’s potentially useful for other people. Because here’s the deal: the field of youth work is small! There aren’t very many researchers out there writing about it, and there are very, very few practitioners who write about it! That means that, when I’m working with the queer and autistic young person, even if I’m an experienced professional, I won’t have much specific knowledge. That means that, by the time you run your workshop in our class, you may be the world’s foremost expert on this topic! Which also means that we should share this knowledge with the world. So our class this semester is a shot at creating the world’s first, and maybe some day most comprehensive, digital guidebook on Contemporary Issues in Youth Development. I expect future semesters will continue to contribute new topics to the book – but you all will be the first!

In case that all just made you anxious – here’s the deal. My commitment is to work with you this semester until your workshop is brilliant. We can talk on Zoom, the phone, text, or email. We can do a test run together. And so on. This is all to say: I’m here to help you when you get stuck (and I do expect you might get stuck).

Step 1: Weeks 1 & 2

Start to explore issues you care about in youth development. Chances are good you’ve probably already got a few in mind. Perhaps they are related to an organization you work with. Maybe they come out of your personal experience. They might have come from a recent class. You might start broadly – choose something like “hunger” or “racism” or “disability” or “genius” or … you name it.

Issue Exploration Journal: Start a Google Drive Document that you can share with me. It should be informal. Copy and paste things into it, write little notes or comments. Keep track of the searching that you do. The purpose of this is to help you explore this issue. And if you are wanting help, it will aid me in knowing where we should start!

Jamboard: After a few days of thinking, we’ll collectively post issues in a Jamboard so we can see them. What issues do you care about? List them, 1 per sticky note, on the Jamboard. Are there some that are related to each other (or the same)? Start overlapping them or connecting them. Do you see new or related issues that you want to incorporate into your project? Great -that was the point!

Searching: Once you’ve got a general category or two, you can start to narrow it down. Let’s say you chose “hunger” as a topic. Maybe do some Google searches around the term:

Start to read a few things that come up. Use them to add a few links and thoughts to your Issue Exploration Journal. What articles caught your eye? Why? What did they teach you? Did they help narrow your topic?

Week 3: Getting specific about an issue

Give your Issue Exploration Journal a quick read. Our task now is to narrow ourselves down to a much more specific topic. To draw from our examples above, great topics might sound something like:

  • Addressing racism with young people of color through community organizing.
  • Supporting queer youth on the spectrum in after school programs: Common challenges and opportunities.
  • Conducting participatory, democratic youth work online.

Got an issue – great! Before you move on, check in with me and make sure we both feel you’ve got the issue you want to work on.

Week 3: Digging into the research

Now that you’ve got an issue, it’s time to start learning more! Pick up that Issue Exploration Journal again and start keeping track of what you read. Here’s some tips:

  • Don’t read everything about any 1 thing. I know this probably goes against what most other teachers have taught you, but at this stage it is better to cover a lot of ground than to get too absorbed in one particular article.
  • Do follow your interest. If something doesn’t speak to you, don’t read it. Your interest is a good guide.
  • Do keep track of what you read, whether or not you liked it.
  • Do start sorting what you read – make a table, give your reading some headings. You might resort it later. That’s okay – sorting is a way of starting to think through the ideas.

Let’s say I pick up the issue “Conducting participatory, democratic youth work online”. My first step might be a Google Search for that issue:

Don’t forget to look at the related searches at the bottom – they are often an excellent next step!

You may notice there’s a problem with these searches! It looks like they’ve got some great stuff on “participatory democratic youth work,” but they have literally nothing about the hardest part – online! That’s because very few people have tried it before. I already know a decent amount about “participatory democratic youth work,” and what I need to learn more about is the “online” part… So even though I need some references for the “participatory democratic youth work” part, I’m already deciding to focus most of my energy on the “online” part. So – what have people written a lot about related to this? Teaching online! So my next search might try to find stuff about that…

These articles are an OK place to start, but I need to get more specific. So how about this:

Sweet. Now we are getting somewhere, and that took me less than 5 minutes! I have some ideas about teaching online, which is somewhat relevant, but that isn’t exactly youth work. So what if I try “youth work online”?

Now we’re getting somewhere! My next step is to do some reading and take some notes. Here’s a brief example:

    Notes: try social media (TikTok, Instagram, Twitch or Discord) chats? Instagram seems full of opportunities (Instagram Live, quiz, etc.). Use games to engage.
    pointed me toward this video:
    Notes: virtual learning is not equitably accessible to all youth. there are strategies that can make it more accessible and these need to be considered. Adultism shows up in online learning. which platforms are accessible?

And my notes should continue in this fashion until I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to do this youth work thing online.

Now my job is to start sorting through the information. For example, I learned that some technologies are more accessible than others, and some ways of using technologies are more accessible than others. So I’m going to make a list of which technologies are more accessible and just cut the rest out. When I get down to that new list of technologies, are there one or two I learned more about from other sources? Maybe I’ll focus on those. Sort through everything you’ve found. You should be able to start organizing some categories. To continue this example:

  • Combating adultism and inviting young people to make decisions (using online technology to do it!)
  • Creating an accessible online learning space that centers youth voices
  • Using social media to create ongoing engagement with participants

Note that some of these categories came directly from some of my research. Others, I made up based on a few of the overlapping points of research I found. For example, I found resources on creating accessible online learning spaces, but I needed to add other research (not shown in this example) that demonstrates how to center youth voices.

Please note: this is a very practical issue, focused on “how-to” do things. Not everything will be quite this practical! Let’s take up an earlier example: “Supporting queer youth on the spectrum in after school programs: Common challenges and opportunities.” Here we might spend more time teaching our participants what it’s like to be a queer youth on the spectrum and might only focus a little bit on the “action steps”. Either one is OK.

Finally, chances are good I could still learn a little more about this topic. The best teacher might be a conversation with someone knowledgable. In my searching, I found the writing of Maha Bali, who has a lot to say about this topic. I also found her on Twitter, so I’m going to reach out to her and ask for an interview. I’ll take notes in my Issue Exploration Journal and I’ll use them as I fill in the missing pieces from my research.

Week 4: Creating a Rubric

We’ve spent the last few weeks using the “chapters” I created to learn about youth development. Hopefully this has given you a few ideas about the chapter you’ll create. Perhaps you liked something I did (I hope)? Perhaps you didn’t like another. Either way – and given all your other online learning experience – with a little consideration, you’ve probably got some good ideas about what would constitute an excellent workshop on a subject. So let’s create the rubric for the assignment together.

Jamboard: Create a list of criteria you think make for a good online workshop on a topic. This is a brainstorm, so put down as many sticky notes as possible, each with one idea on them. Once we’ve had a bit of time to brainstorm (divergent thinking), lets do some sorting – what’s similar or even the same (convergent thinking)? What’s similar enough that we can connect them together?

Google Drive Document: Now let’s take the criteria from the Jamboard and move them into this example rubric. Once we’ve copied the criteria over, in small groups, claim one of the criteria. Give us the details on what makes for a “Needs Work” project, an “Acceptable” project, and an “Outstanding” project.

Finally, review what the other groups created. Any areas of disagreement we should work out? Put those in the comments and let’s figure them out.

The purpose of this rubric is to guide the process of creating your “chapter” in our book. In this process, I hope you’ll work with me as an editor. Bounce ideas off me, work with me to help find clarity, and use my help to make revisions. My goal is for everyone to get to “Outstanding” for each of the criteria we’ve created. And I’ll happily keep working with you until we get there.

Week 4 – 6: Creation Weeks

During this time, you should create a full draft of your workshop. We will take Week 6 off entirely from regularly scheduled class to give you time to do so. I will be available to schedule meetings during this time to help support you in creating a strong draft of your workshop.

During Week 5, we’ll sort out who will present their workshop in what order. By the end of Week 6, everyone should have a complete and strong draft of their workshop. However, you can continue to edit up to the time you present your workshop to us!

Weeks 7 – 14: Workshops

Presentation: If you are presenting your workshop, your job is to be ready, present the workshop, and then receive feedback (and make changes accordingly).

Participating and Feedback: If you are participating in the workshop, your job is to be a great participant! Your secondary job is to write up some quality feedback for the workshop host to help them complete a final draft.

Needs Statement: A need statement is a clear description of a problem and provides facts and evidence to support action on this issue. This is a brief sub-assignment meant to help you think about how you might write a grant that responds to this issue. A description of how to write a Needs Statement and some examples are in this document.

Week 15: Workshop Publication

By Week 15, you should have incorporated any feedback given by me and your peers into a final draft of your workshop. Before the semester ends, we’ll publish it to the book! Of course, if you want to come back later and make changes, that’s great.


