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Here at the Internet Governance Forum there has been a lot of talk about 'Youth'. With a greater presence of young people at the event than before (I'm told), there are many discussions coming from diverse angles: from youth empowerment, to child protection.

But too often when people talk about Youth, they are not using the same understandings of what 'Youth' means. I've tried to pick up some of the different conceptualisations of Youth that I've been hearing explored here at IGF.

What do you mean when you talk about youth? Mix and match from the perspectives below:

  • (a)Youth as an age group - the simplest definition of young would be people defined by their age. But definitions of 'youth' as an age range vary across the world. In the United Kingdom, talk of Youth would usually mean 13 - 19 year olds, possibly up to 25 year olds. In other contexts, the age range might be 'Children and Young People' of 0 - 18, or sometimes even Children would refer to 0 - 18, and youth would mean 18 - 30. Knowing which age group we are referring to is important.
  • (b)Youth as a 'digital generation' - young people have grown up in a world with digital technology all around.
  • (c)Youth as 'digital natives' - a group who think differently because of their experience of technology. Young people as digital natives have different experiences of the Internet from adults, and are the 'experts' online.
  • (d)Youth as the future - young people are important because they will be the adults of tomorrow.
  • (e)Youth as the leaders of tomorrow - there are some young people who should be encouraged and developed as future leaders. (Which young people?)
  • (f)Youth as a social, cultural and politically revolutionary force - Maria Marcel in the Youth and Internet Governance forum explained how Youth have always had important role in the political history of many countries, including Brazil. Young people have been ready to take to the streets to fight dictatorships and to fight against corruption.
  • (g)Youth as a the present - young people are important because they are equal citizens with adults now.
  • (h)Youth as oppressed majority - young people are up to, and even over, 50% of the population in some countries - and yet they are politically disenfranchised. Young people's rights are not respected, and we need to support the greater realisation of the citizenship and human rights of children and young people.
  • (i)Youth as resource - young people are resourceful, creative and are key partners in building a better world. We should accept the equal role of young people.
  • (j)Youth as problem - the way young people are growing up today is a threat to society and the future stability of communities. We have to repair 'Broken youth'.
  • (k)Youth as all similar - we can talk of 'youth' as a clear group who all share features in common. Young people have more in common than there are differences between them.
  • (l)Youth as diverse - young people are as diverse as adults are. There is no one 'youth voice', or description of 'youth' which describes everyone.
  • (m)Youth as the defining factor - of all the features about someone: their socio-economic status, their language, their education - being young is the factor that defines how someone will engage with the Internet.

Add a comment to share what you mean when you say Youth.

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Comment by Eleanor Adwoa Forbea Afful on June 12, 2012 at 7:04pm

Hi Tim,

I am deliberating on the analogy of different types of youth, The catchy one is "Youth as the present"

This brings to mind that as equal citizens with adults now  the digital divide between the youth and adults ( digital natives ) should be bridged  in the sense that technology makes everybody young, creative and innovative in this context. Both the youth and the other age group should appreciate technology with little or no differences

Comment by Stephanie on November 17, 2009 at 3:34pm
Hey Tim, thank you for sharing this. I like the way you attempted definitions on youth by providing both quantitative and qualitative analysis. I agree with you!

What I'm not sure of is this para here:
(j)Youth as problem - the way young people are growing up today is a threat to society and the future stability of communities. We have to repair 'Broken youth'.

I think it's the other way round - it's today's threats that are a problem, and this is because young people tend to be more impressionable (it's experience that should make an invidividual more mature, right?) I find that the the "broken youth" is a result of all the negative things that young people are exposed to, so I'd rather say that it's all these things that are threatening today's youth, and as a consequence, society and future stability of communities.

What "these things" are is actually a debate in itself...
Comment by Tim Davies on November 16, 2009 at 4:23pm
A good addition Henry:

Youth as an energetic, open minded force

Your comment captures well the contradictory attitudes we often hold towards Youth.
Comment by Henry Owera on November 16, 2009 at 3:59pm
Thanks Tim for this effort! I was wondering what the term means! I thought a youth as characterised by sociological labelling of persons energised, eager, adventurous, with drives, risk takers, add the naivity, open mindedness, opinions, rebellious, name it! I too think the thinking of who is a youth is misunderstood. Thanks for bring these to the fore.



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