In a previous post, Youth citizenship: An intersectional analysis, I briefly touched on the importance of youth engagement to provide young people the knowledge and skill sets needed so they can become active citizens that contribute to building healthy communities and a stronger nation.
The need for involving young people as leaders for social change strategies has recently gained momentum. We recognize that young people carry knowledge and expertise on the conditions of their marginalized position in society and the stresses that such conditions impose on their everyday lives .
As such, youth are important sources of knowledge and power, and should be given the opportunity to participate in public life and to contribute their knowledge to the public sphere.
Fostering Critical Consciousness for Youth Empowerment
Critical consciousness can be conceptualized as an awareness of the systematic forms of oppression that limit one’s capacity for self-determination and thus their ability to take action to address the conditions of oppression .
Critical consciousness is the ability to perceive and challenge the social, political, and economic forms of oppression that shape one’s life by means of collective action that oppose oppressive elements of society.
Critical awareness has been identified to build the capacity for young people to respond to and challenge their marginalized position in society . If given the opportunity, young people are capable of understanding the social forces that shape the conditions of their lives. Facilitating critical consciousness is rooted in empowering youth to be social change agents.
Education is the utmost important tool in facilitating critical consciousness in young people so they can be empowered to become active agents of social change. There has been empirical support for the relationships between increased education and civic involvement. Education focused on the processes of privilege and power is critical for young people to understand the historical and contemporary role of institutionalized practices such as racism, sexism, and classism in perpetuating inequality to develop a systematic perspective on their life circumstances and current events .
Furthermore, the importance of social justice movements can be unpacked in these spaces to empower youth further on their ability to initiate social change collectively. Through the investigation of problems historically and structurally, young people are given opportunities to develop strategies for collective action to challenge those conditions .
In addition to creating changes for their communities, effective youth activism facilitates positive developmental outcomes for young people who are involved . By involving youth in social policies, policymakers are able to gain perspectives of the lived experiences of youth impacted by oppression. In doing so, youth become effectively incorporated into the policy-making activities to confront issues in their communities, such as education reform, youth employment initiatives, and crime reduction strategies.
Youth empowerment is one of the most effective strategies for providing young people with opportunities to foster responsibility and empower themselves. By igniting critical thinking skills in young people, we can cultivate leadership spirits that can help them better their lives and their nation.
 Christens, Brian D., and Tom Dolan. 2011. “Interweaving youth development, community development, and social change through youth organizing.” Youth & Society 43(2): 528-548.
 Ginwright, Shawn, and Julio Cammarota. 2007. “Youth activism in the urban community: Learning critical civic praxis within community organizations.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 20(6): 693-710.
 Fox, Madeline, Kavitha Mediratta, Jessica Ruglis, Brett Stoudt, Seema Shah, and Michelle Fine. 2010. “Critical youth engagement: Participatory action research and organizing.” Pp 621-650 in Handbook of Research on Civic Engagement in Youth, edited by Sherrod, L., TorneyPuta, J., and Flanagan, C. NJ: Wiley Press.