It is my hope that everyone will receive an excellent grade on this assignment, based on the rubric ya’ll create. My goal is to work alongside you to help your work be strong. However, in order for that to work, you’ll need to engage me!

Transitioning to Teaching Online – Contemporary Issues in Youth Development, Chapter 5: Youth Development and Youth Work

This is another post in my series on developing my Adolescent and Youth Development for Youthworkers class as an online course for this fall. The series begins with Part 1.

This is “Chapter” 5 of the interactive and experiential OER I will develop with my students this fall. This will likely be module 5 / week 5 of the course.

Chapter Overview: Youth development is not youth work. Youth development is not youth work. Youth development is not youth work. No matter how many times we say it, chances are high we’ll get the two confused. The two have been so intimately interwoven that they are often seen as synonymous! In this module we start to pull them apart. What are the most common kinds of relationships between youth development and youth work? How have those shown up for you as a young person (or as a youth worker)? How, given what we now know, should they be connected?

Learning Aims: As a result of participating in this “chapter”, participants will be able to:

  • Name key differences between five different models of youth development
  • Apply the frames of youth development presented so far to understanding these five models of youth development.
  • Name key differences between “youth development” and “youth work”.
  • Create a process for rotating between different frames for understanding youth when practicing youth work.

Part 1: 5 Models of Youth Development

So far we’ve explored “frames” for understanding youth development. Let’s think of them like image filters (Instagram, for example). We can apply one filter and it changes the way we see an image. If we applied a second one (say we could), we’d get a yet another image, now with two interacting layers. We could go on and on with this – the image would keep changing, and perhaps after a while even get difficult to recognize as the same picture we had at the beginning!

However, what we’ll encounter most in conversations about youth development aren’t frames, but models. A model of youth development is a theory of how young people develop, combined with a strategy to aid that development. The civilization that gets referred to as “the West” has only short history of youth development models – starting with G. Stanley Hall (remember him) and proceeding to today’s sometimes more progressive models.

Any given model interacts with the frames we’ve discussed so far – they have a politics and they intersect with identities (whether “youth” or all the other identities carried by any given young person). They may not use “adolescence” – but in some way or another, they respond to adolescence as a way of thinking about young people.

Ross VeLure Roholt (a professor in the Youth Studies program at the University of Minnesota) talks about a “river” of youth development models. If we think about a river like the Mississippi, it starts in Itasca, Minnesota and as it flows southward, both “drops off” and “picks up” sediment, animals, plants, and pollutants. The river of youth development does the same. It starts out with a model of youth development that sees youth in one way, and then as the river flows, it both picks up and drops off some ideas. I like thinking of this historical flow in this way because it is a decently accurate description of how one model of youth development was created in response to what came before it – ditching some ideas that it disliked while keeping some others.

While there are many models of youth development out there, we’ll briefly discuss five models that represent significant transformations along the way.

Adolescent Development

Models of adolescent development began with G. Stanley Hall and are committed to the notion that young people develop through a series of stages, each characterized by the development of a new set of capabilities. We studied some of these ideas earlier. This is the start of the river and we’ve never really escaped some of the ways that it frames youth development, which is why it is both a frame and a model. As a model, adolescent development is most often seen in more psychological contexts. However, you can also see it in the ways teachers talk about their classrooms – phrases like, “that’s not developmentally appropriate”, or “they aren’t able to understand that yet” represent this model. And although we might be inclined to judge these kinds of phrases negatively, the definitions in use now can be quite appealing! Check this one out:

NAEYC defines “developmentally appropriate practice” as educational and caregiving methods that promote each child’s optimal learning and development through a strengths-based approach to joyful, engaged

NAEYC Position Statement on Developmentally Appropriate Practice 2020, pg. 4

Sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it? Although NAEYC is focused on early-childhood education, the same way of talking about “developmental appropriateness” applies to adolescent development. Here’s another one, this time about youth:

Youth development in its broadest sense refers to the stages that all children go through to acquire the attitudes, competencies, values, and social skills they need to become successful adults.

Mentoring Resource Center Factsheet

However, both these quotes also point out some potential issues with adolescent development.

  • Optimalism: We believe we can “optimize” a child’s experience – that if we somehow get all the factors right, they will grow up in a “perfect” way. But how do we research and determine what is optimal? In order to do this, we need to believe that we can establish a right way to approach things, but studying this is very difficult – because all we have to study are people growing up in the world we currently have. And unfortunately, that world isn’t equitably or fairly distributed between people, so the kids we are studying to make determinations about “optimal” are themselves already being brought up in a problematic society. And unfortunately, “optimal” in most cases means “fits into” society as it is… which, is deeply problematic!
  • Universalism: A related problem is the belief that all children (and thus all youth) are more or less the same in some way. While this may be true (and I personally doubt it), the studies about child and adolescent development have been conducted primarily on white, middle class, male-identified individuals. More importantly, most of the developmental ideas we use in adolescent development originated on studies of white, middle-class children and youth. So even the original map was created on a very specific subset of people, and even if subsequent studies made changes based on more diverse populations, they were just small changes to the map, rather than laying down a whole new map.
  • Focus is on youth as individuals: The primary focus is on each individual young person – they are the ones to be developed! As we will see in later models, this notion gets challenged in important ways.
  • Deficit / Damage Focus: Although modern approaches to adolescent development have begun to talk about “assets,” “strengths,” and “capabilities”, the overarching tone of most adolescent development ideas still carry the deficit framings of G. Stanley Hall. Even if you create a list of all the positive traits young people develop, there’s still a good chance they are missing some of these – which become deficits!

    Traditionally, most Adolescent Development theories focused only on individuals that didn’t fit “normal” development – juvenile delinquents, developmental disabilities, and so forth. More modern ideas of adolescent development have again adopted some thinking from Positive Youth Development in this regard and started to talk more about development of all youth.

Positive Youth Development

Positive Youth Development (I’ll abbreviate it +YD) rolled in as a challenge to Adolescent Development theories. It was a courageous concept when it first came out because it demanded two major changes to models of adolescent development.

  • +YD focuses on all young people’s development, not just the “problematic” young people.
  • +YD focuses on the “good stuff” for young people and not just the bad.

We already watched a video where Richard Lerner promoted the 5 C’s of Positive Youth Development. Here, we’ll engage with another example: the Developmental Assets Profile (DAP). The real DAP is used by many youth-serving organizations to assess the success of their programs. This is a simplified version to give you a sense of what they call the “developmental assets”.

Take the Developmental Assets Profile

Once you’ve taken the DAP, think for a minute about your results. How well did you do? What does it feel like to take this test? Are there any “assets” you were worried about?

Most of the time, students comment on the ways a list like this creates yet another way for a young person to encounter their deficits. Like, if I’m missing 10 of these assets, does that point out where I need to grow? According to the folks behind assessments like this, the answer is generally “yes.” Here’s what they have to say:

Young people today are dealing with a lot of difficult situations. Depression, anxiety, bullying, drug and alcohol use are major problems among teens. Advances in technology have amplified the issues for many adolescents, leaving schools and youth-serving organizations to address these problems and help kids navigate a tough world.

But it’s difficult for schools and youth-serving organizations to address these types of issues when they can’t see or monitor them.

The Developmental Asset Profile (DAP) was created for that reason. It is a reliable and valid assessment of the strengths, supports, and social-emotional factors that are essential for young people’s success in school and life.

Search Institute

Note that the focus is still on the problems of young people – and on fixing those problems by fixing the individual young people! Note too the implication: even though they are looking at young people’s “assets”, what they are actually looking for is young people’s missing assets. Further, note we are still optimizing young people based on a pretty narrow, and universal, idea of who the ideal young person is supposed to be. If we examine +YD through the lens of identity, we see one universal identity, rather than the multiply intersectional identities of any real young person.

In this “fly by” view of Positive Youth Development, it actually doesn’t look all that different from adolescent development! The truth is, it both is and isn’t. +YD changed things in a big way because it reminded (and still does remind) us that young people aren’t just a sum of their problems. It also reminded us to focus on all young people, rather than just the ones society has decided are problematic. However, you will see +YD all over the place in your work, and even if you use the language, I hope you also see that it carries some problems with it!

Community Youth Development

Community Youth Development (CYD) flipped the adolescent and even positive youth development paradigm on its head. Rather than focus on individual youth, CYD focuses on youth-in-community. There is a reciprocal relationship between the development of young people and the development of the community. In other words, the problems young people face are not just about their own personal failures! If they are using drugs, it isn’t because they have poor executive function, but because they live in a community where drugs are available and where young people may not have access to X, Y, and Z other opportunities. The failure is thus not on the young people, but on a broader community. Further, it is the failure of said community not to invite young people to have power in shaping the community to be the kind of place they’d like it to be.

