Youth and Citizenship

— Written By and last updated by Citizenship banner image

Imagine young volunteers teaching disadvantaged children about the joys of art; or mentoring children by helping them learn to read; or helping to clean and restore a public park; or helping seniors with access and use of new computers. Each of these examples is part of the larger story of young people having an active role in contributing to their communities. Further, these examples illustrate the importance of this engagement by youth in contributing to healthy, viable communities that encourage the involvement of all citizens – both young and old.

“4‑H Citizenship programs empower young people to be well-informed citizens who are actively engaged in their communities and the world”. Active youth citizenship involves youth participating in activities or events that allow them to gain or expand the knowledge, skills, attitudes and motivations that give them the capacity to move beyond their own individual self-interest and commit to the well-being of some larger group such as school or community.

There are many ways for young people to gain knowledge of basic citizenship roles and responsibilities and to engage in activities that promote community involvement:

  • Learn and understand what makes our country unique and special-how we are governed, our legal system, and our history and geography.
  • Get involved in school and community affairs. Participate in school governance groups and attend County Commissioners or County Planning meetings.
  • Join in extracurricular activities or organizations that provide service to the community such as food banks, libraries, children’s support groups, environmental clean-ups or animal assistance organizations.
  • Be informed about current affairs and the politics and issues that affect them in their homes and communities.

The importance of engaging young people in active citizenship and service activities cannot be understated. In light of today’s social, economic, political and environmental challenges, it is more important than ever to engage youth in these activities that will prepare them for the increasingly global society they will face as young adults. Studies conducted by the International Youth Foundation and the Center for Global Education have shown that when young people are engaged in citizenship and service programs and activities, the community benefits as much as the individual.

The positive benefits of civic engagement for youth are:

  • They tend to do better in school and are less likely to feel socially excluded.
  • They connect in positive ways with parents, schools and the community which makes them more apt to avoid negative influences such as substance abuse and delinquency.
  • They develop essential life skills that prepare them for their roles as adults like confidence, goal setting, decision making and teamwork.
  • They are more likely to vote and participate in volunteer activities as young adults.
  • They learn valuable workplace and career skills such as effective communications, planning, project management and budgeting.

Communities that support youth involvement in active civic roles benefit from:

  • Young citizens who are equipped with core life skills that employers need.
  • Youth who are assets rather than problems to be solved.
  • Energetic and optimistic youth with a heightened sense of belonging.
  • A more engaged citizen providing a different perspective on issues in the community.
  • Youth with practical knowledge and problem-solving abilities gained from learning by doing which often leads to innovative ideas and solutions to community issues.

Promoting active youth citizenship, early and often, is a win-win situation for youth, their families, and the community at large. Seek out opportunities and encourage your child to participate in civic and service activities that allow them to develop practical life skills and promotes an ethic of positive civic action. For more information on citizenship opportunities through 4-H in Currituck County, contact Sherry_Fischlschweiger@ncsu.edu or call 252-232-2262.

4-H is North Carolina’s largest youth development organization, equipping more than 247,000 young people each year with the skills to succeed and improve the world around them. 4-H programs and camps encourage young people to “learn by doing,” helping them to develop into active, contributing citizens. NC State Extension and the Cooperative Extension Program at N.C. A&T State University coordinate 4-H programs statewide.