Youth Empowerment Working Definition

From the Consultation on Ministry To and With Youth Report

Youth Empowerment: Unitarian Universalist Guiding Principles

Youth empowerment is both a goal and a practice that has intrinsic merit for each of us in our ethical and spiritual lives. The practice of fostering youth empowerment varies by context. In congregations, youth empowerment practice depends on the geography, culture, history, and structure of the congregation. Youth empowerment and youth leadership development reinforce one another—calling for our personal and community commitment to right relationship between youth and adults. Across diverse contexts, the principles of youth empowerment remain the same, but the details of its practice must address the particular needs of each community.

The task of youth empowerment is not to make our congregations safe for youth or to determine authority within Unitarian Universalist institutions. These are the responsibility of our shared faith community. If covenant is the backbone of our faith, youth empowerment is one vertebra among many. In order for individuals, groups, and communities to determine the structural barriers to youth empowerment and enact the practices in which youth empowerment might be fully realized, we must first define a philosophy of youth empowerment grounded in our Unitarian Universalist principles.

Youth empowerment is a covenantal practice in which youth are safe, recognized, and affirmed as full and vital participants in the life of our shared Unitarian Universalist faith community. This covenantal practice is based on the following set of guiding principles:

  • Love and trust between youth and adults, between youth and youth, and between adults and adults
  • Mentoring relationships among children, youth, and adults, which draw from direct experience and wisdom
  • The development of youth confidence and self-identity through building community, learning to use one’s voice effectively, and realizing a more robust expression of themselves
  • Encouragement for all to grow together in accountability
  • Youth defining their issues and participating in the decisions that impact youth communities and the larger multigenerational communities we share
  • Youth and adults having access to information through direct and honest communication expressed with grace, humility, and respect
  • Trust in the competence of youth and the authenticity of their insights
  • Appreciation of the prophetic wisdom and energy of youth to be agents of social change, justice, and service
  • The recognition that youth ministry is an integral Unitarian Universalist ministry and part of our collective past, present, and future