And there’s one more important point here: according to proponents of this model, like Karen Pittman, communities are missing out on a key constituent by excluding young people! In other words, the community can’t develop well without young people’s involvement.

CYD doesn’t have much to say about some of the other aspects of adolescent development and +YD. Other than this primary switch in the focus of who is developed, one could potentially continue using ideas of +YD, as long as they also recognized that change needed to take place in the way the community treats young people. Further, though CYD names young people as an oppressed group because they lack power, it still ignores the intersectional identities of young people.

This model introduces a new and important characteristic, however: power. It recognizes that young people are left out of decision-making roles and positions in their communities, and are therefore left without power. Adolescent development and +YD ignore power entirely (as most people with power do) – these two models are to be applied to young people, whether or not they like it! CYD opens space – in fact, demands space – for negotiation between young people and adults.

Participatory Youth Development and Social Justice Youth Development

We now arrive in the “present” of youth development models, with Participatory Youth Development (PYD) and Social Justice Youth Development (SJYD). I present these two models here because they have many similarities (although still a few differences).

These models build on CYD. They believe young people have a right to make decisions, to organize to create change, and to be included in community decision-making (whether in a school, non-profit, local area, or more broadly). Unlike CYD, which makes general suggestions about change, these two models propose very specific strategies. These strategies, based in ideas of critical pedagogy and participatory democracy, start from the basis that whatever is happening within a small group should reflect the kind of society we want to build around us. Therefore, a small group of youth should function as a participatory democracy if that’s what we are hoping for in the broader world. PYD especially is focused on building democratic decision-making into the functioning of youth groups. However, neither of these models of youth development is satisfied with having nice groups! Both also propose that young people’s development can (perhaps should) include making the world around them a better place.

This is where SJYD gives its clearest message: youth development is not politically neutral! The world is lined up to provide privileges to some and to oppress others. Youth development should involve both understanding our own experiences within this political frame and creating political change. Though PYD also carries this political framing, SJYD is especially focused on young people’s intersectional identities and the ways those identities show up in a youth group and in relation to the kinds of changes they’d like to see in the world around them.

PYD and SJYD (especially the latter) actively shed notions of adolescent development and +YD. They aren’t at all interested in assessing young people, positively or negatively. Instead, they see young people as engaged, capable members of communities who should be invited into both exploring themselves and creating change. What adolescent development or +YD might call “youth development” shows up in these models when young people take an interest in exploring themselves or the community around them. For example, in some SJYD practice, young people choose to research their own cultural heritage as part of a change-making project.

While PYD and SJYD critique the ideas of adolescent and positive youth development, the practice of PYD and SJYD is often more complicated. Adolescent and positive youth development are such powerful ideas in the history of youth development, that it is often difficult to avoid them entirely. I’ve seen wonderful youth groups using PYD and SJYD models still forced to use assessment instruments like the Developmental Assets Profile to continue to receive funding. I’ve heard SJYD practitioners talk about the young people they work with in deficit frameworks – heck, I’ll admit I’ve caught myself doing that!


This is (obviously) a very short summary of five complex and interesting models of youth development. I don’t suspect that you have many concrete ideas about how to practice them (yet)! That’s okay. I think the first step is to see that there are different models, to be capable of differentiating them, and to be able to look at youth programs and see the kinds of models they are using, even if they don’t openly name them! Why? I believe strongly that if we can’t differentiate these ideas, and if we can’t see them in action, our practice of youth development (youth work) will happen more by default than by conscious choice. We’ll pick up on whatever model was used on us as a young person, or whatever model the organization that employs us uses, even if it doesn’t fit with our values!


  • First, find a youth program curriculum online. There are plenty of them out there.
  • Open this shared Google Drive Document – it’s a table with a few different characteristics of youth development models. Paste a link to your youth program curriculum on the left side of the document.
  • Spend a bit of time browsing the curriculum. Pay attention to the language that it uses to describe young people.
  • Return to the shared Google Drive Document and provide some analysis – provide one or two sentences for each column of the table that describe the way your program approaches that characteristic of youth development models. Also copy one or two sentences (more is fine too) from the program curriculum that justify the one or two sentences of description you wrote. Make sure to also add a page number.

Part II: Youth Development and Youth Work

These two terms are commonly used interchangeably. They are not the same. There are lots of ways of differentiating them, but to keep it simple, let’s say this: youth development is a way of describing how young people (and possibly the communities around them) change over time. Youth development models often prescribe a particular set of practices to use as well. Youth work is a way of describing the stuff we do with young people (sometimes professionally, sometimes not, sometimes under the title “youth worker”, and sometimes under many other titles). Youth work is typically a constellation of youth development models and practices, as well as the orientations, frameworks, lenses, and habits we bring to our work with young people.

Youth work often uses models of youth development (on purpose and by accident). It tends to mix and match. For example, many youth workers use language that fits right in with PYD and SJYD frameworks (I do youth-led youth work!). However, they still tend to focus on individual young people’s deficits and psychological development too. Sometimes this is dictated by the organization, sometimes it’s just a default of the youth worker themselves.

You may have created a model of youth work or youth development in other classes. That’s awesome! Doing this kind of thinking can help you get clear about the sorts of ideas you like (and dislike) and the ways you want to put them into practice. I’d like to do something related, but a little different with you here. We’re going to practice two skills. First, how do we describe a young person as objectively as possible? Basically, how do we say only facts about a young person? And second, how do we read the facts about this young person into a story – and most importantly, into multiple different stories!

Step 1: Creating a Young Person

We’ll begin by creating young people for each other. Each person will create a “profile” of a given young person using the most objective language possible. What does objective mean in this case? It means without opinions or interpretation. Here’s a few examples – do you think they are objective descriptions or not?

  1. Gerald is fifteen years old and lives with two parents, Daniel and Frank, as well as a sibling, Tasha.
  2. Gerald likes going fishing and dancing to YouTube videos.
  3. Gerald is outspoken and energetic.
  4. Gerald hopes to graduate from high school and be the first person in his family to go to college.
  5. Gerald sometimes seems anxious when he talks about his dad, Frank.

Okay, got your answers? I’d say 1, 2 and 4 are more objective, with 3 and 5 being interpretations. #1 seems to be a clear statement of facts about Gerald and his relationship to his parents and sibling. Though “likes” in #2 seems subjective (and it is to Gerald), if it is something he has told us about himself, we can count that as a “fact” about him. In #3, I’ve made the interpretation that Gerald is outspoken an energetic based on other observations. To make it an observation, I could perhaps say something like, “In the time I spent with Gerald, he talked most of the time and was always responsive to things I said or asked.” Again with #4, we have a statement about what Gerald hopes – this is subjective for him, but for us we can treat it as a fact if he told it to us. Finally, #5 is again an interpretation. To make it an observation, I might have to say something like, “When we talked about Gerald’s dad Frank, I noticed that Gerald started moving around more and responded more quickly to these questions than during the rest of the conversation.”

There’s a spectrum here – few things are ever a clear “fact”. Simultaneously, we can do better at sharing observations/facts by moving as much as possible away from interpretation.

That’s what we’ll do here. Your task is to create a profile of a young person. You can do this as a narrative or as a bulleted list (like the one above). Your aim is to get as objective as possible. Your profile should be robust. It should address the many identities of your young person. It should tell us about their aspirations and interests. It should tell us about their location in the world (school, community, etc.). It might tell us about some of the challenges your young person faces. Formal writing isn’t important here – but bringing this young person alive with as many details as possible is!

Step 2: Once we’ve all created a profile of a young person, we are going to do some interpretive work. Now’s the chance to try on the various frames and models we’ve studied over the past weeks. Choose 4 and write a brief interpretation of this young person through this frame/model. For example, if you took up “Social Justice Youth Development” as a person meeting this young person, how would you see them? Describe it to us! What details from their profile would you choose to focus on? What kind of conversation would you have? Give us enough detail that we can get a flavor for how this frame/model would differ from the others you choose. Repeat this process with 3 more frames/models. For reference, you might consider:

  • Adolescent development
  • Damage vs. desire
  • Moral panics
  • Forms of capital
  • Identities
  • Models like: Positive Youth Development, Community Youth Development, Participatory Youth Development, and Social Justice Youth Development.

Part III: Conclusion

For me, a good youth worker is a person who constantly rotates between frames and models for how they understand young people. Why? I draw from one of my teachers (and former professor in the U of M Youth Studies program), Mike Baizerman, in thinking about philosopher Martin Buber. Buber wrote about the quality of relationships, claiming (very simplified here) that many relationships between people might actually better resemble relationships a person has to objects. In other words, the way I learn to see another person (say a young person) is through a single, limited frame. And when I keep seeing this young person through that single, limited frame, I can’t see them for the complex, multifaceted, regularly changing individual that they are! I turn them into a static object!

