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Tufts OpenCourseware
Author: Richard M. Lerner


One billion children will be born worldwide in the next 10 years. Most of these young people will be children of color and will live in developing nations. No one alive on the planet today knows how these children will be fed, how their waste products will be eliminated safely, or how energy will be created to power their lives. The world's economies are projected to produce new jobs numbering only in the tens of millions to gainfully employ these youth. The most optimistic projections are that the world will fall several hundred million jobs short in attempting to occupy these youth productively. Moreover, the educational systems of the world are ill-prepared to provide the knowledge and skills needed by these youth to compete for the relatively few jobs that will be available to them.

The negative global economic and geopolitical implications for people of all ages in all nations are difficult to overestimate. For instance, the United States will not be immune to the enormous global problems facing children and adolescents. Job opportunities for America's young people will be limited by cheaper labor costs existing abroad. However, in Europe, the challenges to the healthy development of young people, especially within societies wherein institutions of civil society are flourishing, may be seen to be especially daunting.

Issues of youth engagement in civil society continue to be of great concern to social and behavioral scientists, as well as to political leaders, in both Western and Eastern Europe. Issues arise because of increased immigration rates of racially and ethically diverse young people into historically primarily Caucasian and Christian counties, as underemployment of young people in various nations reaches double digit levels, as threats or acts of terrorism, often enacted by civically disengaged and alienated youth, occur throughout Europe; and as there is a resurgence of xenophobia (including the resurgence of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, and intolerance towards Muslim or Middle Eastern or South Asian people). Both scholars and political leaders fear that these trends may herald the diminished investment of youth in civil society and that the maintenance or enhancement of democracy may be threatened.

Thus, while there is a clear need in many nations for increased youth civic engagement, there is also a new awareness about this need. Indeed, there are numerous examples of initiatives effectively promoting youth civic engagement. Through reading and guest lectures, students will gain familiarity with these positive examples of successful civic engagement programs for youth.

To illustrate, in France the ten months of compulsory military service that all men had to perform was recently replaced by different civic actions youth, both men and women, could choose to undertake. Similarly, in Germany, where young men of military age are given the choice of partaking in either military or civilian services, about one third choose civilian services and become civically engaged through working for religious organizations, charities, or public institutions. Giving youth an option to contribute to their communities instead of sending them to learn about war has been seen as a very powerful message regarding values and the vision for the role youth will play in the future of France and Germany.

As suggested by the above examples, both youth-development scholars and youth-development practitioners (including leaders from government, philanthropy, and business in France, Switzerland, Germany, and throughout Western and Eastern Europe) have pursued one or both of two interrelated applied research or policy initiatives as a means to address these potential threats to democracy and the healthy development of future generations of European youth. This, in turn, furthers youth civic engagement and positive development. As noted in the course description, these approaches to the challenges facing youth in nations other than the U.S. and the institutions of civil society in their nations involve: (a) the building of civil society through the strategy of youth civic engagement and the fostering of healthy individual development; and (b) the promotion of positive development through engaging youth in their communities and in building democratic institutions.

The Role of Applied Developmental Science

A generational time bomb is ticking with increasing rapidity. Its explosion, less than a decade away, threatens the very fabric of national and international civil society, that is, the non-governmental institutions that maintain democracy, equity, and social justice. The times we live in necessitate not modest programs that work on one or even several facets of the problems of children and adolescents, but rather that a bold set of actions must be taken. These actions must be aimed at no less than global systems change for children and adolescents. Such change will require innovative actions within, and new integrative connections among three key sectors of society - (l) government (2) business and (3) the not-for-profit, community-based world, including, quite critically, youth and families as well as institutions of higher education.

Predicated on its history of national and international leadership in applied child development scholarship, Eliot-Pearson Tufts Department of Child Development has forged and sustained such tri-sector collaborations. Eliot-Pearson is engaged in bringing to scale, nationally and internationally, an integrated model of scholarship and community-collaborations addressing the domestic and international issues facing children and adolescents. Nations around the world are not just developing programs or policies aimed at doing better work for children and adolescents. Increasingly throughout the world young people are asked to participate in local, national, and regional efforts to foster democratic institutions and to promote civil society. Increasingly as well, youth participation and civic engagement involves young people taking on leadership roles in enhancing civil society in their nations.

