Youth leading change - Outcomes #16, #17, #18

Young Ontarians have a lot to offer their communities. We know that better outcomes are achieved when youth are heard and involved. It is important to ensure that all young people in Ontario have the opportunity to learn life and leadership skills so they can be engaged, contribute to issues they care about and participate in decisions that affect them.

Civic engagement and youth leadership matters to young Ontarians:

Civically engaged young people enjoy higher self-esteem and grades, and tend to be more physically active and committed to their friends, families and communitiesfootnote 200. Actively engaged youth can also act as role models to their peers.

And it's important for Ontario:

Giving young people more of a voice in government, policy and decision-making builds their capacity while providing platforms for youth to lead change and take action. Youth participation broadens the discussion and enhances decisions about civic policies and programs.

Snapshot of civic engagement and youth leadership in Ontario

Ontario's young people are already engaged: Youth in Ontario volunteer at a higher rate than any other group in Canada. They have higher rates of participation in community, cultural, recreational or school-related organizations and activities than the rest of the population – and many volunteer at rates far beyond the 40 hours required to graduate high school.

Some youth volunteer less than others: Some of Ontario's youth face barriers to volunteering. In 2010, only 43% of newcomer youth between 15 and 24 years volunteered; this is 15% lower than Canada's average volunteer ratefootnote 202.

Young people are engaging in different ways: The Internet and social media have changed the way in which young people communicate. The more traditional forms of engagement – such as belonging to a political party, voting in an election or attending a town hall meeting – are no longer how most young people participate in their communities. Young Ontarians may feel the greatest engagement when they are directly involved in community events and have opportunities to connect with others.

Young people are digitally wise: Young people rely heavily on digital technology and social media to access information and carry out social interactionsfootnote 204. Digitally wise youth take advantage of social media platforms such as blogs and wikis to participate in advocacy on social issues, develop and run charities, and raise funds for causesfootnote 205. Digital technology creates powerful opportunities for youth to connect globally to complex and evolving issues, such as addressing climate change or supporting human rights.

#16 Support young people to be heard

We know that active youth participation in decision-making processes (such as through political or civic participation) is linked to improved outcomes in education, employment and overall health, as well as improved social skills and emotional developmentfootnote 206.

Supporting young people to be heard involves:

Informing young people and others about youth rights: Young people have a right to participate in informing the decisions that affect them. We know that most young people want to be involved in decision-making and have a voice on issues that are important to them. Respecting the rights of youth also includes understanding the individual and social factors that can limit young people's participation – such as social inclusion, education, employment and lack of availability and accessibility to opportunitiesfootnote 207.

Equipping youth voice: The more capacity young people have, the more likely they are to participate. Education equips young people with cognitive skills that support active engagement and can foster a sense of civic responsibility. Having a sense of duty is one of the most powerful incentives for turning out to votefootnote 209 and education makes a significant difference to whether young Canadians vote or not. The 2000 Canadian Election Study reveals that turnout in the youngest generation was almost 50 points higher among university graduates than it was among those who left school without a high school diploma.

Creating opportunities for those less likely to participate: We know that some youth are less likely to use their voice in traditional ways – such as through voting – than others. Aboriginal young people, for example, may not feel engaged in provincial or federal politics but may still have ideas about how policies and programs can better serve them and their communities. By creating more and flexible mechanisms for young people to have their say, we can achieve better results and ensure that decision-makers hear from more young people.

Outcome we want:

#16 Ontario youth play a role in informing the decisions that affect them.

How we can tell:

  • ▲Proportion of youth who voted in the last federal election
  • ▲Proportion of youth who are unpaid members on a board or committee

#17 Provide opportunities for youth to be involved and lead

Youth engagement and youth-led initiatives provide a positive, proactive opportunity for youth to develop their identities, improve confidence, and increase their social and professional networks. Studies also indicate that when a young person is involved in their community, they engage in fewer risk-associated activities (such as alcohol consumption, smoking, drug use, unsafe sexual practices, bullying behaviour and criminal activity)footnote 213. Emotional problems, as well as problems at school, are also diminished when youth are engaged.

Supporting youth to be engaged in their communities involves:

Engaging youth in ways that work for them: To be effective, strategies to engage young people to participate and lead should reflect their availability, skills and interests. This may involve reaching out to youth at certain times of the day, or by using youth-friendly engagement tools such as social media. Young people have reported that they are more likely to take advantage of opportunities to participate in a socially inclusive environment, where they can connect with peers with shared experiences and feel safe to express their viewsfootnote 214.