Buber calls this an “I-It” relationship. In contrast, he forwards “I-Thou” – a relationship between two people who work constantly to see each other as the full, complex human being they are! I don’t think there’s a moment of enlightenment we reach where we are suddenly able to do this. Rather, it is through the regular practice of “cracking open” our default ways of seeing young people. One strategy to do this is to regularly try on new lenses. Though I might first meet Gerald as his social worker, how do I see him as a person more complex than his problem with his dad Frank? By changing frames or models, I can open up a new way of seeing him. The only way to get better at this is to practice, which is why we’re doing it here, and why we’ll do it later on too!

Transitioning to Teaching Online – Contemporary Issues in Youth Development, Chapter 4: Identity and Development

This is another post in my series on developing my Adolescent and Youth Development for Youthworkers class as an online course for this fall. The series begins with Part 1.

This is “Chapter” 4 of the interactive and experiential OER I will develop with my students this fall. This will likely be module 4 / week 4 of the course.

Chapter Overview: For some, youth is an identity! It is one way of defining who they are (in contrast to “kid” or “adult”). Youth is also intersectional with all sorts of other identities – race, sexuality, gender, ability, and… How do young people develop and think about their identities? How do these multiple, sometimes even competing, identities work in their everyday lives? How has exploring “identity” become such an integral part of the way we think about the adolescence and youth development? What does supporting young people’s interest in and exploration of their identity do (and what does the absence of this exploration – or even an active fight against the exploration do)?

Learning Aims: As a result of participating in this “chapter”, participants will be able to:

  • Know that identity is not only a psychological frame, but also social, cultural, political, religious/spiritual, and so forth.
  • Understand identity development as a process of young people developing stories about who they are, why they are, and how they fit in the world.
  • Understand identity as a way that young people are seen, understood, and responded to – sometimes in ways they have some control over, and other times entirely outside of their control.
  • Connect identity development to their own experiences of growing up and their own efforts to connect their inner selves to the landscape of stories about who we are and who we can become.
  • Apply these lenses to understanding their own, present identity development.

Part 1: Identity is More Than an Internal Psychological State

We might decide who we are, but who shapes how we are seen?

As we studied in Chapter 2, the psychological frame of adolescence is only one (and a very limited, often problematic, one at that) way of understanding youth development. However, this way of understanding youth development is also the way many understand adolescent development.

Let’s watch this short video together in VideoANT – a video annotation software like that lets us collectively point to particular parts of the video and add shared comments. This video is about James Marcia’s States of Adolescent Identity Development – a fairly common framework for understanding the process through which a young person might explore – and decide upon – answers to “who” and “why” they “are X, Y, and Z.” While you listen, add comments in VideoANT that respond to these questions (and/or ask questions of your own):

  • What does Marcia’s theory teach you about adolescent development that’s interesting – and why?
  • When Marcia says X (pick up on a point in the video), what do you think is missing from this idea, or mis-framed, or oversimplifed? An easy way to notice these points is when you watch the video and think “that’s not what it was like for me!”
  • At the end of the video, I’ve started a comment thread that says, “what do we lose if we see youth identity development from this perspective?” Add a comment there on what you think is lost.

Again, this is just one way of understanding young people and identity. And, based on what we discussed in Chapter 2, it isn’t that this limited perspective is necessarily and outright wrong, but that, due to its power and popularity, it risks becoming the only way we see identity development. And thus, it becomes the only way we think to respond to identity development.

Part II: Developing Identities

So what are some other ways to think about identity and identity development? Let’s develop some collective expertise, based on some of your own reading, about what this means. First, you’ll choose an article and get smart about it. Read it and take some notes. Choose one you are interested in. If none of these are interesting, choose another scholarly article and talk to me about it.

Choose and read ONE article from the following list:

  1. Gay identity development: Halverson, E.R. (2009). InsideOut: Facilitating gay youth identity development through a performance-based youth organization. Identity, 5(1), 67-90.
  2. LatinX identity development: Romero, A., Arce, S., & Cammarota, J. (2009). A Barrio pedagogy: identity, intellectualism, activism, and academic achievement through the evolution of critically compassionate intellectualism. Race, Ethnicity, and Education, 12(2), 217-233.
  3. Refugee identity development: Mosselson, J. (2006). Roots & routes: A re-imagining of refugee identity constructions and the implications for schooling. Current Issues in Comparative Education, 29, 20-29.
  4. Religion and identity development: Hemming, P.J. & Madge, N. (2011). Researching children, youth, and religion: Identity, complexity and agency. Childhood, 19(1), 38-51. (requires institutional access)
  5. Native / Indigenous identity development: Leavitt, P.A., Covarrubias, R., Perez, Y.A., & Fryberg, S.A. (2015). “Frozen in time”: The impact of Native American media representations on identity and self-understanding. Journal of Social Issues, 71(1), 39-53. (requires institutional access)
  6. Social media and identity development: boyd, d. (2014). It’s Complicated. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Chapter 1.

Develop: A ten-minute mini-lecture that teaches others the following:

  • What is identity and identity development for the authors of the article you chose?
  • What are challenges young people face in identity development?
  • How does identity development get supported or challenged?
  • How is identity development for this author different from adolescent identity development presented above?

Your mini-lecture should use Google Slides as a visual and can include images and very short videos. You can choose to present it live or to record it (say from a Zoom call) and play it back.

Part III: Identities Developing

When we talk about “identity,” it seems important that we first acknowledge that a single word will never be enough to name the many identities that make us, well, us! Identities are intersectional. Before we move on, watch this quick video about intersectionality.

“Identity is a relationship between people, communities, histories, and institutions”

Kimberlé Crenshaw

I like Crenshaw’s definition of identity from this video. And I think that she shows us two major missing pieces of the adolescent theory of identity development:

  1. Identity is not always (or maybe even often) a choice or an exploration. While we might choose what our queerness or our race or our gender mean to us, and while we might choose how we name it to others, we will also be perceived by others based on their understanding of our identity – and treated as such.
  2. Identities have real consequences in the world. In fact, they are profoundly consequential to how we think about ourselves and how the world treats us.

In this way, we don’t just develop our identities – our identities develop us! For example, if we are put into ESL (English as Second Language) classes because we are perceived as an “outsider” in a Minnesota school, this changes the entire context in which we are growing up. It will also change how we are treated by others. And, as Tuck showed us in Chapter 3, it changes how we treat and understand ourselves. We might accept it (I am learning English) or reject it (I already know English and I’m only in ESL classes because of racism), but regardless it is impacting how we think about who we are and who we will become.

To return to Crenshaw’s definition of identity – there are a limited number of identities available to us. These are constituted by what we see and hear around us. And they are transformed by the ways they are interpreted by those around us. For example, at some point in my early childhood I decided I was a boy. The world treated me in all the ways it was supposed to that reinforced this identity. I also learned a great deal about what it meant to be a boy – how I should act, who I should be attracted to, and so forth. My identity development became intimately intertwined with all the stories around me about what it means to be a boy. Sometimes those didn’t fit how I felt – and then I needed to negotiate the complex territory of whether, where, and how to go with how I felt inside vs. what I knew I was supposed to present to others. It’s in this constant, ongoing negotiation that we regularly create and recreate our identity.

It’s also in this negotiation that others can affect us profoundly. Sometimes we have role models who demonstrate that our identities can be more complex than the limited ideas we’ve received up to this point. Sometimes we have friends or family we trust to hold the complexity of our internal feelings. These kinds of circumstances open up the opportunity to understand ourselves differently – and to invite others to understand us differently too.

Theories of adolescent identity development seem to suggest that the exploration of our identities at some point ends. I doubt this is true. I think it’s more likely that, as we get older, we feel there is less space for our identities to evolve. We feel we are beholden to a certain identity to keep things easy and comfortable for ourselves and the people around us. I think it serves a purpose to connect identity development to youth development so closely – it means that we can limit the time in our lives where we have to think about who we are and why we are here! And that kind of stability means that adults can be seen as constants – and constants are great employees because they always do what you expect!

But even if we wanted to stay constant, we can’t because the world creates chaos for us! We get sick, we are laid off, or we have some other kind of life altering experience. Eventually we get older. And then we are perceived differently by others, even if we don’t change how we see ourselves!

I wish to say what I think and feel today, with the proviso that tomorrow perhaps I shall contradict it all.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Part IV: Navigating Our Own Identities


  • What would the world be like if it was acceptable or even encouraged to continued to explore our identities throughout our lives?