The present course explores these contributions by youth and evaluates the hypothesis that positive youth development both derives from and contributes to such youth leadership. Although we will take a comparative perspective to these issues, we will discuss theory, research, and findings of program evaluations about this bidirectional relation (i.e., positive youth development youth leadership) by focusing on sample cases.

The idea that there is a reciprocal relation between positive youth development and youth leadership of civil society is associated with a core theoretical approach to human development found within the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development: the dynamic, developmental systems theory. This view of human development stresses the strengths of children and adolescents and the individual and community assets that may be marshaled to enable all young people to develop their potentials for positive contributions to self and society. Accordingly, this theoretical orientation emphasizes that it is certainly not humane or economically or politically prudent to wait for youth problems to fully emerge and to then seek means to ameliorate their severity or further growth. In addition, the model emphasizes that problem prevention is not sufficient to address these problems.

There are at least three reasons for this view. First, prevention is not provision. Preventing a problem from occurring does not, in turn, provide children and adolescents with the knowledge and skills needed to contribute productively to self, family, and community. Second, problem-free does not mean not fully prepared. A child free of problems associated with substance use, violence, crime, unsafe sex, etc. is not necessarily a child who has the knowledge and skills to compete successfully in the global marketplace. Educators and employers will want to know that young people are not participating in harmful behaviors. However, they also will want to know that young people are prepared to fully participate in school and career. Third, and perhaps most critically, community members will want to know that the young person is not just prepared to participate, but is actively involved in community participation as well. In other words, being prepared is not equivalent to being engaged. Even if a young person is prepared to make a productive contribution to self and community, he or she must be actively engaged in doing so. He or she must be an active citizen and contribute to self, family, community, and civil society. Accordingly, it may be hypothesized that the promotion of positive youth development and of active citizenship among young people is very much the same enterprise.

For this reason colleagues within Eliot-Pearson collaborate extensively with faculty associated with the Tufts University Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service (TCCPS). (TCCPS is a component of the university that seeks to further education for active citizenship among all students and in all departments across the university.) The Eliot-Pearson model of development compliments the TCCPS conception of promoting civic engagement and active citizenship among young people and convergeto stress the promotion of positive development, not the prevention of negative outcomes. The individual strengths of a young person must be coupled with the social supports he or she will need to be prepared and to become engaged. This enables children and adolescents to make positive contributions to self, family, and the economic and civic components of their communities. It enables youth to develop competence, confidence, character, caring/compassion, and connection to the institutions of civil society. Scholars of ADS believe that when youth develop these Five Cs in exemplary manners, when youth thrive, there emerges a "Sixth C" of positive youth development (PYD): contribution. A thriving youth contributes to self, family, community, and civil society. This development provides the basis for the hypothesized relation between positive development and civic leadership among youth.

The promotion of positive development across the lifespan is the mission of applied developmental science (ADS). ADS generates and uses theory and research about human development to improve the lives of children, adolescents, and families around the world. In adolescence, the goal of ADS is to promote PYD and, as such, to enhance the probability that strong and bidirectional relations will exist between thriving youth and civil society. Civic engagement is seen as a key means to further this thriving youth civil society relation. In this course, we ask whether the links between youth participation in and leadership of civil society and their positive development holds within and across national boundaries.

To address this concern, we will draw upon knowledge from fields such as child development, education, psychology, sociology, political science, and the health sciences. ADS uses such intellectual resources to help children, families and communities grow to reach their full potential by addressing needs as varied as improving infant healthcare, strengthening child-parent relations, enhancing risk prevention programs for children and adolescents, improving education and literacy, providing safe environments for children, adolescents, and families, and building civil society. ADS includes collaboration with schools, communities, businesses, policy makers, and other national and international groups and institutions involved in the promotion of positive child and adolescent development. The mission of ADS is to globally promote education, health, competence, character, confidence, social connection, and caring among children, adolescents, and families.