Ensuring young people know about opportunities: Youth are much more likely to volunteer when they have been asked or invited tofootnote 216. Taking advantage of youth friendly communication tools – such as online media – can help ensure youth know about opportunities.Youth have identified that keeping them informed and providing opportunities for feedback and expression is effective in strengthening their engagementfootnote 217.

Nurturing participatory values: We can nurture young people's sense of civic responsibility by helping them to understand their assets and the ways that they can contribute. Young people who are civically engaged and have formed volunteer habits are significantly more likely to contribute to their communities in adulthood. Research has shown that a young person's participation in initiatives such as a youth council, a community service project or a conference can help them to build a sense of civic responsibility and also improve their knowledge of civic processes and governmentfootnote 218.

Outcome we want:

#17 Ontario youth are engaged in their communities.

How we can tell:

  • ▲Proportion of youth who canvassed, campaigned and fundraised as volunteer
  • ▲Proportion of youth who volunteered with schools, religious organizations or community associations

#18 Understand and harnesss the contributions of youth

Many of Ontario's young people have ideas on how they can be better supported to succeed. Research shows that the developmental changes taking place during adolescence enable inventive and innovative thinkingfootnote 220. We know that nobody is more knowledgeable about the challenges, goals and opportunities for young people than youth themselves. We also know that young people are interested in having a say and making contributions to areas of general concern to society, such as social justice, poverty and environmental sustainabilityfootnote 221. Youth also need to see evidence that their voices and perspectives are not only heard but incorporated into decisions that affect them.

Making the most of young people's contributions involves:

Being receptive to youth ideas: Individuals, communities and organizations should listen and respond thoughtfully to youth ideas, and collaborate with young people wherever possible to make change happen. Creating collaborative opportunities for youth to participate in decision-making in cooperation with adult allies is important to supporting long-term civic engagement and can help improve outcomesfootnote 222. This approach will help us build stronger families, better schools, more effective programs, and more integrated communities.

Supporting youth-led innovation: Investing in youth-led innovation can have significant benefits for both young people and their communities. Youth-led innovation has been highlighted as an important component of building an innovation-based economy in Ontariofootnote 224. Young people have a desire to address social problems, especially those that directly impact them, but also those that affect their communities as a whole. Many young leaders are active in socially innovative projects and enterprises that work to solve long-standing social and environmental challenges through novel, collaborative approaches. Supporting youth-led innovation involves empowering more young people to lead and act as agents of social change in their communities.

Outcome we want:

#18 Ontario youth leverage their assets to address social issues.

How we can tell:

  • ▲Proportion of youth who started volunteering to help a cause they personally believed in

What is Ontario doing to support these outcomes?

The Government of Ontario has a number of initiatives that support civic engagement and youth leadership:

Stepping Up: Youth-Friendly Communities

Case study

Formed in 2003, Play Works is a group of not-for-profit organizations – representing the areas of sport, physical activity, civic engagement, arts and culture, rural youth and recreation – who advocate for the importance and potential of play in the lives of youth. Play Works seeks to support the wellbeing of Ontario's young people by creating environments that support growth and development through play.

Since 2005, Play Works has recognized 40 Ontario communities as being Youth-Friendly. These communities have demonstrated best practices in helping youth to feel included, connected and celebrated:

The City of Sault Ste. Marie: Community supports for positive youth development

The Algoma District School Board and the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board collaborated to develop a "Voluntary Self-Identification Policy for Aboriginal Students" in cooperation with representatives from the North Shore Tribal Council, the Indian Friendship Centre and Métis Nation of Ontario. This policy allows the school boards to gather data and direct Aboriginal education programs toward healthy development, as well as provide those who choose to self-identify with effective, supportive programming.

The Township of Rideau Lakes: Celebrating and recognizing youth

A local newspaper, The Review Mirror, recognizes youth by offering all youth-specific advertising and features free of charge. The newspaper regularly features various youth items, including weekly written contributions by local students and a "Lion of the Week" spotlight that focuses on one high school student's achievements in any area of school life. The "Spartan Scene," a column about student life, is written by a student who is chosen each year by his or her peers. A section of the newspaper is also dedicated to showcasing the graduating class of local high schools and their accomplishments and awards.

The Town of Hanover: Helping youth feel comfortable in their own community

The Youth-Friendly Business/Agency Program recognizes businesses that can be considered youth-friendly and encourages improvements in the way they relate to youth. One example is a local literacy agency that works with a local high school to provide a co-op placement for one high school student each year. The program's goal is to provide youth with opportunities for growth through employment, special pricing, recognition and more.