Story Circle:

We are going to spend some time talking with each other about our own negotiations of identity. To do that, we are going to use a discussion model called a “story circle.” There are many traditions of story circles throughout the world. This particular version draws from the Highlander Folk School, which played a major role during the Civil Rights movement. Here’s an explanation in 10 points by the people I learned it from – Lynn Englund and John Wallace:

Learning circle process guidelines – pulled together by Lynn Englund and John Wallace in February 2011

  1. We want to create a safe space—one where we feel free tospeak from the head and the heart (to express thought and emotion).
  2. The facilitator will pose a question of the nature “Dig back in your experience and tell a story of a time when…”
  3. After a short time to reflect on the question and to let a story come into our minds or to choose just one story from many, someone will volunteer to start.
  4. That person will choose the direction to go around the circle either to the right or to the left.
  5. We will take turns telling our stories without interruption. This “no interruption” norm for discussion is one that we are not used to—and it is not easy to follow! As people speak around the circle, you are going to hear ideas and experiences that you want to respond to immediately—to affirm, to question, to tell about a similar experience of your own, to ask for more details, … countless impulses to respond that we are used to following up on quickly in conversations with friends. But in these circles I ask you to hold onto these impulses, and to file what you felt like saying to be used later.
  6. When it is your turn to speak, if for whatever reason you don’t wish to speak at that time, that is fine and you are free to pass. When we have gone all around the circle, we will go back to those who have passed and give them another opportunity to speak. It is fine if for any reason someone still chooses to pass.
  7. You contribute as much to the discussion by your listening as by your speaking. One of the main things that interfere with listening is that we tend to think of speaking as a performance on which we will be judged. Here we are creating a space in which we don’t need to think of speaking in this way, but rather as a quiet and patient sharing of thoughts among friends.
  8. Freedom to listen is enhanced by realizing another rule of learning circles: silence in a learning circle is OK. If, as you are speaking, you find that you need to pause to arrange what you want to say next, that is fine. If, when it comes your turn to speak, you wish to take a few seconds to silently collect your thoughts, that is fine. Please don’t feel that the movement from speaker to speaker to speaker has to be a split-second handoff as in a relay race.
  9. Once everyone has had a chance to speak—and those who passed the first time around have had a second chance—then, if there is time, the facilitator will invite cross-talk. The facilitator may do this by asking an open-ended question, such as, “What common threads did you hear?” “What points of dissonance or tension did you hear?” Or the facilitator may simply open the space for comments, observations, or questions, either general ones or ones addressed to particular people.
  10. It is often a good idea for the facilitator in launching the circle to say something about the time available. “We have two hours for our whole discussion this morning—the circle go-around and cross-talk afterwards. We have fifteen people in the circle so if each of us will be mindful that that we should speak for roughly six minutes, that will leave a half hour for cross-talk at the end.” In opening the space up for cross-talk, the facilitator may want to remind people again of time: “we have about 25 minutes now for cross-talk; let’s be mindful of trying to get as many of people’s further thoughts expressed as possible.”

Here’s the question:

  • Dig back in your experience and tell a story of a time in your life where the identities made available to you didn’t fit how you felt inside. How did this play out – for your own self-image and for the way others understood you? Did you talk to anyone about this mis-alignment? Did you ever reach resolution?

Part V: Does Identity Development Ever End?

If we take up the perspective that identity development is a lifelong activity, it means we might learn a thing or two by thinking about our own identity, now. What is an identity you are actively negotiating? A few examples: career, cultural background, who you are as a learner, gender / sexuality, etc…

Once you have this in mind, let’s do some writing:

  • What is the identity you are actively negotiating?
  • What narratives/models are currently available for you of that identity?
  • How does each of these narratives/models fit with how you feel inside?
  • How does each of these narratives/models fit with how others currently see/understand you?
  • How does each of these narratives/models fit with how you’d like others to see/understand you?

After you’ve spent some time writing about this, let’s think about the phenomenological experience of negotiating identity. In other words, what’s it like to do this?


You don’t need to discuss the identity you wrote about at all – though you are welcome and invited to do so.

  • What did it feel like to think about actively negotiating this identity? Was it… empowering? Scary? Frustrating? Exciting? What did it look, taste, sound, and touch like?
  • Once you’ve shared about this, what does this tell you about the experience of being a young person negotiating identity – what is similar and what might be different?

Jamboard: Now what? Once you know something about what it might be like to experience negotiating an identity, let’s lean on that knowledge, and what you read/mini-lectured about above, to brainstorm some ways we might support each others (or young people’s) identity development.

And look, we all know we oughtta “listen” to young people. But what does that really look like? Because we can be ready to listen all we want, but if someone else doesn’t see us as someone they can talk to, all the listening in the world won’t do much good. So what are some concrete actions we can take to listen? To make space for them? To support their voices? What are some activities we could use?

Part VI: Youth as an Identity


  • Is “youth” itself an identity? If so – what does it mean? How does it / does it not shape a young person’s development?
  • If youth is an identity, who creates and shapes this identity? Can you find an example of a way that youth is being shaped as an identity? In other words, what claims are being made in the world about what it means to be “youth”?

Transitioning to Teaching Online – Contemporary Issues in Youth Development, Chapter 3: The Politics of Youth Development

This is another post in my series on developing my Adolescent and Youth Development for Youthworkers class as an online course for this fall. The series begins with Part 1.

This is “Chapter” 3 of the interactive and experiential OER I will develop with my students this fall. This will likely be module 3 / week 3 of the course.

Chapter Overview: The category of “youth” is regularly deployed by political actors to accomplish certain ends. The concept of the “moral panic” describes how young people are often blamed for perceived social ills, with government policies that follow to control them. The concept of “damage” – as in, this young person is a failure in X or Y way – is used by both well- and ill-intentioned folks to try to limit young people’s self-conception and the conception of adults about who youth are and what they can do. BIPOC and other minority youth are often seen as lacking in certain forms of “wealth” – whether financial, cultural, political, or social – but is that true? This “chapter” tries to understand the ways young people are seen politically – and the impacts of those ways of seeing them!

Learning Aims: As a result of participating in this “chapter”, participants will be able to:

  • Know a few of the ways the category of “youth” is politicized: moral panics, damage-based frameworks, and social capital.
  • Understand that moral panics have a lasting impact on the ways societies see and understand youth; that “damage” is a frame that frames almost all ways of thinking about youth; that economic and social capital are only two of many forms of capital important to youth/youth development.
  • Connect political framings of youth to your own experiences of growing up and/or to present social issues (COVID-19, police brutality, etc.)
  • Apply these lenses to their own thoughts and behaviors, and by extension, their work with young people.

Part 1: “Youth” is a Political Category

When we are first taught “politics,” it is often in the form of electoral politics. In the U.S., this is Democrats vs. Republicans at the state and national level. We learn about the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches. We learn about how elections work and maybe even how laws get passed. I like to think of this as “Big P” Politics.

However, the politics we are talking about today are “Small P” politics – the politics written into the everyday fabric of our lives. These kinds of politics answer questions like: why isn’t my neighborhood more racially diverse? Why is toxic masculinity acceptable in our society? Why, on average, do women get paid less than men? Why are the police more violent toward black people than white people? And “Small P” politics go even deeper, because they define the categories we belong to – for example, what it means to be Asian, Irish, Italian or Jewish in New York has changed significantly over the last hundred and fifty years (for example, check out this summary of How the Irish Became White). We could even say that this kind of politics defines how we think and move through the world (check out Michel Foucault’s work in Discipline and Punish or The History of Sexuality for example).

So it’s fair to assume that “Small P” politics also creates the category we call “youth.” This category is not singular in meaning – ask any two people for the definition of “youth” and you will probably get three different answers. But, as Gill Jones writes in Youth, the idea of youth is “an evolving concept, layered upon layers with values which reflect contemporary moral, political, and social concerns” (1). So how do we understand those layers of values, themselves of a reflection of those moral, political, and social concerns? While there are many ways to do so (and folks like Jones provide excellent maps of this intellectual landscape), I’d like to present 3 to you here. I chose these because I believe they are effective at helping us understand how the concept of youth has evolved (in the case of moral panics) and because they help us break out of our often negative understandings of youth and young people (Parts III and IV).

Part II: The Moral Panic

Read: Moral Panic: Who Benefits from Public Fear by Scott Bonn

Jamboard: Bonn outlines the ways moral panics are believed to work and discusses some of the social problems he sees as moral panics, which included, “youth gangs, school violence, child abuse, Satanism, youth wilding, flag burning, illegal immigration and the Iraq war.”

What are the moral panics you see around you – especially those impacting young people?

Discussion: Claim one of the moral panics in the Jamboard. In a Google Document, take note of the ways you think this moral panic might have impacted young people or the category of “youth”. Think especially in terms of:

  • How young people are seen / portrayed
  • How young people are treated by adults
  • How young people are treated in public policy
  • What we believe about youth development

Think: Do moral panics have positive impacts? Can you think of one that seems like it made the world a better, more just place?

Key Takeaways:

  • Just because we call an issue a moral panic doesn’t mean there isn’t something about that issue that matches up with reality! Are there youth gangs? Of course. But the idea we have in mind about what constitutes a youth gang and about the extent of the danger it poses to others is probably not in line with the degree of societal panic about these issues.
  • However, regardless of the real impact of issues like youth gangs, when there is a moral panic, a response is demanded – which, because it is only ever somewhat connected to reality, is often out of proportion or misguided. For example, in the case of youth gangs, law enforcement crackdowns should probably not be the main strategy for creating change – they lose sight of the many (and even perhaps legitimate) reasons that young people might join a “gang” and begin to mistake any group of the “wrong” young people as a “gang”.

Part III: Youthhood as Damage

For the most part, our understanding of youth and young people has been shaped to see them as in some way broken, or at best, incomplete. Let’s take these two ideas up separately. First, how are young people broken? Exhibit A, check out this Google search:

Yikes! Youth are terrible! If we took up Google’s search autocomplete about the motivations of youth, the only message is that young people are morally problematic. This is the brokenness of youth – in this way, we see young people only as their problems. Don’t get me wrong – young people have problems. Lots of problems. But so do adults! And perhaps more importantly, many of these problems are not problems of their own making (as the Google search would suggest). For example, check out this video by NYC youth research group Polling for Justice.

Watch: Polling for Justice – Circuits of Dispossession

These youth aren’t “broken” – in fact, they are exceptional in nearly every way! But the world sees them as broken because, rather than seeing a young person trying to navigate a world filled with challenges, they see a young person who is: late, breaking the law, not invested in school, and so on. In the eyes of an adult world, this is a failing youth. But in our (more empathetic and wiser) eyes, this young person is being framed! We’ve just decided as a society that these frames that make young people out to be bad are somehow acceptable… and worse, perfectly normal.

The second negative way we shape young people is as incomplete. As we discussed in the module on Adolescent Development, when we see youth development as a series of sequential stages, the inevitable byproduct is that we see young people as incomplete until they reach the “final” stage. Typically, this means a young person is of limited capabilities until they reach adulthood (assuming they do so successfully and in the ways we’d like them to). Recapitulation Theory, which G. Stanley Hall (remember him) extended to apply to childhood, states that the individual rises up through a series of stages that closely echo (recapitulate) the development of civilizations. A civilization moves from “savagery” (his word) to “civilization” – which, in his mind represents the white man in modernity. Of course, when it comes to civilizations, we now think of this as extremely racist and thus, problematic. But for some reason, we are willing to accept that this developmental trajectory for youth is real and right! But if we accept this (and nearly all adolescent development theories fall in this category of ideas), it means that we believe that young people are not fully human until they reach a certain sort of adulthood (one that looks a lot like cisgender white male). Thus, a young person is damaged until they reach this ideal – which for some (perhaps even most), means we are all “damaged!”

Indigenous education scholar Eve Tuck summarizes this in her essay Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities. I strongly suggest you read it – it is powerful and important. In the article she discusses the ways that indigenous communities have been framed as “broken” – often, in more recent years, with good intentions! For example, to get grant money and other resources, researchers and activists will often discuss challenges like alcoholism. As she states, “In a damage-centered framework, pain and loss are documented in order to obtain particular political or material gains” (413). But Tuck is worried about this. She writes,

For many of us, the research on our communities has historically been damage centered, intent on portraying our neighborhoods and tribes as defeated and broken (412).

Though sometimes much-needed resources have come from these portrayals, there are serious problems with seeing these communities as damaged. She continues,

Although, as I have noted, damage-centered research involves social and historical contexts at the outset, the significance of these contexts is regularly submerged. Without the context of racism and colonization, all we’re left with is the damage, and this makes our stories vulnerable to pathologizing analyses (Kelley, 1997). Our evidence of ongoing colonization by research—absent a context in which we acknowledge that colonization—is relegated to our own bodies, our own families, our own social networks, our own leadership. After the research team leaves, after the town meeting, after the news cameras have gone away, all we are left with is the damage.


In other words, the only ways outsiders can see a community is as its damages. And just as bad (or perhaps worse), a community learns to see itself as the damage.

I don’t interpret Tuck as saying there isn’t “damage” in some ways. But, just like in the Circuits of Dispossession video, the frame of damage misses a lot of things, including the challenges that individuals and communities face. It also misses the complexity of a person. If a person is only seen as their various “damages,” we lose all the other things that make up that person. If we think of someone as a drug user, or as ADHD, what about all the other things that make them them: their interests, passions, excitements, hobbies, desires, skills, and so on? It’s this sort of multidimensionality that Tuck wants to bring to our frame for understanding people – and of particular interest to us, young people. Further, Tuck wants us to understand that people contain many things, including internal contradictions! She uses the example: we are environmental activists and want the newest Jordans. For many with an alcohol addiction – the addiction is not the only thing they want (even if it is, in some way, sometimes, what they want)! In the words of Walt Whitman, “I contain multitudes!”


  • What are some ways you see that young people (perhaps even yourself) become unidimensional? What happens (say in a program, or classroom) when we view a young person this way?
  • In what ways were you seen as unidimensional (positive or negative)? Choose one of the ways you listed and write about the multidimensionality that was there.

Part IV: Youth’s Capital

Eve Tuck offers us a multidimensional frame for understanding youth – one that tries to carry us outside of seeing them as damaged. Tara Yosso, in her article Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth, tries another way of broadening the kinds of perspectives we can have of young people. She believes we’ve set up too narrow a framework for understanding who has “wealth.” Another word for wealth, used often in sociology and economics, is “capital.” In economics, capital refers to money, but in sociology capital often refers to “social capital.” This also includes political, cultural, and other ways of thinking about capital. These forms of capital are unevenly, and many would argue unjustly, divided amongst people. Thus, people with less of these forms of capital have a deficit. Yosso writes,

one of the most prevalent forms of contemporary racism in US schools is deficit thinking. Deficit thinking takes the position that minority students and families are at fault for poor academic performance because: (a) students enter school without the normative cultural knowledge and skills; and (b) parents neither value nor support their child’s education. These racialized assumptions about Communities of Color most often leads schools to default to the banking method of education critiqued by Paulo Freire (1973). As a result, schooling efforts usually aim to fill up supposedly passive students with forms of cultural knowledge deemed valuable by dominant society. Scholars Shernaz García and Patricia Guerra (2004) find that such deficit approaches to schooling begin with overgeneralizations about family background and are exacerbated by a limited framework to interpret how individual views about educational success are shaped by personal ‘sociocultural and linguistic experiences and assumptions about appropriate cultural outcomes’ (p. 163). Educators most often assume that schools work and that students, parents and community need to change to conform to this already effective and equitable system.

Yosso – Whose Cultural Has Capital – 75, emphasis is mine

What Tuck calls damage, Yosso calls deficit thinking. In both, individuals and families are at fault and the system is working more or less as it should. Of course, we know this is wrong (and if that part isn’t clear, let’s talk about it)! So then what? Yosso makes it clear that the problem isn’t actually a deficit in young people (of color), but the (political) frame we are bringing to understanding these young people. Yosso then argues that schools (and I’d argue any institution) need to learn to see young people for with a lens that is more inclusive of the many forms of capital they do bring. Yosso shifts the lens…

…away from a deficit view of Communities of Color as places full of cultural poverty disadvantages, and instead focuses on and learns from the array of cultural knowledge, skills, abilities and contacts possessed by socially marginalized groups that often go unrecognized and unacknowledged. Various forms of capital nurtured through cultural wealth include aspirational, navigational, social, linguistic, familial and resistant capital.

Yosso – Whose Culture Has Capital – 69

Collective Jamboard:

  • Open Yosso’s article Whose Culture Has Capital and read pages 77 through 81 where she describes these 6 forms of community cultural capital.
  • In this Jamboard, choose a couple of these forms of community cultural capital and use sticky notes or pictures to post some examples.
  • On the second slide of the Jamboard, use sticky notes to tell a story about what a school or youthworker would need to do to recognize these forms of capital.

Part V: Our Own Politicized Experiences of Youth

Perhaps the most important take-away (at least for me) is that frames like these have real impacts. They aren’t just a neutral “way of seeing.” They quite literally define how the world (and institutions like schools and individuals like teachers, parents, and youthworkers) responds to young people (and thinking intersectionally, young people of color, queer youth, etc.).

Is it a duck or a rabbit? How we see has real impacts and is shaped by many messages and political forces around us.

In Chapter 1, you read about some of the ways that messages shape who we are and how we tell stories about ourselves. In this chapter, we can see that those messages are far from neutral – whether intentionally created or not (and often they were intentionally created), these messages about who young people are and who they are capable of becoming are quietly shaping the world in which young people grow up. As people who think about and work with young people, this poses some serious conundrums for us!

  • How did damage- and deficit-based frames for young people show up in our own childhood and youthhood? How do they still impact how we see ourselves?
  • How do the damage- and deficit-based frames for young people show up in our own default thoughts and behaviors (for example, when kids are “out of line” or “breaking rules” or labeled with a mental health diagnosis) around young people?
  • How do we take on the damage- and deficit-based frames for young people within ourselves?
  • How do we take on the damage- and deficit-based frames for young people that they carry for themselves and each other? (“Sometimes I’m so stupid” or “I’m not good at math” and so on…)
  • When we work in an organization that uses damage- or deficit-based frames for young people, how do we respond?
  • How can our work challenge damage- or deficit-based frames for young people more broadly?

Experiment: Over the course of the week, take on ONE of these questions and try to make a change. For example, if you regularly find yourself belittling yourself internally, try to change that behavior over the course of the week. If you regularly find yourself complaining about the youth you work with, see if you can find a different language to express your frustration that doesn’t blame young people.

Take some notes while you do this – it helps me to keep a little notebook or even a folded slip of paper near me at all times. At the end of the week, write and share a brief reflection about what you tried.

Transitioning to Teaching Online – Contemporary Issues in Youth Development, Chapter 2: Adolescence

This is another post in my series on developing my Adolescent and Youth Development for Youthworkers class as an online course for this fall. The series begins with Part 1.

This is “Chapter” 2 of the interactive and experiential OER I will develop with my students this fall. This will likely be module 2 / week 2 of the course.

Chapter Overview: “Adolescence” – Adolescence is a psychological framing given to young people (typically in their teenage years) that is age-based and understands them as “developing” along a psychological trajectory. Importantly, this framing typically differentiates between what a person is and is not capable of doing/thinking. What are psychological models of understanding youth? What do they offer us? How do they impact our ways of understanding youth or ourselves?

Learning Aims: As a result of participating in this “chapter”, participants will be able to:

  • Know that the phrase “adolescence” is historically associated with psychological theories of development stemming from people like Sigmund Freud and G. Stanley Hall.
  • Understand that “adolescence” is one of many ways of understanding youth development, and that it is invested in age-based delineations of mental limitations/abilities.
  • Connect ideas of adolescence to ways they were raised in the schools, communities, and programs that constituted their lifeworld.
  • Apply this lens to understanding a youth program.

Part 1: A Brief History of “Adolescence”

My family and I recently decided we would raise chickens. COVID-19 meant we were home all the time anyway, and we wanted to get a pet. I have terrible allergies, so we needed an outdoor pet. Hence, chickens. As part of our preparation for having baby chicks at home, we got a book that guides us through, week by week, the stages of a chicken’s development. As I write this, our chickens are basically “teenagers” – somewhere between the stage of chick and adult chicken.

Though human bodies develop and grow (much like chickens, though very differently), there hasn’t always been a singular idea of how we move from childhood to adulthood. In other words, the period of life referred to as “adolescence” has not always existed. Though many societies throughout the world have long differentiated between children and adults (think of the ways that many cultural / religious groups have initiation rites for a child to become an adult), the term “adolescent” did not take shape in the ways we currently conceive of it until a little over a hundred years ago. In the interim, it has become a powerful – perhaps the primary – way we understand teenagers. “Adolescence” is an age- and stage- graded frame for thinking about development that is attached to psychological and physical development. Because this frame of thinking is so prolific, many of us (especially outside of Youth Studies) have difficulty thinking of youth in any other way!

How did this particular way of framing youth development become the “Kleenex” of youth development? Let’s explore…

Read: Selections from G. Stanley Hall

Respond: In, respond as you read. What resonates with you? What is upsetting? Why?

Watch (or read transcript): Adolescence

  • This provides a brief summary of a number of ideas in the history of thinking on adolescent development.

Collaboratively Develop: In a shared Google Document, we are going to collaboratively develop a critical glossary of ideas of adolescence. Your purpose is to find 3 terms about adolescent development (that have not been used yet) and provide a definition. It’s fine if you copy and paste someone else’s definition – just make sure to cite it with a link and put it in quotations.

A critical glossary starts as a standard glossary – using the definitions provided by others, but goes a step further. In a standard glossary, terms are defined as if they are the truth! But we need to remember that the people who created these terms were trying to forward a particular argument about how we should frame young people! A critical glossary helps the reader identify the framing that gives us this idea or the result of that framing. For example,

  • puberty – the age at which a person is first capable of sexual reproduction (source). This definition focuses exclusively on physical changes in the body, obscuring changes in an individual’s identity, social interactions, psychological development, and the ways that others see and interact with them.

So, most importantly – add sentence that explains – when you frame a young person using this language, what does it do to how we see them?

  • This slideshow has a number of definitions of terms in adolescent development.
  • Please cite your source – a link is all you need.

Hint: If you are getting stuck, define some of the people referenced – what does Piaget say, for example?

Part II: Modern Ideas of Adolescence

One of the key elements of ideas of adolescence that arguably began with folks like G. Stanley Hall is the notion of age-/stage-grading. This frame believes that at certain ages or stages, a person is capable of certain things and incapable of others. Again, this idea of youth development is so powerfully ingrained in how we think of youth that it is difficult to conceptualize a frame that doesn’t involve some notion of evolving capabilities over the course of childhood, youthhood, and adulthood.

Image result for jean piaget stages of development

Though arguably they have not lost their connection to psychological development or age-/stage-grading, adolescent development ideas have evolved over the years. Here, we use Dan Siegel and Richard Lerner to examine those changes.

Watch: Dan Siegel – Myths of the Adolescent Brain

Watch: Richard Lerner – The 5 C’s of Adolescent Development


  • How do the ideas of people like Dan Siegel and Richard Lerner challenge some of the ways adolescence was framed by G. Stanley Hall and associates?

Investigate: Here’s a few options for investing this further…

  • Read: Find an article in a publication – online or print – that talks about teenagers or adolescents. What ideas do you notice from our critical glossary or from modern ideas of adolescent development? If you were visiting from another planet and read this article, how would you understand this “adolescent” person?
  • Journal: Think back to your own “adolescence” – how were you treated by others based on these ideas of what an adolescent is? Can you think of a time where someone broke out of these ideas?

Part III: Being Seen as “Adolescent”

Mind Mapping: Create your own age- or stage-graded model of youth development based on transformations in your own thinking / doing / acting/behaving in your childhood/youthhood. Try to think of a few major changes you can remember. For example, though I cannot remember why this happened, I remember that as a younger child I had “friends that were girls” and that at some point those friendships faded away (they of course came back). This might be a “stage” of my development. Our ages/stages might feel very problematic or embarrassing to our present selves (as does my example above).

You will not be asked to share your entire model, though it would be great if you would be willing to share at least one “stage” of your model.

Part IV: One Lens Among Many

Source: Flickr

Extend Mind Map: What does your model of adolescent development miss about you?

For example, earlier I shared that female friends disappeared from my life (age 7? 8?) for a while. This was easy to characterize as a “stage” of development based on my development age. One might say, “around the age of 7, individuals begin the work of differentiation, with relationships transforming to be closer to some and further from others. One way this typically happens is differentiations about gender.”

Here’s where we can extend our mind map: my family did a lot of work gendering my sister and I growing up. Though I don’t remember them saying anything like, “boys shouldn’t be friends with girls,” this gendering took place in terms of what they encouraged me to wear, to do/not do, and so on. By age 7 or 8, with no negative intentions on the part of my family (I assume), I was developing a strong idea of what it meant to be a “boy”. G. Stanley Hall would argue this is natural – that boys are meant to develop in this way (and that, if they do not, there’s something wrong with them). However, I think if my family saw gender differently, I might have learned to do so as well.

So in this case, my model of adolescent development misses all of the familial and societal messages I received about what it meant to be a boy (remember back from Chapter 1?). For arguments about adolescent development to work, they have to be rooted in an argument about the “nature” of our minds/bodies.

Return to your mind map and extend it by providing the context that each developmental stage missed. What happened that made this “stage” happen the way that it did? What do you think could have happened that would have made this “stage” turn out very differently?

boy wearing yellow shirt while writing on white paper

Transitioning to Teaching Online – Contemporary Issues in Youth Development, Chapter 1: Ourselves as Youth

This is another post in my series on developing my Adolescent and Youth Development for Youthworkers class as an online course for this fall. The series begins with Part 1.

This is “Chapter” 1 of the interactive and experiential OER I will develop with my students this fall. This will likely be module 1 / week 1 of the course.

Chapter vs. Class: I’m still working out the relationship of each “chapter” in the OER to the actual operation of the class. For now, I’m going to lay out the activities that I think would be valuable to understand for a given “chapter”, and later I will figure out how these fit into my class plan, given the structure of time we have together, the technological affordances available, and so forth. I’m actually getting rather excited about this approach, as I feel it allows me to work toward what I think will be the activities we need to accomplish to get to the aims, rather than figuring out first how much time I have to do them.

Chapter Overview: We either are or once were categorized as “youth” or “adolescent.” This is typically an experience of being manipulated or controlled by others because of our involvement in this category (a category we are entered into by others, usually because of our age). Occasionally, it can be an empowering experience. What is this category “youth”? What have been our experiences of being categorized in this way? What social effects does this category have on us? What political effects? What cultural effects?

Learning Aims: As a result of participating in this “chapter”, participants will be able to:

  • Understand that the stories/messages they receive about “who to be” are a lens for understanding youth development.
  • Connect messages they received as children to their positionality and identities.
  • Apply this lens to understanding a youth program.

Part 1: Messages We’ve Received

At some point we all were – and many of us still are! – considered youth. The concept of “youth” has a long and varied history (though not always called by that name). Some consider terms like “youth,” “adolescent,” and “teenager” synonymous. These same people are likely to consider all of these terms to define a period of time in a person’s life, between childhood and adulthood, defined both by a certain age (let’s say maybe 13 – 20 something) and by a set of maturational processes. Maturational processes is a fancy way of saying that we as we grow older we also grow “better.” Fundamentally, there’s a judgment built in – that we are angling to become “good” adults and that to do so, we must become “better” – more mature. Though different societies and cultures differ in how they decide someone has reached maturity, Western ideas of maturation have long involved transitions from infancy (a lack of nearly all capabilities) to adolescence (a period with growing capabilities, but also many problems) to adulthood (the endpoint!).

To “fill” a hole in our development, we are taught that we must get better. And, if we must get better, there’s something wrong with us! Throughout the lifespan (childhood, adolescence, and adulthood), we receive thousands of messages about our failures (and hopefully at least a few about our successes). Regardless, our development is viewed through a judgmental lens. Therefore, our first task in thinking about youth development is to think a little bit about our own development, and especially to consider the sorts of messages we got about how to become better human beings (to be understood as: to become good adults!).

Read: Cheri Huber – Selections from There is Nothing Wrong with You

Write: 1 page reflection on the following questions:

  • Take a picture of, or type a few sentences from, a paragraph that struck you from Cheri Huber’s piece? What struck you about this?


  • What messages did you receive growing up about “what’s wrong with you?” Where did these messages come from?


  • Which messages did you stop believing?
  • Which messages do you still believe?
  • How do the messages you receive show up in language you use? (e.g. “I’m so stupid” or “I think too much” or “A person like ______ shouldn’t do _______.”

Part II: Messaging as Youth Development

As you read in Cheri Huber, these messages undoubtedly have a profound affect on how we grow up and who we become. Though we are taught to believe that youth development means progressing through a series of psychological and physical stages (to be discussed in Chapter 2), one could argue that the messages we receive about who we are / should become are a significant source of the ways we grow up. Some youth workers, like those of the Reggio Emilia Approach to preschool, see this messaging as a way that we close out possibilities for who we can be and how we can be. This poem by Loris Malaguzzi sums up their perspective.

Read Aloud: The Hundred Languages of Children


  • What are the “languages” we were told to forget?
    • Explicitly stated examples: Boys don’t cry. You are bad at math. She isn’t good at school.
    • More subtle examples:
      • There are fewer and fewer art or music classes (therefore, art isn’t an important mode of expression like English writing).
      • Writing an essay or a research paper is supposed to be about what other people have thought rather than creating our own ideas.
      • You are consistently graded poorly in science because you like to connect one idea to another idea, but have trouble focusing on the details of just one thing.

Investigate: Here’s a few options for investing this further…

  • Interview: Ask a friend or family member with smaller kids to describe their kid in as much detail as possible during a time they were marveling about something. Jot down a couple of notes.
  • Try: Doing something you were told – either explicitly or subtly – that you shouldn’t / couldn’t do. For example, I was told I was terrible at drawing! But I did an online drawing class and was surprised by how much better I got very quickly with a bit of instruction! Jot down a couple notes on what it’s like.
  • Watch: Find a playground (social distanced, masked) and read a book. Listen or watch for how children play – what is striking to you? What “languages” show up? Jot down a couple of notes.

Part III: Intersecting Messages and Identity

The messages we receive deeply impact our identities. One of the reasons it might be difficult for many LGBTQ+ youth to “come out” is all the negative messaging they receive from their family, community, school, peers, or media. If the core message about your identity is “there is something wrong with you,” it can become much harder to claim that identity for yourself or publicly.

If we extent this to thinking about being a youth worker, the messages we’ve received about others will significantly impact the ways we can understand them, and therefore work with them. In the video below, Ernesto Sirolli talks about being an Italian aid worker on the African continent. He tries to describe a way of listening that, to me at least, also means setting aside a lot of messages he received about the people he is working with.

Watch: Ernesto Sirolli – You Want to Help Someone? Shut Up and Listen

Write: How could we approach youth development like Ernesto Sirolli describes first approaching international development?

Pair and Discuss: When Ernesto Sirolli says “shut up and listen” – what stories / messages might get in the way of being able to do this? (Hint: He’s a white, Italian, cis-gender, man; probably has absorbed a lot of stories about black, African peoples).

Collective Jamboard: If we were to “shut up and listen” to young people, what stories / messages might get in the way of being able to do this?

Part IV: Seeing Messages All Around Us

Take a look at this Reuters article: Proportion of youth with COVID-19 triples in five months: WHO. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Young people who are hitting nightclubs and beaches are leading a rise in fresh coronavirus cases across the world, with the proportion of those aged 15 to 24 who are infected rising three-fold in about five months, the World Health Organization said.

What’s the messaging we are getting about young people? Stay away from them! Why? Because they are leading the rise in fresh coronavirus cases. Why? Because they don’t care – look they are hitting nightclubs and beaches!

Let’s check out another article from NPR News, this one on social media use: Social Media Use Linked to Anxiety, Depression Among Teens, New Study Finds. A few quotes:

Most adults experienced their childhood and teenage years without social media. Conrod says many adults developed a “more balanced perspective on what everyday life is like” since they did not have digital access as kids.

In 2018, roughly half of U.S. teens said they spend too much time on their cellphones, according to the Pew Research Center.

This consistent use can blur the lines of reality for adolescents whose brains are still developing, Conrod says.

This frame is a classic one! We (adults) did it better, adolescents are doing it wrong, and we need to help them fix it! And if we fail to do so, we’re going to have trouble as a society! It isn’t that there might not be some truth to these claims – but who chose to study teens in this way, and why? Who decided that the ways adults were doing things when they grew up were better? I’m not sure, but the judgment is pretty clear: youth are harming themselves!

Messages about young people are hidden in everything around us! This category of person (young) absorbs explanations, criticisms, theories, hypothesis, arguments, and blame from every corner of society, and about nearly anything. Is there a social problem? Seems like young people are the cause! This messages serve at least two purposes: (1) they give us a (very large, diverse) group of people to blame and (2) they give us a way of describing/understanding this group of people – their thinking, motivations, behaviors, and so on.

No matter what we do, we’ll carry some of these messages with us into the ways we think about and work with youth. But, I think we should make an effort to be more conscious about the ways think, act, and talk about young people. How often are we repeating these messages? What kinds of affects do they have on the people around us?

Activity: Dissect the messages about who young people should be / develop into that come from these youth program documents. Use to have students collaboratively analyze and dissect the messaging in these programs.

Participants: we are creating public comments that others can read on these documents using, so I’d like to recommend approaching this from the point of view of someone who is wondering, rather than criticizing. A few examples:

  • I wonder whether the hidden message in “risk reduction” is “without our help young people in this program are going to do risky things”.
  • I am noticing that a curriculum focused on positive youth development starts with a lot of ideas about negative experiences young people have. I wonder whether that ends up as an implicit message?